Over the next 24 months or so, the State government looks set to roll out various amendments to our traffic laws which will have a significant effect on penalties meted out to drink drivers on our roads. On 12 September this year, the Queensland Parliament assented to the Transport Legislation (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2019, which introduces substantial changes to a swathe of traffic regulation legislation. Amongst the more notable changes are provisions regarding the mandatory use of interlock devices for those convicted of any drink driving offence.

An alcohol ignition interlock is a breath test device linked to the ignition system of a vehicle so as to prevent the vehicle from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol content exceeds zero. Previously, anyone convicted of driving with a high range alcohol reading (i.e .15 or above) was required to have such a device fitted to their motor vehicle, at their own expense, for a minimum period of 12 months after they had served their period of driver disqualification. If the device was not fitted, they were not authorised to drive for a period of at least two years. 

Now, the changes imported by the new legislation into the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 and the Alcohol Ignition Interlock Program will mean any person who is convicted of a mid-range drink driving offence (i.e between .08 and .15) will also be automatically subjected to the Interlock Program. 

The changes to the Act will mean that the program is now performance-based, meaning that if you blow zero on the device for a consistent period then you will be released from the program. However, if you choose to not have the device fitted the changes will mean you are not authorised to drive for a period of five years. Likewise, those convicted of a mid-range driving offence but granted a restricted work licence allowing them to drive for work purposes, will also be required to have an interlock device fitted to their vehicle.

Of course, all this comes at a not-inconsiderable cost. Anecdotally, my scuttlebutt suggests most contractors are currently charging around $1,800.00 to fit, rent and maintain the device, so on top of the hefty court fine and disqualification, it all begins to mount up.

The new law also tightens things up around interstate disqualification. Currently, a drink driving conviction in a particular state results in disqualification “from holding or obtaining a driver licence” in that state only. However, the new legislation introduces amendments to the Transport Operations (Road Use Management – Driver Licensing) Regulation 2010, providing that if a person has been disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver licence in another state, each Queensland driver licence held by them is automatically cancelled. That amendment means it will no longer be necessary for the chief executive of the Department of Transport and Main Roads to invite the holder of a Queensland licence to “show cause” why their licence should not be cancelled consequent upon their disqualification in another state. It will just follow as a matter of course.

The changes to the program  are yet to be given proclamation, meaning they are not yet current law. But, given our horrendous road casualty statistics, and gathering community impatience with those who mix drinking with driving on our roads, their passage through Parliament would seem all but inevitable.

Natasha Dawson, Criminal Lawyer, Queensland

Natasha Dawson - Gold Coast Criminal Lawyer