Repeated or serious drink/drug driving: Heavier penalties
Penalties for third conviction
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 imprisoned 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.
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
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 imprisoned 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.
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.
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”).
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”).
Alcohol interlock licences
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 alcohol interlock licence programme
Repeat drink-drive offenders and serious first-time drink-drive offenders must be sentenced to the alcohol interlock licence programme. This means:
- you will be disqualified from driving for four weeks (this is 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).
- when you’re no longer disqualified, you can apply for an alcohol interlock licence. This licence lasts for 12 months. An application is made through the Waka Kotahi website.
You’ll remain disqualified from driving until you are issued with an alcohol interlock licence or until the courts give you another sentence (see below).
When will I be sentenced to the alcohol interlock programme?
A 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 or if you can’t comply with the licence (see below).
What do I need to get an alcohol interlock licence?
To get an interlock licence you will need:
- a car that the interlock device can be put on
- to pay the licence application fee ($200)
- to pay the installation fee and monthly rental fee for the interlock device, plus other fees.
- The total cost of the programme can be over $2,500. If you can’t afford this, you may be entitled to an alcohol interlock subsidy.
- Once you have your licence, you will need to organise with an approved provider to have the device installed (and pay the installation and rental fees).
What are the rules while I’m on an alcohol interlock licence?
When on an alcohol interlock licence, you can only drive vehicles with an approved alcohol interlock device installed. You will need to breathe into the interlock device before starting the vehicle and during random times while the vehicle is in use (“rolling retests”).
It is important that you comply with the following licence conditions:
- You can’t tamper with the alcohol interlock device
- You can’t fail a breath test administered by the device because of your breath alcohol level.
- You can’t fail to complete two or more rolling retests.
- You can’t start or attempt to start the vehicle without an initial breath test (for example, by pushing or hot wiring the vehicle).
- You can’t fail to present the vehicle for two or more scheduled inspections/services.
When will the alcohol interlock programme end?
You won’t be approved to exit the alcohol interlock programme until you’ve been on it for at least 12 months. You will also need to have:
- Not breached any of the conditions in the last six months, or
- Not breached any of the conditions in the last three months and successfully completed a drug and alcohol assessment at a Ministry of Health-approved assessment centre.
- Once you have completed the minimum 12-month period and meet the above, you need to get your alcohol interlock device provider to download a copy of your results. You can then apply to Waka Kotahi to leave the alcohol interlock programme. You will stay on the alcohol interlock licence until you are issued a zero alcohol licence (discussed below).
More information about alcohol interlocks licence programme, including a step by step overview, is available at the Waka Kotahi website, here (or go to: www.nzta.govt.nz, click on “driver licences” and then “Alcohol interlock and zero licences”).
What if I can’t get an alcohol interlock licence or I can’t drive during the licence period?
An alcohol interlock licence will not always be appropriate. For example, you might not have a vehicle that the interlock device can be attached to, or you might lose your car during the licence period. In these cases, the court will look at other sentences that can be given instead. If you are worried you can’t comply an alcohol interlock licence, you should tell your lawyer and the court.
Zero alcohol licences
Once you are approved to exit the alcohol interlock licence programme, you will need to apply for a zero alcohol licence. You can only be on a zero alcohol licence once you have completed the alcohol interlock 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
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.
Note: If you’re disqualified for repeat offending involving alcohol or drugs, the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) 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.