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Drink Driving and the Christmas/New Year Season

It’s that time of year again, as we lead into the Christmas/New Year season, where nearly everyone begins to wind down for the holiday break. Schools are about to finish for the year and businesses close to allow their hard working employees a well-deserved rest. And of course as part of this winding down for the Christmas break are the parties. Be it Christmas parties with work colleagues, family, friends, enjoying a few refreshing Christmas drinks at the local pub or simply indulging at home , the Christmas/New Year period is certainly one that makes it easy to overindulge.

Drinking is not without its associated risks, and these risks can be amplified when in an environment that facilitates a deregulation of inhibitions. It is easy to go to a party or function, but what a lot of people don’t plan for is how they’ll get home. Often the temptation to drive home from a party or function is too great for some, and can often result in unwanted lifelong consequences.

Drinking excess alcohol basically alters the brain’s ability to function properly, with inhibition of behavior and the impairment of motor skills. The result is often poor decisions being made, and then poor execution of those decisions. Examples of this are varied, and can include making inappropriate statements, to arguments or fights. All examples of poor decision making. However, by far the main decision made by people who have been drinking at a Christmas party is the decision to drive home, particularly when a party such as a work Christmas party is held during the day.

Driving a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol has a range of effects, and results can be as extreme as causing the death of another road user, yourself or one of your passengers.

There are however, ways to minimize the potential to make a poor decision and drive under the influence of alcohol. The first, and most obvious is don’t drive after drinking alcohol! This may be easier said than done, but it can be done with a bit of forward planning. If possible, have a designated driver who is able to drive people home safely. Alternatively, use a taxi or public service for transport. Another option is to simply not drink, or to regulate alcohol intake. However, the regulation of alcohol intake is often guesswork. Many people attempt to regulate their alcohol intake, but still find themselves arrested for drink driving. Most people attempt to calculate their alcohol intake using the standard drinks guide. This guide essentially states that a standard drink is a midi of full strength beer, a standard glass of wine or a standard nip of spirits; and that a person can generally have 2 standard drinks in an hour and not be over the limit of .05 millilitres of alcohol in the bloodstream.

However, the reliance on this guide often leads many to miscalculate the amount of alcohol they are drinking. While the standard drink guide is a guide only, other factors can affect the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream, such as a person’s metabolism and alcohol absorption rate, which are very difficult to quantify and can differ from person to person. On top of that is the often incorrect calculation of drinks. While the standard guide indicates 2 midis of full strength beer in an hour is acceptable, many still make this calculation based of stubbies of beer. A stubby is generally around 1.3 standard drinks, so even 2 can put a person over the legal limit. Beer also can come with a range of strength, with some full strength beers containing more alcohol than others. The same can be said for wine. Wine comes with a range of strengths, and often people are not aware of these differences. Drinking wine can also be difficult to calculate as each glass can contain differing amounts, particularly when in a situation where someone is pouring the wine and pouring more than the standard drink, or if someone is topping up drinks. It can be very easy to miscalculate.

The other, main consequence of drink driving is detection by police and an arrest for drink driving. Driving under the influence of alcohol is particularly present in the Northern Rivers area of NSW. A reason for this is the lack of public transport, combined with the transient nature of the many tourists and holiday makers who visit the area. Regardless, NSW Police can be often seen operating Random Breath and Drug Testing Stations across the region. With these testing stations, often all motorists that drive past are tested. Police will often position themselves on a road that may be the only road out of a town, so all motorists can be tested, and for those who have driven after drinking too much, there is no escape. Police also have the power to pull over any motorist for the purposes of a Random Breath Test. Police can, and will often do this, and can target any motorist, regardless of if they are driving erratically or not; it is totally random.

For a motorist who is caught driving with too much alcohol in their system, the consequences can range from the embarrassment of being arrested and appearing before a Magistrate in a Local Court, to heavy fines, a loss of licence and in some cases, a custodial sentence. The outcome, however, will depend on a range of factors, including whether the motorist was on P-Plates or on a full licence. Then, of course there is the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream relative to the class of licence. A driver on their L or P plates must have no alcohol in their system while driving. Open licence holders may have up to .049 concentration of alcohol. The penalties for drink driving increase with a higher concentration of alcohol. Penalties also vary for repeat offenders.

For L and P plate drivers, having any alcohol under .05 incurs a maximum fine of $1,100 and an automatic 6 month license disqualification. For all drivers, having an alcohol concentration of .05 to .079, which is low range, incurs a conviction, a maximum fine of $1,100 and an automatic 6 month license disqualification. Having a mid-range concentration of alcohol, being .08 to .149 incurs a conviction, a maximum 9 months prison, a $2,200 fine and an automatic 12 month license disqualification. Having an alcohol concentration of .015 and over is high range, and incurs a conviction, a maximum of 12 months prison, a $3,300 fine and an automatic 3 year license disqualification. The above penalties are for first time offenders; for second or subsequent offenders the penalties are effectively doubled.

The penalties for drink driving can be onerous to say the least, and can have a lasting impact that can affect employment prospects and overseas travel; cause social exclusion and a loss of independence. However, if you are charged with drink driving, under the right circumstances the penalties can be minimised. A first time offender charged with low or mid-range drink driving can avoid a conviction and a fine if it is proved to the Court that the person is of good character, has a good traffic record and has a need for a license such as for work purposes. Even the penalties for high range drink driving and repeat offenders can be minimised. Under the right circumstances a person can be placed on the interlock program, which requires a breath testing device to be fitted into the person’s car and a breath test performed before the car can be started. Having the interlock device can mean a person can begin driving after 6 months rather than the automatic 3 years for a high range offence.

However, successfully minimising potential penalties is not easy, and requires a skilled lawyer with a good knowledge of traffic laws. If you are arrested for a drink driving offence, contact S+P Lawyers on 1300 277 000. We have an excellent understanding of traffic law and how to minimize the penalties, and have an excellent history of obtaining outstanding results for our clients in traffic matters.