Drink driving penalties

by The FindLaw Team

No matter where you are in Australia, drink driving is treated as a serious offence and any person who is found to be operating a vehicle in excess of the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05, may face penalties that range from the suspension, disqualification or cancellation of their licence, loss of demerit points, fines, or imprisonment for more serious drink driving offences.

The sad reality is that a significant amount of road deaths in Australia is caused by drink driving, so it is essential that the penalties reflect the gravity of the offence, and this article will cover the general penalties for a person driving over the limit in New South Wales and Victoria to provide you with a snapshot of the types of penalties that may be imposed – no matter where you are in Australia.

Drink driving laws

Before delving deeper into the penalties that a person operating a vehicle at a BAC of 0.05 or over will attract, we should perhaps cover the general laws associated with driving while over the limit.

First, anyone who is holding a learner or probationary licence, no matter where in Australia they are, must have a zero BAC, while for holders of a full licence, it’s 0.05.

One of the things to be aware of when talking about drink driving is that the laws also extend to private property, and a person under certain circumstances may still be penalised for operating a vehicle over the blood alcohol concentration.

Additionally, it’s also an offence for a person to refuse to undergo a breathalyser test for either alcohol or drugs if so requested by a member of the police force. Furthermore, we should add that a person who is accompanying a learner driver must also not be over 0.05 BAC.

What are some of the drink driving offences and the associated penalties?

Initial offences may attract an infringement notice (and only for a first offence, subsequent offences will be treated more seriously) depending on the laws of the jurisdiction. However, we should note that a person may still be required to appear before the courts even if it is for a first offence.

New South Wales

The categories of the prescribed concentration of alcohol (PCA) offences are broken down into low range, mid range and high range PCA.

low range (including novice and special range) PCA: for low range PCA, a BAC of 0.05 but less than 0.08, will attract a maximum penalty of $1,100 for a first offence, and $2,200 for any subsequent offence. It may come as a relief for low range PCA offenders that there is no gaol time initially.

In regards to a novice driver, there must be no alcohol in their system, while for special range PCA, it’s 0.02.

In terms of suspension of a person’s licence who is a novice driver and a first time offender, the minimum penalty is the disqualification of the person’s licence for three months for a first offence or a maximum of six months.

Any subsequent offences will result in a minimum time period of a six month disqualification of the novice drivers’ licence, and the maximum penalty that can be imposed is the disqualification of the person’s licence for an unlimited time period.  Furthermore, in absence of a specific court order, the automatic penalty that will be imposed is the disqualification of a person’s licence for six months at the minimum, and 12 months as the maximum penalty.

Finally, special range PCA drivers will face an immediate suspension of their licence if they are found to be over the prescribed BAC.

mid range PCA: for a mid range PCA, a person who is found to have a BAC of 0.08 but less than 0.15, the court can impose a maximum fine of $2,200 for a first offence and $3,300 for any subsequent offences, whilst having their licence immediately suspended.

However, it is important to be aware that a driver found to be within a mid range PCA can also be imprisoned for a maximum of nine months for a first offence, and 12 months for any further offences.

high range PCA or refusal to undergo a breath test: any person found to be in operation of a vehicle at 0.15 BAC or above, may attract a maximum fine of $3,300 for a first offence and $5,500 for any further offences. In addition, like mid range PCA, the person’s licence will be immediately suspended and a term of imprisonment of 18 months for a first offence, and two years for a subsequent offence can also be imposed for high range PCA.

In instances where a person refuses to undergo a breathalyser test, a driver can face a minimum disqualification period of 12 months for a first offence, and two years for any further offences.


In Victoria, the infringement notice penalties are as follows:

BAC less than 0.05 (zero for L and P plate drivers and professional drivers): $305.35 fine and 10 demerit points.

BAC 0.05 but less than 0.07: $366.42 fine, cancellation of licence and disqualification from driving for six months for L and P plate drivers, full licence drivers under the age of 26, and professional drivers. Meanwhile for full licence holders over the age of 26, the penalty is a $366.42 fine, and 10 demerit points.

BAC 0.07 but less than 0.15: any driver found to be within this range, irrespective of the type of licence held will face fines ranging from $366.42 to $519.95, as well as the cancellation of the person’s licence for either six or 14 months, depending on the BAC.

BAC 0.15 or above (or subsequent offences): any person found to be operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.15 or above, will automatically be required to attend a Magistrates’ Court where fines, the cancellation of the person’s licence for at least 15 to 48 months, and for more serious offences, a conviction will be recorded that may result in a period of imprisonment, are the types of penalties which can be imposed.

We should emphasise that the aforementioned penalties are infringement notice penalties.

Finally in Victoria, a person who has been found to have committed a more serious driving offence may find that an alcohol interlock is to be fitted in the person’s vehicle, preventing the car from starting if alcohol is found to be in their system.    

This piece has only covered New South Wales and Victoria for the sake of efficacy. However, drink driving (and drug driving) is a serious offence no matter the jurisdiction, and if you are experiencing any issue in regards to drink or drug driving, please seek the help of a lawyer who will be able to assist.


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