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Alcohol & Driving

Alcohol & Driving

Drink driving is a considered as a serious offence in New Zealand because it’s one of the big problems in NZ. If you’ve been drinking, it’s safer not to take any chances and to arrange other transport so you don’t have to drive. The police are allowed to stop you and test your breath for alcohol at any time, and the consequences can be quite serious if you’re caught over the alcohol limit.

Can I drink alcohol and drive?

NZ has a large problem with drink driving, and this causes a large number of accidents and deaths each year. Drinking alcohol makes people react more slowly than they normally would and could largely impact on someone’s driving skills and concentration. Drinking and driving increases your chances of being involved in a car accident, which could cause death or serious injury to yourself, your passengers and others.

Because of that, under the law, you’re only allowed to have a certain level of alcohol in your body to be able to drive legally, and in some cases, you’re not allowed any alcohol at all.

How much alcohol can I drink and still drive?

The amount of alcohol you can drink before you are over the limit depends on many things, including your weight, body size, what you’ve had to eat that day, whether you’re tired or have taken any medicine that might increase the effect of the alcohol etc.

The legal limit is different for people under 20 years old and people 20 years and older.

How much alcohol can I drink and still drive if I’m under 20 years old?

If you’re under 20 you cannot have any alcohol in your body and drive. There is a zero alcohol limit, meaning that any alcohol detected in a breath or blood test will put you over the limit, and you would be breaking the law.

How much alcohol can I drink and still drive if I’m 20 years or older?

If you’re 20 years and over, you can have up to 250 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath, or 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, however, above those, you would be breaking the law. It is difficult to estimate the amount of alcohol that is safe to drink as it depends on many factors such as weight, how much food you have had etc, so it is best not to drink at all.

You can buy breathalysers to test your breath alcohol content at any time, but these may not be completely accurate.

Where can I get more information about the number of drinks I can have?

Different types of alcohol have different levels of alcohol content. To find out a bit more about standard drinks, the Health Promotion Agency has more information on what a standard drink looks like for different alcohol types. They also have a little game where you can see how many standard drinks you’re pouring for a few different types of alcohol.

When can the police test my alcohol levels?

The police can pull you over randomly and at any time while you’re driving to test your breath for alcohol, even if they haven’t noticed anything wrong with your driving.

How will the police test my alcohol level when they pull me over?

The first test that the police will usually do is a ‘sniffer’ test that uses a breath sensing device. Usually, you will be asked to speak your name and address (or something similarly simple) into the sniffer. The device will pick up if there is any alcohol on your breath at all. You’re allowed to refuse to do the sniffer test, but if you refuse, you’ll be asked to do a breath screening test. Similarly, if alcohol is detected by the device, you’ll be asked to do a breath screening test.

What happens if I refuse or fail the Sniffer Test / Passive Breath Test?

If the sniffer test comes back positive for alcohol, or if you refuse to take it, police can ask you to do another ‘screening’ breath test. You have to blow into a bag, which gives an estimate of the amount of alcohol in your system. Being an estimate, it can’t be used as evidence in court. If you have a screening breath test, you have to stay until the results come back. It’s an offence to leave. If you fail or refuse to do the screening breath test, which you can do, then you’ll likely be asked to do an evidential test.

What happens if I refuse or fail the breath-screening test?

If the screening test comes back positive or you refuse to take the screening test, then you’ll be asked to take a more precise ‘evidential’ breath test or a blood test or both. You might have to go with an officer to a station or a “booze bus” to have these tests done. Before doing either tests, the police should inform you of your right to speak to a lawyer.

You’ll firstly be asked to participate in an evidential breath test. If the results of the test show you’re above the limit, you’ll have 10 minutes to decide whether you’d like to do a blood test also which the police must tell you about. The results of the last test will be used as evidence in Court. If you’re still over the limit for a blood test, the penalty will include the costs of administering the blood test.

It’s illegal to refuse to go with the officer for these tests. If you refuse to take the tests, you can be arrested, fined up to $4,500 and disqualified from driving.

What is the punishment for drink driving when you’re under 20 years old?

It depends on how much alcohol you have in your system.

  • Having small amounts (0 – 150 micrograms per litre of breath or 0 – 30 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood) is an infringement offence. You will have to pay an infringement fee of $200, and get 50 demerit points.
  • Having more than that is a crime where you will need to appear in court. If convicted, your licence will be automatically disqualified for at least 3 months. You can also be imprisoned for up to 3 months, or fined up to $2,250 (This is the maximum sentence, the likely sentence will be less).
    If you’re going to the District Court, diversion is not usually offered for drink driving offences. This means you could have a criminal record if found guilty.

What is the punishment for drink driving when you’re 20 years or older?

It depends on how much alcohol is in your system:

  • Having medium amounts (251 – 400 micrograms per litre of breath or 51 – 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood) is an infringement offence. You could be fined up to $200 and get 50 demerit points. If you elect to do a blood test and fail, you could be fined up to $700 and get 50 demerit points.
  • Having more than the above is a crime regardless of your age. Your licence will automatically be disqualified for at least 6 months. You can also be imprisoned for up to 3 months, or fined up to $4,500. (This is the maximum penalty, the likely penalty will be less.)

What happens if I’ve been convicted of drink driving multiple times?

If you have committed a drink driving or a similar offence 2 or more times in the past, your licence will automatically be disqualified for more than a year (duration is up to the judge). You can also be imprisoned for up to 2 years, or fined up to $6,000.

If you’re repeatedly convicted of traffic offences involving drugs and alcohol, your licence can be disqualified indefinitely. You might get it back by proving to the court that you have dealt with your drug/alcohol problem. After the Transport Agency agrees to end your indefinite disqualification you still have to apply to have your licence reinstated. You might have to sit the driver’s licence tests again.

If you’re repeatedly convicted of this type of offence within a short space of time (within 4 years) you could also have your car confiscated.

You may also have a zero alcohol licence.

What happens if the blood test find traces of drugs?

The same penalties also apply if your blood contains evidence of drugs, or if you are influenced by drugs or alcohol so much that you can’t properly control your vehicle. If you’re technically under the limit, but your driving is significantly affected by drugs or alcohol, you can still be penalised.

What happens if I injure someone while under the influence?

If you kill or injure someone while driving under the influence, the penalties are more severe and there will be a much higher chance of being sent to prison. The maximum penalty is up to 10 years of imprisonment, up to $20,000 fine and disqualification 1 year or more (and more than 1 year if it is your third or subsequent offence).

Can I get diversion for drink driving?

It’s up to the prosecution but generally, diversion is not offered for drink driving charges.  This means that you’ll likely get a conviction on your criminal record, even if you’ve never broken the law before.

What is an Alcohol Interlock Disqualification?

If you’re convicted of drink driving, you could be given a 3-month alcohol interlock disqualification as a sentence. If you wish to drive again after your disqualification period has ended, you may have to apply for an alcohol interlock licence. This means you’re only allowed to drive a vehicle that has an approved alcohol interlock device. Every time you start your car, you have to breathe into the device and only if your breath alcohol is at zero, can you start the car. You also have to breathe into the device at intervals along the way, and the car will stop if there is any alcohol on your breath. You must pay for the installation of the alcohol interlock device to be installed in your car.

What is a Zero Alcohol Disqualification?

If you have a zero alcohol disqualification as a sentence, then you have to apply for a zero alcohol licence after your disqualification period is finished or after completing the alcohol interlock disqualification in order to continue driving. If you’re on a zero alcohol licence, you aren’t allowed to drive if you have any alcohol in your system at all. You have to maintain the zero alcohol licence for 3 years before you’re allowed to apply for a regular licence again.

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