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Communtity Law Manual | Driving & traffic law | Repeated or serious drink/drug driving: Heavier penalties

Drink/drug driving

Repeated or serious drink/drug driving: Heavier penalties

Penalties for third conviction

Land Transport Act 1998, ss 56(4), 57(3), 58(3), 60(3)

If you’re convicted for a third or further time of driving over the adult alcohol limits of 400 mcg breath-alcohol or 80 mg blood-alcohol, or of one of the other main drink/drug driving offences, the penalties are heavier:

  • you can be jailed for up to two years or fined up to $6,000, and
  • you’ll automatically be disqualified for at least one year.

These heavier penalties apply whether you commit the same offence each time or different types of offences.

Land Transport Act 1998, s 83

Note: If you’ve been disqualified for more than one year, you’ll have to sit the theory and practical driving tests again to re-qualify for your licence.

Penalties when someone is injured or killed

Drink/drug driving offences involving injury or death

Land Transport Act 1998, s 61

There are heavy penalties if you cause someone to be injured or killed while you’re:

  • driving with a breath-alcohol level over 400 micrograms or a blood-alcohol level over 80 milligrams (these are the levels at which an adult driver can get a criminal conviction, rather than just an on-the-spot infringement notice), or
  • driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (or both) so that you’re incapable of properly controlling the vehicle, or
  • driving after taking Class A illegal drugs (as shown by a blood test), or
  • driving when you’re “impaired” by illegal drugs or prescription medicines (as shown by a compulsory impairment test and a blood test).

In those cases:

  • you can be jailed for up to five years if someone is injured or up to 10 years if someone is killed, or you can be fined up to $20,000, and
  • you’ll automatically be disqualified for at least one year.

    Land Transport Act 1998, s 62

The penalties are not quite as heavy for injuring or killing someone through careless driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs if you weren’t over the alcohol limits and you weren’t incapable of properly controlling the vehicle. Here the prosecution only has to prove that the alcohol or drugs affected you enough so that you weren’t functioning normally. In these cases, you can be jailed for up to three years or fined up to $10,000, and you’ll automatically be disqualified for at least one year.

Land Transport Act 1998, ss 81, 94

Note: When a penalty includes automatic disqualification, the judge can still decide not to order disqualification if there are special reasons relating to the offence. In some cases, the judge can give you a community-based sentence (like community work) instead of disqualifying you (see “Losing your licence: Suspensions and disqualifications” in this chapter).

Additional measures for repeat or serious drink/drug driving

Overview of disqualifications and restrictions for repeat or serious drink-driving

Repeat drink-drive offenders and serious first-time offenders will usually go through a long programme of disqualifications and licence restrictions, lasting for more than four years.

This will happen to you if you’ve offended twice in five years, or you’ve driven with a breath/blood alcohol level that’s twice the level that earns an adult criminal conviction. You’ll go through these stages:

  • First, you’ll get the licence disqualification or suspension that goes with the latest offence
  • then you’ll have an alcohol interlock sentence, consisting of a four-week disqualification plus 12 months (at least) on an alcohol interlock licence
  • then a zero alcohol licence for three years.

Only after you’ve been through that lengthy programme will you be able to apply for a standard driver’s licence that’s subject to the normal alcohol and drug restrictions.

Repeat drink/drug offending that’s more serious still – that is, if there are three offences in five years, or two offences in five years plus aggravating factors – will mean an indefinite disqualification plus a period of drug or alcohol assessment.

Note: For serious or repeat drink/drug driving your car can also be taken off you temporarily: see “Losing your vehicle: Impounding and confiscation” in this chapter.

Alcohol interlock licences

Land Transport Act 1998, ss 65AB-65AE

Repeat drink-drive offenders and serious first-time drink-drive offenders must be sentenced to the alcohol interlock programme. This consists of:

  • a four-week disqualification, followed by
  • a 12-month alcohol interlock licence.

An alcohol interlock is a device like a breathalyser that’s attached to your car’s ignition system: it prevents you starting your car if you have any alcohol on your breath. The initial four-week disqualification will be on top of any other disqualification or suspension that also applies to you – for example, a disqualification for demerit points or an automatic 28-day roadside suspension.

These are the situations in which the judge will sentence you to the alcohol interlock programme:

  • if you’ve committed two drink-driving offences within five years, or
  • if you offend once with a very high alcohol level – that is, breath-alcohol of more than 800 micrograms or blood-alcohol of more than 160 milligrams (these are double the levels that result in a criminal conviction for an adult).

The judge can decide not to sentence you to the alcohol interlock programme if there are special reasons to do with your latest offence.

You’ll need to pay a monthly rental fee for the interlock device, plus other fees. The total cost of the programme can be over $2,500.

You won’t be able to have the alcohol interlock removed until you’ve had it for 12 months, and only if you haven’t breached any of the conditions in the last six months (or in the last three months if you’ve also had a successful assessment at an approved drug and alcohol centre).

When you come off the alcohol interlock licence, you’ll have a zero alcohol licence for three years (see below), and then after that you can apply for a standard licence.

Zero alcohol licences

Land Transport Act 1998, s 65B

A zero alcohol licence is a three-year stage that repeat drink-drive offenders and serious first-time offenders must go through after being on an alcohol interlock licence for at least 12 months (see above). After this zero alcohol stage is over, they can then apply for a standard licence.

With a zero-alcohol licence, you can’t drive with any alcohol in your breath or blood at all. The licence lasts for three years; after that you can apply for a standard licence.

Drug/alcohol assessments and indefinite disqualification

Land Transport Act 1998, s 65

In some cases of repeat offending involving drink/drug driving, the courts must order you to go to a drug and alcohol assessment centre and must disqualify you from driving indefinitely, until the NZ Transport Agency ends the disqualification after a minimum of one year.

These are the situations in which the courts must do this:

  • 3 offences in 5 years – if you’re convicted of three drink/drug driving offences within five years
  • 2 offences in 5 years plus aggravating factors – if you’re convicted of a second drink/drug driving offence within the last five years, and one of those two offences:
    • involved a breath-alcohol level of more than 1,000 micrograms or a blood-alcohol level of more than 200 milligrams (that is, two and a half times the levels that result in a criminal conviction for an adult), or
    • was refusing to have a blood test, or failing to go with or stay with a police officer to have a breath or blood test.

If in these cases the judge also imposes an alcohol interlock sentence (or imposes one later), then the mandatory indefinite disqualification is replaced by the alcohol interlock sentence. Alcohol interlock sentences are explained above.

Land Transport Act 1998, s 100(3)

Note: If you’re disqualified for repeat offending involving alcohol or drugs, the NZ Transport Agency can’t remove the disqualification until it’s been in force for at least one year and one day. The NZTA must also be satisfied that you’re fit to hold a driver’s licence.

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