The laws are intended to make roads safer, with statistics suggesting that drivers who drink and take drugs before driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than those who drive sober.
The New Laws
From the 1st of August 2015, Victorian drivers who are caught drink driving and test positive for illicit drugs face increased fines and lengthy disqualification periods.
The following table gives a breakdown of the new penalties:
|Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
|Third + offence
|0.05 – 0.149
6 months imprisonment
12 months imprisonment
12 months imprisonment
18 months imprisonment
Drivers will also face lengthy minimum disqualification periods, with the period depending on the recorded blood alcohol concentration.
Those seeking to have their licence reissued after a period of disqualification must also complete an accredited driver education program.
Previously, the law in Victoria was that persons who drove on a mixture of drugs and alcohol could either be charged with drink driving or drug driving; but not both offences.
The changes aim to close this ‘legal loophole’ by holding drivers accountable for the totality of their actions, and to deter such dangerous conduct.
National Crackdown on Drug Driving
The Victorian laws are part of a nationwide bid to tackle drug driving, which has seen police across all states and territories crack down on the offence.
Statistics published earlier this year suggested that the number of drug drivers was outstripping drink drivers – despite drink driving being the most commonly prosecuted offence in the Local Court.
Authorities previously refrained from testing for drugs because of the huge costs associated with saliva (‘lick’) tests. A single saliva test can cost police $50 – while drink-driving tests cost only one-cent to conduct.
However, with experts suggesting that illicit drugs play a role in 16% of fatal road accidents, police have promised to increase the number of random drug testing operations.
Police have also turned to new technologies to test drivers for drugs, with NSW Police unveiling the Drager Roadside Drug Test earlier this year.
The new testing kit is said to contain ‘sensitive detection technology which reduce[s] the number of drug-drivers returning a negative result.’
The Law in NSW
In New South Wales, drivers caught with drugs and alcohol in their system can be charged with ‘driving under the influence of alcohol or any other drug.’
This offence carries a maximum penalty of $2,200 and/or 9 months imprisonment for first time offenders, or $3,300 and/or 12 months imprisonment if it’s a second or subsequent ‘major traffic offence’ within 5 years.
A major traffic offence is generally one which requires a driver to attend court; such as drink driving, driving whilst suspended or disqualified, or negligent driving causing grievous bodily harm.
Those charged with DUI also face an automatic disqualification period of 12 months, but experienced drug lawyers can fight to have this reduced to the minimum period of 6 months off the road, or may even be able to avoid a conviction and disqualification altogether by persuading the magistrate to grant a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order’.
For those who commit two or more major traffic offences in the space of five years, the automatic disqualification period increases to three years; with a minimum disqualification period of 12 months.
DUI charges are based on observations rather than drug or alcohol testing – for instance, you may be charged with this offence if you are observed slurring while speaking, driving erratically or there are other indications of being drunk. A DUI charge will often be brought when the requirements for breath testing are not met; for example, if more than two hours has passed since you were driving or if you are on your own property (where police are not allowed to breath test you).
Alternatively, if a person is found with more than the prescribed alcohol content in their system AND illicit drugs are detected in a person’s system following an oral fluid, blood or urine test, they could face separate charges of drink driving offence and drug driving.
Drug driving charges are contained in section 111 of the Road Transport Act 2013, and give rise to a maximum penalty of $1,100 for a first offence or $2,200 for second and subsequent offence.
They carry an automatic disqualification period of 12 months, which can be reduced to a minimum of 6 months if there are good reasons to do so.
However, like in the case of DUI charges, a good lawyer may be able to convince a magistrate not to impose a conviction or licence disqualification if there are very strong reasons – such as a pressing need for a driver licence and an otherwise good driving record.