Drink driving offenders in the ACT may face a range of situations in which, in addition to outright licence disqualification, they may also have to install and abide by an interlock device.
Alcohol interlocks are devices fitted to the ignition of a chosen vehicle requiring drivers to blow an alcohol-free breath in order to allow the vehicle to start.
Whilst interlocks might appear like a further barrier or punishment, compliance with the device allows drivers to get back onto the road earlier than usual and in a safe manner.
Mandatory alcohol interlock court orders apply for certain drink driving offences. For any level 4 drink driving offences (high range readings of at least 0.15) or for a driver who is sentenced for their 3rd drink driving offence within the last 5 years, the Courts must make mandatory interlock orders. Drivers are required to complete the mandatory interlock period for half the total licence disqualification period, or 6 months, whichever is longer (s73Y Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2000 (ACT).
The earliest an interlock can be installed and used is halfway through the disqualification period. For example, for an 18-month total disqualification a driver must have an interlock installed 9 months into that period and must abide by an interlock condition for 9 months. For a total 9-month disqualification the interlock would be installed 4 and a half months in but must stay in place for 6 months.
If there was an immediate suspension notice imposed by police from the time of the driving offence up to the date of sentencing in court, the total disqualification period imposed by the court is reduced by that time. The maximum length of an immediate suspension notice is 90 days.
Any application to be exempted from an interlock condition in “special circumstances” (such as a relevant medical condition) must be made to the ACT Road Transport Authority (“RTA”) (s 73ZE Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2000).
For any other drink driving offence (whether level 1, 2 or 3) a driver can voluntarily have an interlock device installed for the entire period of licence disqualification. Unlike mandatory interlock periods this is not a court order. The Court will make a generic licence disqualification and after that a driver can choose whether or not they want to approach the RTA to have a voluntary interlock installed. If so, the interlock must be for at least 6 months so a driver with a 3-month disqualification can decide whether to simply see out that outright disqualification period or have an interlock installed for 6 months.
For drivers convicted of their first drink driving offence they can alternatively apply to have a restricted (worker’s) licence throughout the period of disqualification as long as the reading is less than 0.10 for full-licence holders or 0.50 for provisional licence holders. They will need to demonstrate a need to drive for work or health purposes and would only be permitted to drive for those strict reasons. Unfortunately alcohol interlocks and restricted licences are not options for drug driving offences.
Drivers must contact the RTA to apply for interlock licences and only a small list of approved installer companies can set them up. The total costs of installation and monthly fees for a 6-month period is around $1200.00. Drivers with a Centrelink or Veterans’ Affairs Concession Card can apply for a 35% discount on these fees.
Only a single vehicle can be nominated for the interlock to be installed and any other users of that vehicle must also abide by the interlock.
Successful completion of an interlock period requires the RTA to be satisfied that in the final 3 months of the period the interlock device a driver did not at any time blow a reading of 0.02 or higher, or blow a reading between 0 and 0.02 more than once. Contraventions of the condition of an interlock device is an offence that may result in a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine.
Drivers subjected to interlock conditions can apply to transfer their licence to an equivalent NSW licence and vice versa.
Adrian McKenna, Partner