8 May 2019

NSW's tough new drink driving penalties will affect ACT motorists

| Lachlan Roberts
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No adjustments have been made to ACT laws but the new NSW laws will still affect Canberra motorists. File photo.

Canberra motorists who are caught with a low-range drink driving offence on NSW roads will be immediately suspended from driving for three months under new laws in that state.

The new NSW laws, which will come into effect on 20 May, will see all drink drivers, including first-time offenders of low-range drink driving (blood-alcohol level between 0.05 and 0.079), immediately lose their licence and be fined $561.

When making the announcement earlier this week, NSW Roads and Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the changes would create a tougher stance on drink driving on NSW roads.

“This reform makes it clear if you break the law, you will pay the price,” Mr Constance said. “We are taking a zero-tolerance approach to drink and drug driving.

“This means anyone caught drink driving in NSW, at any level, including low-range, can now lose their licence immediately.

“Drivers who have an illegal level of alcohol in their blood or have used illegal drugs have no place on the road.”

The new laws mean offenders do not need to go before a court but if they do choose to fight the charge they risk a bigger fine and potentially a longer licence suspension.

So how will Canberra motorists be affected under the new laws?

Despite the changes in NSW, no adjustments have been made to ACT laws but the new penalties will still affect Canberra motorists and all interstate drivers. ACT drivers charged with low-range drink driving offences over the border will receive the same suspension and fine as their NSW counterparts.

Local lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith, who is a partner at Kamy Saeedi Law and chair of the ACT Law Society’s Criminal Law committee, believes the new laws will see more people re-offending and have a disproportionate impact on offenders.

Mr Kukulies-Smith said attending court was a sobering experience for many and reduced their chances of drink-driving again. He believes infringement notices with the automatic fines and suspensions were less effective in changing future behaviour.

He also believes the arbitrary nature of the new laws will mean some people’s lives will be impacted out of all proportion to the offence, without the overview of the court.

“The changes will lead to people being forced off the road irrespective of the consequences to their work, family or personal need for a motor vehicle,” Mr Kukulies-Smith said. “This arbitrary effect, until now, would have been moderated by a court.

“Automatic suspensions are likely to have devastating effects on people who make just one mistake in their lives.

“These changes were introduced to achieve cost savings in the local court but it is members of the public who will pay the costs in the form of disproportionate fines and disqualifications.

“Although the effects for automatic disqualification may be harsh, experience reveals that infringement notices are less effective than attendances at court in changing future behaviour.”

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