New Penalties for Drug Drivers

On 29 November 2017, the South Australian Parliament approved changes to alcohol and drug driving penalties and roadside drug testing.

The changes are intended to reduce the incidence of drug driving and improve road safety for all road users.

Drug driving is one of a number of contributors to road deaths in South Australia. Between 2012 and 2016, an average of 24% of drivers or riders killed on South Australian roads tested positive to THC (the active component in cannabis), methylamphetamine (speed, ice or crystal meth), MDMA (ecstasy) or a combination of these drugs.

Unlike alcohol-related road fatalities, the number of motorists killed in road crashes who are testing positive to drugs is not decreasing, with an average of 13 drivers/riders killed testing positive each year.

Key changes, to be implemented later in 2018, include:

  1. A three-month licence disqualification for a first drug driving offence that is expiated and increase the court-imposed disqualification period

    Currently a first drug driving offence that is expiated, incurs an expiation fee and four demerit points. When the new laws are introduced, a driver who expiates a first drug driving offence will incur a three-month licence disqualification, in addition to the existing expiation fee and four demerit points.

    The minimum licence disqualification for drivers who elect to be prosecuted and are convicted by the court for a first drug diving offence will increase from three to six months.

  2. Increased licence disqualification periods for repeat drug driving offences

    The minimum court-imposed licence disqualification periods for repeat drug driving offences will increase as follows:

    • Second offence – not less than 12 months (currently not less than six months)
    • Third offence – not less than two years (currently not less than one year)
    • Subsequent offence – not less than three years (currently not less than two years)


    The penalties for refusal or failure to undertake a drug screening test, oral fluid analysis or blood test will increase to:

    • First offence – not less than 12 months (currently not less than six months)
    • Subsequent offence – not less than three years (currently not less than two years)

     

    CURRENT PENALTIES

    PROPOSED CHANGE

    Driving with prescribed drug in oral fluid or blood

    (section 47BA of the Road Traffic Act 1961)

    First
    offence

    ‘On the spot’ fine (currently $587); and
    4 demerit points
    OR
    Court penalty – a fine of not less than $900 and not more than $1,300; and
    4 demerit points; and
    Licence disqualification - not less than 3 months

    Current penalties plus Licence disqualification  - 3 months

    OR

    Current penalties with  increased Licence disqualification – not less than 6 months

    Second offence

    Court penalty – a fine of not less than $1,100 and not more than $1,600; and
    4 demerit points; and
    Licence disqualification - not less than six months

    Current penalties with Licence disqualification increased to not less than 12 months.

    Third
    offence

    Court penalty – a fine of not less than $1,500 and not more than $2,200; and
    4 demerit points; and
    Licence disqualification - not less than 12 months

    Current penalties plus Licence disqualification increased to not less than 2 years

    Subsequent offences

    Court penalty – a fine of not less than $1,500 and not more than $2,200; and
    4 demerit points; and
    Licence disqualification - not less than 2 years

    Current penalties plus Licence disqualification increased to not less than 3 years

    Refusal or failure to undertake a drug screening test, oral fluid analysis or blood test

    (section 47EAA of the Road Traffic Act 1961) 

    First
    offence

    Court penalty – a fine of not less than $900 and not more than $1,300; and
    6 demerit points; and
    Licence disqualification – not less than 6 months

    Current penalties plus Licence disqualification increased to not less than 12 months

    Subsequent offences

    Court penalty – a fine of not less than $1,500 and not more than $2,200; and
    6 demerit points; and
    Licence disqualification - not less than 2 years

    Current penalties plus Licence disqualification increased to not less than 3 years

    * Penalties do not include $60 Victims of Crime Levy

  3. A driver detected drug or drink driving (0.08 BAC and above) with a child aged under 16 years in the car must show they are not dependent before being re-licensed

    A person drug or drink driving places a child passenger at an increased risk of being involved in a serious crash. For this reason, there will be a new offence of drug or drink driving with a child under the age of 16 present in the vehicle. The new offence will apply where the driver’s blood alcohol content is .08 or greater – that is, a category 2 offence and higher – and to all drug driving offences.

    Drivers committing this offence will be required to either undergo a dependency assessment or complete a treatment program, and the driver will not regain their licence until they show they are not dependent.

    Current penalties (fine, licence disqualification period and demerit points) that apply for the respective drug or drink driving offence will also apply.

    Currently a drug or alcohol dependency assessment is only required for repeat drug and drink driving offences.

  4. The option for drink and drug drivers to complete a treatment program

    Currently, drivers who commit repeat drug and drink driving offences must undergo a dependency assessment and be found not dependent in order to regain their driver’s licence.

    When the new laws take effect, repeat drug and drink drivers will have the option of completing an alcohol or drug dependency treatment program. Drivers must show they are not dependent in order to regain their driver’s licence.

    As is currently the case, the cost of a dependency assessment will be borne by the driver. Any costs arising from participation in a treatment program would also need to be borne by the driver.

  5. Increased penalty for driving unlicensed at the end of the disqualification period, if the driver did not show they are not dependent on alcohol and drugs

    Currently, the offence of driving unlicensed attracts an expiation fee of $454 or a maximum court penalty of $1,250.

    When the new laws are implemented, any person caught driving unlicensed who was required to show that they are not dependent on alcohol or drugs will face a fine of up to $5000 or imprisonment for one year and disqualification from holding or obtaining a licence for not less than three years.

    This is consistent with the approach taken for motorists caught driving unlicensed following disqualification for a serious drink driving offence and not having entered the Mandatory Alcohol Interlock Scheme.

The new laws will also streamline the roadside drug testing process, so that only one, rather than two, screening tests will be undertaken by Police. If a screening test is positive, an oral fluid sample will be sent for laboratory analysis to confirm the presence of drugs, as per existing practice.

More information:

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