Likely Penalties for High Range Drink Driving

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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...

Penalties for High Range Drink Driving

In New South Wales, courts take into account the unique circumstances of an offender when sentencing them for high-range drink driving. They take into account factors such as the person’s character, any prior drink driving record and their need for a licence, and rely on a guideline judgment. This means the penalty you will receive at court cannot precisely be predicted. However, the information in this article will give you an idea of the range of penalties the courts impose.

Guideline judgment for high range drink driving

In 2004 the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal delivered a guideline judgment in how a court should deal with a high-range drink driving offence. It includes:

  • guidelines that apply generally, or
  • guidelines that apply to particular courts or classes of courts, to particular offences or classes of offences, to particular penalties or classes of penalties or to particular classes of offenders (but not to particular offenders).

The court constructed an ordinary case of high range drink driving to use as a model against which a sentencing court can determine whether the case before it is similar or more or less serious.

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 at loss of licence.


For a first offence, the minimum driving disqualification period is 12 months.  For a second or subsequent offence, the minimum disqualification period is 2 years.


A person found guilty of high range drink driving can be fined $3300 for a first offence and $5500 for a second or subsequent offence.


A person found guilty of high range drink driving can be jailed for up to 18 months for a first offence and up to two years for a second or subsequent offence.

Mandatory interlock order

In NSW, courts are required to make mandatory interlock orders upon conviction of certain drink drive and traffic offences, including high range drink driving. The offender is ordered to install an interlock device in their car, motorbike or truck, after the disqualification period ends. They are required to obtain an “interlock drivers licence” and participate in the interlock program for a specified time. For a first offence, the minimum interlock period is 24 months. For a second or subsequent offence, the minimum interlock period is 48 months.

The electronic breath testing device is wired to the ignition of a car to prevent the car from being started unless the driver passes a breath test. To reduce the potential for a bystander to start the car, the interlock device is programmed to require retests to be taken at random intervals. Should a driver fail a retest, the interlock device is programmed to sound an alarm of horn and lights until the ignition is turned off. A breath test is then required to start the car. The device keeps a log of driver activity which is downloaded to assess compliance with the interlock program.

Limited exemptions apply to the program. If a person is not granted an exemption by the court and cannot or does not comply with the interlock order then they will be disqualified from driving for 5 years.

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

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