19 Nov 2018
As statistics graphically illustrate, drink driving remains an international problem. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, in 2015 more than 50% of all traffic deaths on South African roads were attributed to alcohol consumption. In the same year, drinking and driving also contributed to more than one-third (34%) of all road deaths in Canada, 31% of all motor vehicle fatalities in the United States and 30% of all fatal road accidents in Australia.
In the report’s Executive Summary, however, the WHO also notes that the adoption and enforcement of “good laws” is “effective in changing road user behaviour on key risk factors for road traffic injuries”, including drink driving. And to that end, authorities throughout Australia continue to crack down on motorists that engage in the dangerous activity.
With that in mind, here’s what you should know about the consequences of drink driving in Queensland.
If you are caught, you will receive a summons to appear in the Magistrates Court closest to where the offence occurred. The Magistrate will make a determination about the penalties, which range from a fine and disqualification to imprisonment. The type of punishment imposed will depend on several factors including:
- Your breath or blood alcohol concentration at the time of the offence;
- your driving record (traffic history);
- whether you have any prior convictions for drink driving.
The four blood alcohol concentration limits used in Queensland
In Queensland, four classifications pertaining to blood alcohol concentration are used to determine which penalty or penalties will be imposed for a drink driving offence. These are: the no alcohol limit, the general alcohol limit (0.05 to 0.09), the middle alcohol limit (0.10 to 0.149), and the high alcohol limit (over 0.15).
The no alcohol limit prohibits certain drivers from having any alcohol in their blood at all while operating vehicles on Queensland roads. This applies to you if you are a learner or if you have a P1, P2 or a restricted licence (regardless of your age). It also applies to anyone driving a truck, taxi, limousine, tow truck or tractor.
The commission of a DUI offence of drink driving while over the no alcohol limit usually results in the disqualification of your ability to obtain or hold a Queensland driver’s licence for at least three months upon conviction. Furthermore, you are ineligible to apply for a drink driving work licence if a Magistrate finds you guilty of this offence.
The general alcohol limit, which is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%, applies to most Queensland drivers. Specifically, it applies to anyone who has a valid Queensland driver’s licence and is exempt from the no alcohol limit.
If you are convicted of a DUI drink driving offence in which your blood alcohol concentration exceeds the general alcohol limit, your ability to obtain or hold a Queensland driver’s licence will automatically be disqualified for at least one month. However, you may be able to apply for a drink driving work licence if you meet certain criteria.
There are more serious consequences upon conviction for a DUI drink driving offence when your blood alcohol concentration exceeds the middle alcohol limit, or 0.10%. In this case, your ability to obtain or hold a Queensland driver’s licence will be disqualified for at least three months, but you may be able to get a drink driving work licence.
Finally, if your blood alcohol concentration exceeds the high alcohol limit of 0.15% when you are behind the wheel, you will be charged with the most serious DUI drink driving offence.
Because there is a legal assumption that you are under the influence of alcohol or liquor based on the extreme reading in these circumstances, this offence is sometimes called “driving under the influence of liquor” (or “UIL”).
Conviction for this type of offence brings the harshest penalties, beginning with a disqualification of your ability to obtain or hold a Queensland driver’s licence for at least six months. Since there is no maximum period for disqualification, your licence could be disqualified for a year or more, depending on your specific circumstances. If this isn’t your first conviction, you may even face probation, community service or jail time. In any case, you will not be able to get a drink driving work licence.
Understanding the drink driving ‘ranges’
If you are charged with “low-range drink driving” in Queensland, it means your blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) was above the general alcohol limit (0.05%) but below the middle alcohol limit (0.10%).
A low-range drink driving conviction brings a maximum penalty of three months imprisonment and/or a 14 Penalty Unit fine for a first offence.
If you commit and are convicted of a second offence within five years, you face up to six months imprisonment and/or a 20 Penalty Unit fine. Conviction for a third or subsequent offence within five years brings a maximum penalty of nine months imprisonment and/or a 28 Penalty Unit fine.
As we have already noted, you will be unable to obtain or hold a Queensland driver’s licence if you’re convicted on this type of drink driving charge. The length of your disqualification can range from one to nine months for a first offence, and three to 18 months if you’re convicted for a second and/or subsequent offence.
If the Magistrate imposes more than one period of disqualification (which may happen if you’re a repeat offender), you must serve these cumulatively. In other words, one term won’t begin until the previous term ends.
You should also be aware that if you have multiple convictions for low-range drink driving, you must have an Alcohol Ignition Interlock device attached to your nominated vehicle for 12 months once you regain your driving privilege.
If Queensland authorities catch you driving a vehicle with a BAC greater than the “middle alcohol limit” (0.10%), but below the “high alcohol limit” (0.15%), you will likely be charged with “mid-range drink driving.” This is the second most serious drink driving offence under Queensland law, punishable by a maximum of six months imprisonment and/or a 20 penalty unit fine for a first offence.
The commission of and conviction for a second mid-range drink driving offence within five years can also result in up to six months imprisonment and/or a 20 penalty unit fine. However, the commission of and conviction for a third or subsequent offence in that period brings a maximum penalty of nine months imprisonment and/or a 28 penalty unit fine.
When you’re convicted of a mid-range drink driving offence for the first time, the Magistrate will automatically disqualify you from holding or obtaining a Queensland driver’s licence for three to 12 months. Repeat offenders face immediate disqualification for three to 18 months.
The stipulations that apply to multiple disqualification periods and Alcohol Ignition Interlock devices for low-range drink driving convictions also apply to mid-range drink driving convictions.
Lastly, if you have a BAC greater than 0.15% percent or the “high alcohol limit” while behind the wheel, you will be charged with “high-range drink driving”. As we have already noted, this is the most serious drink driving offence under Queensland law. As such, the maximum penalty upon conviction is nine months imprisonment and/or a 28 Penalty Unit fine – and that’s just for a first offence.
The maximum penalty for a second, or subsequent, offence within five years is 18 months imprisonment and/or a 60 Penalty Unit fine. Furthermore, Queensland law mandates that a sentence that “includes imprisonment” is imposed if you are convicted of a third, and any subsequent, offence within five years of the first. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will serve out your entire jail sentence, it is likely that will be the case.
Whenever it finds someone guilty of high range drink driving, a court must disqualify them from holding or obtaining a Queensland driver’s licence for at least six months for a first offence; at least one year for a second; and at least two years for any subsequent offences. Although it rarely does so, the Magistrate (or Magistrates Court) is also authorised to disqualify someone absolutely (meaning they can never hold or apply for another Queensland driver’s licence) – even for a first high range drink driving offence.
The stipulations pertaining to multiple disqualification periods for low-range and mid-range drink driving offences also apply to those resulting from high-range drink driving offences.
If you’re convicted of high-range drink driving, you must also have an Alcohol Ignition Interlock device affixed to your nominated vehicle for 12 months after your licence is restored.
Understanding what affects your blood alcohol concentration
Clearly the easiest way to avoid running afoul of Queensland’s drink driving laws, and to avoid hurting or killing yourself or others, is to refrain from having any alcohol at all when you know you will be driving. If you insist upon having “one or two drinks” with family or friends, it is also important that you understand the factors that can affect the way in which your body processes alcohol – and therefore your BAC. These factors include but are not limited to your:
- Drinking habits (consumption)
- Body type
The amount of alcohol in the adult beverage(s) you’ve consumed, whether or not the beverages are carbonated, and whether or not you’ve eaten can also influence your BAC.
Seeking legal assistance
Being charged with any drink driving offence in Queensland is a serious matter. With your driving privileges and even your freedom potentially at stake, you should never leave anything to chance. Contact us for legal advice and representation today.