In case you didn’t know it, it’s unlawful to drive a ride-on mower home from the pub when you’re drunk …and an e-Scooter, a mobility scooter or a bicycle too.
The story about the man from Tweed Heads who got caught driving his ride-on mower on the road while drunk might be getting a few giggles at the pub, but it brings to light a very serious legal topic that people should know about.
After years of education and increasing penalties for DUI, we all know that it’s illegal to drive a car while drunk, or while under the influence of drugs … But what about a bicycle, or another type of vehicle like an e-Scooter?
Yes, it is.
Let’s talk about things with wheels
The legal limit for drivers to take control of a vehicle in New South Wales is 0.05 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). For L-Platers and P-Platers the legal limit is zero.
This limit applies to road vehicles (cars, motorbikes and heavy vehicles too), e-Scooters, mobility scooters and bicycles too.
While skateboards and rollerblades are technically not allowed to be on the road and should only be used on private property or the footpath, if you are caught drunk or under the influence of drugs while skateboarding or rollerblading in public you potentially pose a risk to yourself and the community and police may take action.
While you should know your rights, remember, it is also an offence to refuse a roadside alcohol or drug test when stopped by police. Under the Road Transport Act 2013, if you refuse to take the test the maximum penalty is equivalent to being convicted of high-range drink driving.
Drink and drug driving are serious offences
In New South Wales, as in most other states around Australia, drink driving (under s110) and ‘drug driving’ are considered very serious offences. ‘Drug driving’ is a colloquial term which is used to describe both (i) people driving under the influence of drugs (charged under s112), and (ii) someone driving with a trace of drugs in an oral fluid sample (charged under s111), even though their driving may not be impaired by drugs they took days ago – all there needs to be is a trace in an oral fluid sample and you’re labelled a ‘drug driver’ and convicted and sentenced. Penalties for drink driving and (both types of) ‘drug driving’ generally include disqualification of licence, fines, sometimes good behaviour bonds, (even prison terms for some offenders), and (in the case of drink drivers, at mid- or high-range levels) a requirement to install an alcohol interlock device. The penalties are essentially determined by the circumstances of the offending, any mitigating or aggravating elements (like an accident, or multiple passengers, etc), the need to send a message of specific or general deterrence, the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream at the time of testing and whether or not this is a first-time or subsequent offence.
Tough laws were introduced into New South Wales in 2019. At the date of writing this blog, if you’re charged with low-range drink driving, your licence is suspended immediately, for three months, and you are fined $587.00. You can appeal this suspension at the local court and many people seek legal advice on how to appeal the low-range automatic 3 month license suspension.
In June 2021, a new combined drink/drug driving offence was introduced in New South Wales, with very tough penalties including increased fines and increased disqualification periods. If the offence is a second or subsequent offence within five years, penalties are roughly double that of a first-time offence.
If you’re ordered onto an interlock license, this means that after a disqualification, your license is conditional on you only driving a car with an interlock device fitted to it. Interlocks devices stop a car from starting until the driver has blown into the interlock device. Interlock devices are part of the mandatory sentence in NSW that flows from a conviction for mid- or high-range drink driving. Having an interlock license can be difficult for people who share vehicles with others, for work or family.
Alcohol and drugs are still major killers on the road
According to the statistics, last year 54 people lost their lives in alcohol related crashes on NSW roads and 303 were injured. Researchers say that fatal crashes spiked in 2020 and 2021, after years of being in decline.
Unfortunately, what this tends to demonstrate is that despite a ‘tough on crime’ approach, Australians are still slow to get the message about how serious it is to drink and drive, or drive under the influence of drugs.
The best approach is to leave the car at home. In regional areas, where there’s not a lot of choice when it comes to public transport (especially after hours) it is tempting to drive – but the consequences can be severe. Almost three-quarters (72%) of the alcohol-related road fatalities that occurred last year, happened on country roads.
There are very few defences available to someone charged with drink-driving, or ‘drug driving’. Generally, people plead guilty to the offence, and get legal advice on how to reduce or minimise the sentence. Most are hopeful that if they plead guilty, they might not be convicted (in which case there is no disqualification or fine); or if convicted they seek legal advice to try and reduce the disqualification period and/or fine. In my experience, the real value of getting professional advice for drink driving or ‘drug driving’ is when it comes to sentencing for these offences.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice.
If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.