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Driving, transport and traffic offences

Keeping the roads safe this Christmas

We are fast approaching the Christmas holiday time, a time of numerous parties and work functions. The consumption of alcohol is often a part of these festivities and it is perhaps timely to remind all about the dangers in driving after drinking alcohol.

Every January, as Mactodd’s main criminal lawyer, I represent people in the Court appearing on alcohol-related charges arising out of incidents which occur during and after functions over the Christmas and New Year period. Sadly these frequently involve offences of driving with excess breath or blood alcohol.

As most people are aware, the legal limit for adults driving here in New Zealand is 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The Police have the power to carry out a breath test on:

  • any person who is driving (or attempting to drive) a motor vehicle on a road; or
  • a person who the Police Officer has good reason to suspect has recently committed a driving offence (such as driving after drinking excess alcohol); or
  • a person who the Police Officer knows or suspects was the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident.

If you are convicted of drink driving, the maximum penalty you face for a first or second offence is three months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $4,500. You also must be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of six months.

However, if you have two previous convictions for drink driving and are alleged to have committed a third offence, you will face a more serious charge which carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $6,000 and you must be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of over one year.

Many people are under the incorrect impression that convictions which occurred a number of years ago are somehow “wiped” from their record. They are not. They remain on your record for all time. The “clean slates” legislation allows you, in certain circumstances, to not have to disclose certain convictions. But if you are appearing before the Courts again on a new charge the Judge will be given your record and in the case of drink driving charges your record will dictate the level of charge you face.

Many people fall into the trap of trying to calculate how many drinks they can consume over a period of time in an attempt to stay under the limit. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to this. People metabolise alcohol at different rates and many factors influence this such as gender, size, weight, consumption of food and the consumption of alcohol the day or night before. Consumption of a large amount of alcohol on one night can remain in your system the following morning and you could still be over the limit. If you have any doubt, arrange for another form of transport to wherever you need to be the following morning. Also, while you are having lunch the following day and have one or two drinks, you may feel ok but you may in fact be “topping up” your alcohol levels which can explain why a small amount of alcohol the following day can produce what people believe is a high reading.

Many people don’t think a lot about the consequences of a driving with excess breath or blood alcohol conviction, beyond the known consequences such as having to appear in Court and being disqualified and paying a fine. However, there is an immediate consequence if you blow a reading of over 650 or have a blood reading of over 130. In that case you will be suspended from driving immediately for a period of 28 days. This 28 day suspension is in addition to any disqualification ordered by the Court and also applies if you exceed the breath or blood levels and you have previously committed particular offences within the last four years. How would the immediate loss of your licence for 28 days fit in with your holiday plans?

People sometimes think that if they lose their licence they will be able to obtain a “work licence”. A “work licence” is in fact called a limited licence. They are not automatic and they require quite a detailed application to the Court. You have to satisfy the Courts that if you cannot drive for the full duration of your disqualification you will suffer extreme hardship or others will suffer undue hardship and that there are no road safety concerns. Once you are disqualified for an offence of drink driving you have a mandatory stand down period of 28 days where you simply cannot drive. Only after the expiration of this 28 days can you make an application for a limited licence. Even if you are granted a limited licence it will be exactly that – limited. You are generally only allowed to drive on certain days of the week during certain hours and in certain areas. There are a number of other restrictions on your limited licence as well. It can be an expensive application to make as far as legal fees involved given the amount of preparation required. If you want to instruct us to prepare a limited licence application for you, please contact us no later than 2 weeks after you are disqualified so the application can be made in time.

For those of you responsible for organising work functions we suggest you take the time now to consider alternative travel options for your employees and others attending such functions to ensure that safe travel options such as taxis or mini buses are available. The last thing you want early in the new year is the name of your company being splashed over the local papers as a result of one of your employees being prosecuted for drink driving after a function organised by you. As the organiser of these functions you do have responsibilities to other road users to ensure that, where at all possible, you are not putting them at risk as a result of the over indulgence in alcohol by the guests at your function.

Of course this time of year is a time to socialise and let your hair down. However, you should know where your limits are. We have all heard horror stories of how Christmas functions have turned to custard as a result of the over indulgence in alcohol. Drink sensibly and avoid driving afterwards and look after your friends and colleagues.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season.