Drink Driving: What Are the Penalties?

23 Aug 2016

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is dangerous. It has disastrous consequences as the statistics published by the Transport for NSW – Centre for Road Safety would indicate:

  • Alcohol was contributing factor in about one in every crash in NSW where someone died
  • Of drink drivers killed from 2008 to 2012, 89% were men, 66% of this being under the age of 40

Due to its significant dangers to the community, courts tend to take a no-nonsense approach to offenders charged with drink driving. In extreme cases, a repeat offender may be slapped with jail time. This sends a message that the government is intent on punishing those who are reckless enough to be intoxicated while on the road.


Drink driving offences can be broken down into four categories, as shown below:

Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA)

This involves a driver being pulled over by a police officer and subjected to breath analysis. The test is done to check if the driver’s blood alcohol levels are above the legal thresholds. PCA can be further subdivided into:

  • Special Range PCA – issued to a person with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) above 0.00 but below 0.20.
  • Novice Range PCA – issued when a driver has a BAC between 0.20 – 0.49
  • Low Range PCA – issued to a person with BAC levels between 0.50 – 0.079
  • Middle Range PCA – issued to a driver with BAC levels of 0.080 – 0.149
  • High Range PCA – a drink driving charge issued when BAC limits are above 0.150.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

This differs from PCA in that a police account or witness is needed before a drunk driver can be charged. Law enforcers generally use this when they are not able to produce a BAC result. Other factors that are taken into consideration in a DUI case are:

  • Intoxicating alcohol
  • Glazed or red eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Swaying or unsteady on feet
  • Involvement in a car accident

Refusal of Breath Test

This comes about in either of these two scenarios:

  • Driver of the motor vehicle refuses to take the test
  • Driver of the motor vehicle fails to take the test

It is committed by a motor vehicle driver who failed to provide a breath sample after the three ordered attempts.

Wilfully Altering Blood Concentration

This is when the driver intentionally consumes a substance with the intent of altering blood alcohol levels prior to testing.

Drink Driving Penalties

The penalty imposed on drink driving is often dependent on how grave the offence is. Being a repeat offender also merits harsher punishment. Here are the specifics.

Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA)

  • Middle Range PCA – immediate license suspension plus 9 months’ jail time with a maximum fine of $2,200 for first time offenders.
  • High Range PCA – immediate license suspension plus 18 months’ jail time with a maximum fine of $3,000 for first time offenders.

First time offenders charged with a Special Range, Novice Range or Low Range PCA are charged a fine of $1,100.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

A driver found guilty of DUI could be charged with 9 months in jail and pay as much as $2,200 for a first time offence.

Refuse Breath Test or Breath Analysis

First time offenders can be fined as much as $3,300 by the ruling court.

Wilfully Altering Blood Concentration

First time offenders could also pay a fine of as much as $3,300 by the court.

NSW’s Roads and Maritime services has a page showing all the applicable penalties for both first time and repeat offenders. You can view it here.

Mandatory Alcohol Interlock Program

Effective 1 February 2015, stricter penalties are being enforced for NSW drivers who are repeat drink driving offenders. Those charged will be restricted to driving only vehicles with alcohol interlock devices for a prescribed period of time. Courts will also supply a minimum license disqualification period.