Recent Changes to Drink Driving Penalties

As from 1 July 2018, the penalty has changed for people who have been convicted of a second drink or drug driving offence within 5 years of the previous offence having been committed, and people who drive with over 800 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath or 160 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

If a person finds themselves in one of the categories described above, the court must impose an alcohol interlock sentence. This means that the person is disqualified from holding or obtaining a standard driver licence, but authorised to obtain an Alcohol Interlock licence, which involves the wiring of a breath testing device into a person’s vehicle which will prevent the vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected.

Based on past offence levels, it is estimated that over 4,000 Alcohol Interlock devices will be fitted annually. It is hoped by the government that this new initiative will reduce future drink driving offences being committed.


The Process

Following sentencing, there is a 28 day period of disqualification before a person can apply for an alcohol interlock licence, although this date can be later if a person has an existing suspension or disqualification, which must come to an end before any application can be made.

Following the disqualification period, a person can apply to the NZTA for an alcohol interlock licence which will permit them to only drive a vehicle (or vehicles) with an alcohol interlock device installed (AID). Before starting the car, the driver is required to blow into the device. If a zero alcohol reading is recorded, the vehicle will start. If not, the vehicle will not start and this data will be recorded. If the device detects alcohol, there will be a set period of time before there can be another attempt to start the vehicle, after which the same process will need to be followed. The AIDs have been designed to be tamper proof, and will also prompt the driver for a re-test while driving. If there is no re-test undertaken while driving, or if there is any attempt made to tamper with the device, an alarm will be triggered.

After 12 months of holding an alcohol interlock licence, provided the individual has complied with some pre-requisites, the individual can then apply for a zero alcohol licence. The pre-requisites include that only vehicles with an interlock device have been driven, there have been no attempts to tamper with the device, it has been serviced as required and all other regulations met and there have been no further offences committed. The zero alcohol licence lasts for a period of three years, and if there are no further convictions during that period and all requirements have been met, the individual can apply for a licence on standard conditions.


Other information

The devices are expensive to install and require regular testing, however there are subsidies available for individuals who would qualify for financial assistance if their annual income is below a set threshold.

There are only two authorised installers of these devices, who have approved agents throughout New Zealand who can undertake the installation and testing of the devices. The NZTAS website has information to help person to find their nearest installers.

The Court can only stand back from imposing an alcohol interlock sentence in certain situations, which are limited. If an application to avoid an alcohol interlock sentence is successful, the usual disqualification specified in the Act for the relevant driving offence would apply, and after that disqualification period ends, then a person would need to apply for a zero alcohol licence if they wish to drive again.


The rules and penalties around drink driving are complex. If you find yourself charged with a driving with excess breath alcohol offence, make contact with one of our team, who will guide you through the process.

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