Drink Driving penalties

Penalties – Drink Driving

Contact lawyer Alistair Haskett on 0800 DRINK DRIVE LAWYER

Drink driving penalties in NZ

Is drink driving a criminal offence?

This is a question we are often asked. The answer is yes for driving offences involving excess breath alcohol over 400; excess blood alcohol over 80; youth breath alcohol over 150 and blood alcohol over 30; refusing a blood test; driving while incapable; drug driving offences, interlock and zero alcohol licence offences; and, certain other related offences.

If a conviction is entered on those types of offences you will have a criminal record.  If you have historic convictions but currently have the benefit of the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 then you will lose that benefit and will not be able to conceal the old or new convictions under that legislation.

Adult excess alcohol infringement offences

If you pay an infringement fee relating to the new adult limits for breath alcohol (BrAC over 250 but not over 400) and blood alcohol (BAC over 50 but not over 80) you will be deemed to have committed an infringement offence. These drink driving infringement offences attract 50 demerit points and may have adverse consequences in terms of your drivers licence, employment, insurance, travel and immigration.

An excess alcohol infringement offence may compound other factors or be the “last straw on the camel’s back” in terms of collateral consequences highlighted by the podcast referred to in the personal consequences section below.

Personal consequences of a conviction or criminal record

The consequences of a criminal conviction or even an infringement may extend well beyond the actual sentence or fine.  There may also be any number of personal consequences.

The personal consequences of a criminal conviction, or the conviction on top of other factors, may include:

  • Employment difficulties ranging from an inability to perform a current job to missing prospective jobs, due to the conviction affecting work criteria or reflecting adversely on your character.
  • International travel difficulties ranging from transit delays with immigration or customs officials, exclusion from visa waiver programmes, to total prohibition on entry to other countries.
  • Work visa, residency or other immigration status difficulties for non-citizens in New Zealand or for kiwis planning on working or living overseas.
  • Insurance difficulties ranging from vetting delays, harsh exclusion clauses, increased premiums, to insurance being declined.
  • Licensing or standards issues under government regulations, industry guidelines or fit and proper person rules.
  • Credit difficulties ranging from vetting delays, restrictions on borrowing, to loans being declined.
  • Contractual, franchise or membership difficulties as a result of “no conviction” or good character clauses.
  • Child custody and other parental rights being affected, in either current circumstances or should any future family relationship issue arise (where character and safety issues may be raised).
  • Other family stress or disruption to schooling and activities arising from a conviction, the inability to drive or restricted scope of driving under a limited licence or 3 year zero alcohol licence.

Take some time to open this link and listen to the interesting podcast on How a Debt to Society can come with Interest.  It speaks about how minor offending can have significant collateral consequences.  Listen to it in the background while you surf the net (it takes a minute to get to the interesting bits).

Legal consequences and sentences

Be very careful about relying on information from the internet.  Some websites contain incorrect or misleading information.  For example, our review of the NZTA website in 2015 revealed information on it that is plainly wrong and misleading.

The legal consequences of an excess alcohol criminal conviction are likely to depend on the seriousness of the offending, such as the level of intoxication and nature of driving, whether it is your first or subsequent offence, whether and when a guilty plea is entered, your personal circumstances and other relevant factors:

  • Penalty ranging from a fine, community work, community detention, home detention to imprisonment, although in some cases a discharge with or without conviction or an order to come up for sentence is made.
  • Supervision or intensive supervision orders as part of some sentences, typically for bad cases, repeat offenders or where addictions are apparent – these orders typically require completion of alcohol or drug counselling.
  • Mandatory disqualification from driving for a minimum of 6 months for a first or second conviction and more than 1 year for a third or subsequent offence, although there are limited exceptions to this.
  • If you have historic convictions you will lose the benefit of the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act, meaning you cannot conceal the new or old convictions under that legislation for another 7 years (more applies).
  • Indefinite disqualification from driving in specified circumstances, which also results in the inability to apply for a limited licence and permanent loss of the benefit of the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act.
  • A 3 year zero alcohol licence order in some cases, which means you must have no alcohol in your system when driving.
  • A 28 day stand down period after disqualification before a limited licence can be applied for and the possibility that a limited licence would not be granted if the threshold test cannot be met.
  • Inability to apply for a limited licence in other specified circumstances, which includes having previous convictions for specified types of traffic offences committed within five years of the date of the current offence.
  • Confiscation and sale of the car or any replacement car in some circumstances.

Maximum penalties for drink driving

Here are core penalties or orders for drink driving and related offences that do not involve injury or death:

  • The maximum penalty for a first or second conviction for excess breath alcohol (BrAC over 400) or excess blood alcohol (BAC over 80) is 3 months imprisonment or a fine up to $4,500.00, and mandatory disqualification for at least 6 months (unless special reasons or certain other provisions apply).
  • On a third or subsequent conviction for excess breath or blood alcohol the maximum penalty increases to 2 years imprisonment or a fine up to $6,000.00, with mandatory disqualification of more than 1 year (unless special reasons or certain other provisions apply).
  • The penalties are the same for refusing to do a blood test, and there are similar penalties for other drink drive related offences.
  • Some offences attract demerit points, including careless driving; failing to accompany; failing to stop; driving contrary to licence conditions; failing to produce a zero alcohol licence; exceeding the zero alcohol limit as a youth; and exceeding the new adult alcohol limits from 1 December 2014 for breath alcohol (BrAC over 250 but not over 400) and blood alcohol (BAC over 50 but not over 80).
  • In some circumstances indefinite disqualification, zero alcohol licence orders and permanent confiscation of your car may apply.
  • The law also allows the court to order different sentences to those above, such as community work, supervision, intensive supervision, judicial monitoring, community detention and home detention.

See our pages on offences and defences.

Or call Alistair Haskett now on 0800 DRINK DRIVE LAWYER (0800 374653) or 0800 ROAD LEGAL (0800 762353), or email your enquiry to lawyer@drinkdrivelaw.co.nz.

Need help? Get in touch!