16 May 2024

Higher road penalties, new crimes introduced to crack down on drink and drug driving on Canberra's roads

| Claire Fenwicke
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police officers roadside safety check

Under new laws, ACT Policing officers will be able to conduct roadside tests for cocaine. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Drivers choosing to drink, take drugs and then get behind the wheel will face tougher penalties under new laws introduced in the ACT.

The Legislative Assembly passed the Road Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 on Wednesday (15 May) to create a new combined drink and drug driving offence, as well as increase penalties, allow for fines to be issued for first-time low-range drink drivers and for ACT Policing to conduct roadside testing for cocaine.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said this was about sending a “clear message” that drink or drug driving would not be tolerated on Canberra’s roads.

“If you choose to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you will face an increased penalty that reflects the severity of the risk to other people,” he said.

“These new laws will make our transport penalties swifter, stronger and fairer, and our roads safer.”

READ ALSO Online reporting portal for dangerous driving increases ‘anywhere anytime’ policing

Mr Steel explained penalties for drink driving in the ACT hadn’t been updated for the past two decades, nor for drug driving since it was made an offence in 2011.

Now court-ordered penalties have been increased up to $12,000 and an 18-month licence suspension for high-range level 4 drink driving for a first-time offender.

Repeat drug driving offenders can now incur an $8000 fine, six months’ imprisonment, and a 12-month licence suspension.

data table

Summary of penalties for first offences for drink, drug and the new combined drink-drug driving offence. Photo: TCCS.

“We’re sending a very clear message to the community that choosing to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a choice that is not tolerated on ACT roads,” Mr Steel said.

“When, not if, you are caught, you will face a penalty that reflects the severe and deadly risk created for other road users.”

First-time low-range drink drivers can receive an immediate $800 fine and six-month loss of licence rather than going to court.

ACT Policing can still choose to lay charges.

Research has shown a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) just above the 0.05 limit is twice as likely to be involved in a crash. This increases to 25 times if a driver has a high-range BAC.

READ ALSO ‘We are a unique sh-tshow’: ACT’s dangerous driving sentencing practices slammed

A new combined drink and drug driving offence has also been introduced.

Mr Steel said this behaviour posed a “very real but completely avoidable danger” for other motorists.

“The new offence reflects the research that shows that a fatal crash is 23 times more likely when a person is under the influence of both alcohol and drugs in combination,” he said.

“Penalties for the new combined offence were intentionally designed to significantly exceed those for separate drug or alcohol driving offences.”

data table

Summary of penalties for repeat offences for drink, drug and the new combined drink-drug driving offence. Photo: TCCS.

The maximum penalty a court can impose on a repeat drink and drug driving offender (where BAC exceeds 1.5 or level 4) is up to $32,000 and 24 months imprisonment, along with a four-year licence disqualification and the requirement for an alcohol lock to be installed in an offender’s vehicle.

Roadside testing has also been expanded to include cocaine, which is the second-highest illicit drug used in the ACT (after cannabis).

The new crimes and penalties will begin within the week.

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How does “drug” driving really work? I’m prescribed cannabinoids as well as other medications for chronic pain. I don’t drive when I’m physically affected by my (legal) medications. However, the medications are detectable in my body at any time, anytime at all,even if I’m not physically “under the influence”.

An update or study of the ‘driving whilst being treated for a life affecting disability’ could quite possibly by warranted. Of course if anyone believes years of strong medication are dangerous to society,then perhaps a record of no accidents ever, or no speeding fine for nearly 20 years or so might help convince not all of us on pain control are dangerous! Let me add that said speeding fine was me helping out my no.1 daughter!!

@Tony Barnes
After reading your post, I did a very quick search and came across this interesting article (https://hwlebsworth.com.au/high-stakes-navigating-medicinal-cannabis-in-the-workplace/) regarding drug testing in the workplace, especially with respect to medicinal cannabis.

Your points are valid and there is definitely a lot more investigation / research needed.

Keyboard Warrior10:19 pm 16 May 24

Steel by name only, this guy has no police officers to enforce this.
Not sure why you’d legalise heroin but make it so tough that a low range drink driving first time offender loses their licence and employment all in one go.

Bit hard to enforce new laws and penalties when police are an extinct species on our roads. Probably over a decade since I last saw an RBT set up in Canberra.

When was the last time anyone here was tested though. It was years ago for me.

Drug driving is just as serious and the fines / suspensions should be the same.

Meanwhile 2 years on a driver of a very similar offence hasn’t even been charged yet…..

Heywood Smith1:47 pm 16 May 24

Repeat drug driving offenders can now incur six months’ imprisonment… OH PLEASE!! Our courts grant bail to sex offenders and violent criminals, as if repeat drug drivers need to be worried!!!

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