The NSW government recently proposed to give police new powers to issue on-the-spot fines and licence suspensions for first time, low-range drink driving offences.
A low-range drink driving offence applies to a driver who has recorded a prescribed concentration of alcohol (PCA) of between 0.05 – 0.08.
The proposal has generated a lot of discussion, particularly in the legal community, as to whether such powers are appropriate. The most common concern is that an ‘on-the-spot’ penalty notice detracts from the seriousness of the offence, as offenders would not have to attend court and ‘face up’ to their actions.
The proposal, if implemented, would bring NSW in line with existing Victorian laws, where drivers over the age of 26 caught low-range drink driving between 0.05 – 0.07 receive an on-the-spot fine and 10 demerit points.
According to Judicial Commission Sentencing statistics, of drivers who were charged with low-range drink driving, almost 50% received s 10(1)(b) [or (c)] non-conviction good behaviour bond. Additionally, 44.4% of offenders received a conviction and a fine. Of those 44.4% of offenders, the average fine imposed was between $501-$750 and the average disqualification period imposed by magistrates was three (3) months.
The proposal by the NSW government would see motorists receiving a $561 fine and an immediate three (3) month licence disqualification, which is very much in the median range of fines and disqualification periods currently imposed in the local court.
It is also proposed that police will have discretionary power to choose to issue a driver with a court attendance notice (CAN), instead of issuing an on-the-spot fine, when having regard to the circumstances of the offence. This means drivers issued with a CAN will need to attend court for sentencing.
However, drivers still have the opportunity to appeal their matter in the local court. Although, if convicted, offenders face an automatic disqualification period of six (6) months and a maximum $2,200 fine (which is double the current maximum amount).
Currently, first-time offenders who are caught low-range drink driving face an automatic disqualification period of six (6) months, with a magistrate having the discretion to lower the disqualification to a minimum period of three (3). Offenders also currently face a maximum $1,100 fine and the prospect of a criminal conviction.
Are we undermining the seriousness of drink driving offences with drivers no longer facing a criminal conviction?