This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, Criminal Law, Family Law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Drink Driving Offences and Penalties


In the Australia Capital Territory all drink driving charges have to go before the court. Therefore, if you are caught drink driving in the ACT you will be given a summons to attend court. The penalties available to the Magistrate include fines, license disqualification periods, and terms of imprisonment. The fine a Magistrate can order is defined in terms of penalty units. Currently an ACT penalty unit is worth $160, and this value is reviewed and increases at least every four years. This is outlined in Section 133 of the Legislation Act 2001. In regard to the disqualification period an ACT magistrate may order, the legislation states the default disqualification period, and a minimum disqualification period.

Courts can order longer disqualification periods if the circumstances of the offending warrant it. They can differ from the default period if they believe the circumstances of the offence justify a lesser penalty, but they cannot go below the minimum disqualification period set out in the Act. The penalties are divided into four levels based on the offender’s prescribed concentration of alcohol (PCA) level. Level 1 is for special drivers (zero alcohol limit), level 2 – 0.05 to 0.079, level 3 – 0.08 to 0.149, level 4 – 0.15 or higher. In the ACT the PCA levels, offences and penalties are governed by the Road Transport (Alcohol and Drugs) Act 1977. 

Penalties for first drink driving offences in the ACT

If you are classed as a special driver (level 1) and meant to have a PCA of zero, and it is your first offence, then you can expect a fine of 5 penalty units, and a default disqualification period of three months.  The Magistrate can reduce this to a minimum of one month. For level 2 PCA offences the penalty will include a fine of five penalty units, and a default disqualification period of six months. This can be reduced to a minimum of two months. Level 3 PCA offences will incur a fine of 10 penalty units and/or a term of imprisonment of 6 months, and a default disqualification period of 12 months, which can be reduced to three months as the minimum. All Level 4 PCA offences will result in receiving a fine of 15 penalty units and/or a term of imprisonment of nine months. The offender will also be disqualified for a default period of three years. The minimum the magistrate can reduce this period to is six months, though the likelihood of getting the period reduced this low is remote without very persuasive submissions relating to mitigating circumstances, and why the offending warrants such leniency.

Penalties for repeat drink driving offences in the ACT

Repeat offenders will incur a much larger fine, and a much longer disqualification period. It does not matter how long in the past you committed a previous drink driving offence or what the PCA was, it will still be taken into account for the penalty determination. Level 1 and Level 2 PCA offences will incur a fine of 10 penalty units, and a default disqualification period of 12 months, which can be reduced to a minimum of three months. Level 3 PCA offences will result in a fine of 10 penalty units, and/or six months term of imprisonment, and a default disqualification period of three years, which can be reduced to a minimum of six months. The penalties for a Level 4 PCA offence will include a fine of 20 penalty units, and/or a term of imprisonment for 12 months.  The default disqualification period will be five years, with the minimum being 12 months. The more drink driving offences a person has committed the more likely they are to have a term of imprisonment imposed, and the less likely the Magistrate is to differ from the default disqualification period.

Penalties for non-PCA offences in the ACT

Other drink driving offences which do not rely on a PCA reading include driving under the influence, refusing to provide a breath sample, refusing to provide a blood sample, and failing to stay for a screening test. For first time offences a person will incur a penalty of a fine at the Magistrates discretion, and/or a term of imprisonment of six months, and a default disqualification of three years. Repeat offenders can expect a hefty fine probably equivalent to a Level 4 PCA offence, and/or a term of imprisonment of 12 months. They will also be disqualified from driving for five years. The Magistrate does have the ability to reduce the default disqualification period but not lesser than six months for first offences, and 12 months for subsequent offences.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

WHERE TO NEXT?

In NSW, traffic offences are treated seriously. Therefore, it is important to get competent legal advice as early as possible, whether you have received a penalty notice, had your licence suspended or been charged with a serious offence. Our lawyers are highly experienced and understand the difficulties you face without a licence. We can guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

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