By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim
The Berejiklian government launched the NSW Road Safety Plan 2021 in early 2018. It aims to reduce the road fatality rate in this state to 30 percent below the levels seen in 2008 through to 2010.
A number of bills have been passed since the launch of the program that have increased the penalties that apply to drink and drug driving. And the latest such piece of legislation has seen a new combination drink and drug driving offence created.
So, we have decided to provide a rundown of this state’s drink and drug driving laws as of 3 March 2021.
Drug driving in NSW
Drug driving laws were introduced in this state in 2007. Unlike RBT for alcohol, roadside drug tests only look for the presence of drugs in a driver’s system rather than levels of intoxication.
Section 111 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) (the RTA) makes it illegal to drive with the presence of these drugs in an individual’s system.
Since May 2019, a first-time offence can result in a 3 month licence disqualification and an on-the-spot fine of $572. This means an offender avoids going to court.
However, if a first time offender decides to challenge the matter in court, it can result in a fine of $2,200 and a 6 month licence disqualification period. This period of licence suspension can be dropped to 3 months, but it can’t be lifted.
A second or subsequent offence carries a $3,300 fine with a 12 month disqualification time frame, which the court can drop to 6 months or increase without limit.
Combining alcohol and drugs
The NSW government passed a new bill on 18 February that inserts section 111A into the RTA to create the new offence of driving with the presence of one of the four prescribed illicit drugs in a driver’s system, along with an illegal prescribed concentration of alcohol (PCA) level.
The new offence involves three tiers. The first is high range drink driving with the presence of a drug. A first offence of this kind carries up to 2 years gaol and/or a fine of $5,500, as well as an automatic 4 year licence disqualification, which can be dropped to 18 months or increased without limit.
First time high range drink and drug driving can result in an interlock order of 24 months, which can drop licence disqualification to a minimum of 6 months or a maximum of 9 months.
A second or subsequent high range offence carries, again, up to 2 years imprisonment but the maximum fine is increased to $11,000. The automatic disqualification in these cases is 6 years, which can be reduced to a minimum of 3 years and increased without limit.
A 48 month period with an interlock device can be applied to a second time high level drink and drug driving offender. It follows either a minimum of 9 months licence disqualification or a maximum of 12 months.
The second tier offence is for mid-range drink driving with the presence of a drug. A first offence of this type carries a maximum of 18 months inside and/or a $3,300 fine. The automatic disqualification period is 2 years, which can be reduced to 12 months or raised by an unspecified time period.
First time mid-range drink and drug driving can result in an interlock order of 12 months, following a minimum licence disqualification of 3 months or a maximum of 6 months.
A second or subsequent mid-range drink and drug driving offence carries up to 2 years prison and/or a $6,600 fine. The automatic disqualification period is 4 years, which can be reduced to 2 years or to any higher period the court sees fit to apply.
If an interlock order is applied to a second or subsequent mid-range conviction a driver must use the device for a minimum of 24 months, following their licence having been disqualified for a minimum of 6 months or a maximum of 9 months.
The third tier relates to those who have been convicted of either a high or mid-range combined drink and drug driving offence over the last five years, and are then caught exceeding the novice, special category or low range drink driving laws under section 110 of the RTA.
The maximum penalty in such cases is 18 months in gaol and/or a fine of $5,500. The automatic disqualification period is 2 years, which can be reduced to 18 months, or increased to a longer period with no specific limit.
A person convicted of this third tier offence can be placed on an interlock order, which requires a 12 month period with the device after a 1 to 3 month driver licence disqualification period.
Lowest death toll in 100 years
On 2 January this year, the NSW government announced that last year’s road death toll was the lowest in a century.
A total of 297 people had lost their lives on this state’s roads over the 12 months of 2020.
Current NSW roads minister Andrew Constance said it was the lowest toll since 1923.
The minister noted that this was in part due to less traffic being on the roads during the COVID-19 pandemic. And he warned that the low toll should not result in driver complacency.
Part 1 of the SCL series on NSW drink and drug driving laws looks at driving under the influence and prescribed alcohol concentration offences.