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PLEASE NOTE: This article was published on the date listed below and may now contain information that has since been updated or changed. We have retained this article as it may still contain helpful comments. However, we advise you to make an appointment to see us for the most up to date information on this topic.

NOVEMBER 2001

Drunk Driving - Don't

The Law dealing with drink driving is covered by the Land Transport Act 1998.

The Act is the result of an attempt to improve New Zealand’s poor safety performance on the roads by putting in place a tougher enforcement strategy. One of the key features is the increased penalties established under the Land Transport Act. Prior to the Act, the terms of imprisonment for many major traffic offences had not altered since 1924.

The Law

The Act provides that it is an offence to drive or attempt to drive a motor vehicle on a road while the proportion of alcohol in the breath exceeds 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.

This is the most common offence under the Act in relation to alcohol offending and can attract a maximum term of imprisonment of three months or a maximum fine of $4,500.00 or both, together with disqualification for six months or more unless special reasons exist not to disqualify.

In certain cases of repeat offending under the Act, the penalties are toughened considerably and include (mandatory) referrals to alcohol assessment centres and indefinite disqualification.

In circumstances where the driver is twice the legal limit (800 mg of alcohol per litre of breath), or where the driver fails to undergo a blood test after being required to do so, the Act provides a mandatory 28 day suspension of licence.

It is also important to remember that drivers under the age of 20 have lower legal limits (150 mg of alcohol per litre of breath).

The Act also specifically states that in the case of a drink driving offence, the offender can not ask for name suppression in the District Court. Publication is part of the punishment.

The Procedure

A Police Officer may require a range of people to undergo a breath screening test without delay. They include:

  • A driver of a motor vehicle on a road;
  • Anyone the Officer has good cause to suspect has recently committed an offence against the Act involving driving of a motor vehicle.
  • The driver of any vehicle at the time of an accident.

Any person undergoing a breath screening test must remain at the place where the test was undergone until the result of the test is known. It is an offence to refuse or fail to remain at that place.

The Act also allows the use of hand held "passive" devices ("the sniffer"). These devices allow the Officer to hold the device near the drivers mouth for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not there is alcohol in the persons breath.

A driver may be requested to permit a blood specimen to be taken in circumstances including the failure or refusal to undergo an evidential breath test.

If a breath screening test is positive, the driver must undergo an evidential breath test or if they refuse that test, supply a blood specimen.

Where an evidential test is positive the driver must be informed of this fact, and advised that if they don’t request a blood test within 10 minutes, then the test will be sufficient to result in a conviction. This process is not generally necessary where the breath test result exceeds 600 mg of alcohol per litre of breath.

A driver cannot be forced to give a blood sample, but if he or she refuses to do so the driver is liable to the same penalties as if he or she had given a positive sample.

The Court Process

In the event of a positive result, the driver will be issued with a notice on the spot or sent a summons to appear in Court.

If entering a guilty plea in Court, the normal sentence for a first time offender is a sizeable fine and 6 months disqualification together with Court costs. In the event of a subsequent offence the fine is larger and the period of disqualification longer. The Court also has the power to confiscate the vehicle concerned.

Limited Licence

In some circumstances it is possible to obtain a limited licence for work purposes. This is not automatic and basically requires Police consent. Strict conditions are generally imposed in what is a time consuming and expensive process.

A limited licence will only be obtained where the driver will suffer exceptional hardship or a family member or employer undue hardship as a result of the disqualification.

Conclusion

Drink driving, is seen by the community as unacceptable. The current law and the severe penalties are a reflection of that disdain. The Courts have heard almost every conceivable explanation and excuse.

An appearance in Court on a drink driving offence is both stressful and confusing. Although we are able to help minimise penalties our best advice is simple: Don’t Drink and Drive.