25 January 2021

Drink Driving

Drink driving offences are one of the most common criminal offences in NSW. Given the danger posed by drink drivers, these offences are taken particularly seriously. There are significant consequences for people convicted of a drink driving offence.


Drink Driving Offences 

In NSW, there are five different drink driving offences. Offences depend on what licence a driver holds and their level of intoxication:

  • High range: where any driver has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or above
  • Mid-range: where any driver has a blood alcohol concentration between 0.08 and 0.15
  • Low- range: where any driver has a blood alcohol concentration between 0.05 and 0.08
  • Novice range: where a driver who holds a learner, P1 or P2 licence has a blood alcohol concentration of more than zero.
  • Special range: where a driver who holds a special category of licence, such as a taxi or bus driver, has a blood alcohol concentration between 0.02 and 0.05.



If a conviction is recorded, a court will impose a sentence as well as a period of disqualification. Such sentences can include fines, good behaviour bonds, community service and imprisonment.

If you have previously been convicted of a drink driving offence the penalties that may be imposed are higher.

More information about the penalties that can be imposed for each drink driving offence can be found here.


Licence Suspensions and Disqualifications

 When a person is convicted of a drink driving offence, the court will disqualify the offender from driving for a period of time.

For most drink driving offences, police will suspend the drivers licence on the side of the road. When the court is dealing with a drink driving matter, any time spent off the road since police suspended the licence can  be taken into account.


Mandatory Interlock Orders

NSW laws now provide for mandatory interlock periods for certain serious or repeat drink driving offenders. An interlock is an electronic breath testing device connected to the ignition of a vehicle. It requires the drivers to undergo a breath test before driving and prevents a vehicle from being started if alcohol is detected.

The Mandatory Interlock program applies to the following offences:

  • Middle and high range drink driving;
  • Any drink driving offence that is a ‘second or subsequent’ offence;
  • Using or attempting to use a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol; and
  • Refusing a breath analysis or refusing to provide samples to a police officer.


For offences that require a mandatory interlock, the offender must complete:

  • An initial period where their licence is disqualified;
  • Then, hold an “interlock driver licence” for the period specified by the court. An “interlock driver licence” is a conditional licence that only allows the holder of the licence to drive a motor vehicle fitted with an appropriate interlock device.



A court may make an ‘interlock exemption order’, so that an offender does not have to have an interlock device in their car. Such an order can only be made in the following limited circumstances:

  • If the offender does not have access to a vehicle to install an interlock device;
  • If the offender has a medical condition that prevents them from providing a sufficient breath sample to operate the interlock device; or
  • If the offender is charged with their first middle-range drink driving offence and the mandatory interlock order would cause severe hardship.

If such an order is made, a longer disqualification period will be imposed.


Lower range drink driving offences 

For drivers convicted of a low, special or novice range drink-driving offence for the first time, the process is now slightly different.

People convicted of these offences are no longer required to attend court. Instead, NSW police can immediately suspend a driver’s licence for a period of three months. NSW police will also issue the driver with an on the spot fine of $572.

If you have received a penalty notice and an immediate suspension for a drink-driving offence, you can elect to have the matter determined in court and appeal your suspension. Before electing to take your matter to court, you should seek legal advice as higher penalties and a longer period of licence disqualification can be imposed by the court. The court may also record a conviction on your criminal record.


Other Offences

If a police officer requires you to undergo a breath test or analysis, oral fluid test, sobriety assessment or requires you to provide a blood sample, and you refuse, you may be committing an offence. Penalties can include loss of licence, fines and imprisonment.


If you have been charged with a drink driving offence, you can book a free initial consultation with one of our criminal and traffic law experts here.

Subscribe to our newsletter