Likely Penalties for High Range Drink Driving

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This article was written by Cara Maynard - Senior Associate – Canberra

Before joining the team at Armstrong Legal, Cara worked as a DNA expert preparing and giving DNA evidence in criminal trials. In this role she liaised with police, DPP and defence practitioner regarding a variety of matters including DNA transfer, deposition and recovery. Cara has reviewed and interpreted thousands of DNA profiles that were reported as intelligence to the NSW...

Penalties for High Range Drink Driving


In New South Wales, offences of high range drink driving are taken very seriously by the courts. This article outlines the penalties that apply to high range drink driving offences in New South Wales.

First offence high range drink driving

For an offence of high range drink driving, where the person charged has never previously had a conviction for drink driving in NSW, or has not had a conviction or penalty notice for drink driving within the last 5 years, they will be charged as a ‘first offender’ and face a maximum penalty of:

  • A fine of $3,300;
  • Imprisonment for 18 months;
  • Maximum disqualification of 9 months reducible to a minimum of 6 months;
  • Mandatory Interlock Order for a minimum of 24 months.

Subsequent offence high range drink driving

For individuals charged with high range drink driving as a second or subsequent offence, the penalties available to the court are significantly higher:

  • A fine of $5,500;
  • Imprisonment for 2 years;
  • Maximum disqualification of 12 months reducible to a minimum of 9 months;
  • Mandatory interlock order for a minimum of 48 months.

In limited circumstances, an application can be made for an Interlock Exemption Order. Should the court be satisfied that it is appropriate to make such an order, the period of disqualification that can be imposed is substantially longer.

The period of disqualification that can be imposed in this situation is:

  • For a first offence, an automatic disqualification of 3 years, reducible to a minimum of 12 months; and
  • For a second or subsequent offence, an automatic disqualification of 5 years, reducible to 2 years.

In determining the appropriate sentence, the court will take into account the unique circumstances of an offender including the person’s character, any prior criminal and traffic history, their need for a licence, and any subjective material – for example, character references.

The court will also consider the high range guideline judgment.

Guideline Judgment

In 2004, the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal delivered a guideline judgment on how a court should deal with a high range drink driving offence. The court constructed what constitutes an ‘ordinary case’ of high range drink driving, and the similarity or difference of the matter before the court to this hypothetical ordinary case.

That ordinary case is one where:

  • The offender drove to avoid personal inconvenience or because the offender did not believe that he or she was sufficiently affected by alcohol;
  • The offender was detected by a random breath test;
  • The offender has prior good character;
  • The offender has nil, or a minor, traffic record;
  • The offender’s licence was suspended on detection;
  • The offender pleaded guilty;
  • There is little or no risk of re-offending;
  • The offender would be significantly inconvenienced by a loss of licence.

However, following the introduction of the Interlock Program into NSW, the guideline decision is substantially less relevant to any period of disqualification but does remain relevant in assessing any period of imprisonment or other orders to be imposed by the court on sentence.

Persons charged with a high range drink drive offence, especially where the vehicle was involved in a collision and/or have previously been charged with a drink driving offence, is at risk of receiving a period of imprisonment. It is therefore important that you seek legal advice about your matter before attending court.

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

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