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Home Resources & Technical Articles Driving & Traffic Offences Drink Driving & DUI Offences Drink driving & DUI penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Drink driving & DUI penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

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Operating a vehicle while your Blood Alcohol Content is above a certain prescribed level (PCA) attracts serious punishments from the magistrate. Yes, all drink drinking cases in the ACT must go through a Magistrate court.

However, other road misdemeanours like speeding, parking and others can be settled through Police fines.

A Police officer has the authority to pull up your vehicle at any point and request that you take a breath test. It is one of the fastest ways of checking if a driver was driving with an alcohol level above the Prescribed Blood Concentration of Alcohol (PCA).

What does it mean to drive above the PCA?

The prescribed alcohol limits for drivers are sub-categorized into 4 different classes. Each class is defined by the License type the driver is carrying. The PCA limit categories as defined in the Road Transport (Alcohol and Drugs) Act 1977 are;

  1. Level 1: (0.01 to 0.049)
  2. This category covers all holders of;

    Special category licenses (bus, taxi drivers subject to 0.02 PCA),

    Provisional license holders,

    Those with a learner's permit, who must have a BAC of 0 when operating a vehicle.

    The following levels cover all drivers with a routine license who do not have a zero BAC order;

  3. Level 2 (0.05 – 0.079)
  4. Level 3 (0.08 – 0.149)
  5. Level 4 (0.15 and more)

Before the Magistrate convicts you of a Drink Driving offence, the prosecutor (Police) must prove that;

  • You were a driver or trainer in that vehicle at an illegal BAC level
  • You were driving on or beside a road or operating the car in public
  • You have the prescribed concentration of Alcohol on your blood or breath

What are the Penalties for a Drink Driving offence?

There are various punishments and "warnings" the Magistrate will order to drivers or trainers guilty of drink driving. Section 33 of the Legislation Act 2001 lists these punishments with more information on the offences. These offences appear on a police check result.

Depending on the severity, Aggravating circumstances, other indictable offences, the court may issue any or all of;

  • Fines defined in penalty units
  • License disqualification period
  • Imprisonment term

What are Penalty Units?

A penalty unit is a standard of punishment, which roughly translates to $150. However, this amount is constantly reviewed and increased every 4 years. More on the issuance of a penalty unit is found in Section 133 of the Legislation Act 2001.

The Magistrate may order lesser punishments if they discover extenuating circumstances, it will not go below the Minimum punishments stipulated by the legislation. However, repeat or subsequent drink driving offenders get harsher punishments compared to first offenders.

Punishments for a First-time drink driving offence

A First-time drink driving offence applies to those who have no prior drink driving offence. And they are divided into 4 categories according to the PCA levels.

Level 1 PCA offences:

Special drivers Permit holders and others ordered to drive at a Zero BAC level that gets caught driving above 0.05 BAC will get fines of;

  • 5 penalty units
  • Minimum disqualification period of 3 months which can be commuted to 1 month

Level 2 PCA offences;

All those with a routine drivers license caught driving at BAC levels between 0.05 – 0.079 will get penalties of;

  • 5 penalty unit
  • 2-6 months license disqualification

Level 3 PCA offences;

All first drink driving offenders handling a vehicle between 0.08 – 0.149 BAC levels will be liable to punishments of;

  • 10 penalty points or a 6 months imprisonment term
  • A 3-12 months possible disqualification period

Level 4 PCA offences;

All contravention of this kind will attract punishments of;

  • 15 penalty units or a 9 months imprisonment term
  • Disqualification period between 6 months and 3 years

Penalties for Second and Subsequent Drink Driving offence in ACT

Repeat offenders get harsher punishments, including a higher likelihood to get a jail term. A repeat offender has a previous drink driving conviction against their name no matter how long ago.

The Court will impose the following penalties considering;

  • The previous number of drink driving convictions
  • The amount of BAC
  • If the offence was committed while on a Zero BAC license

Level 1 and 2 PCA repeat offenders;

Prior offenders who repeat a drink driving offence contravening any of these PCA levels will get punishments of;

  • 3 – 12 months disqualification period
  • 10 penalty units

Level 3 PCA offences;

  • A repeat offender in this category will get punishments of;
  • 10 penalty units
  • 6 months to 3 years license disqualification period

Level 4 PCA offences

Having another conviction at this level can be very grave. And the number of previous offences, the higher the risk of an imprisonment term. The following punishments for such repeat offenders are;

  • Fines of 20 penalty units or a 12-month imprisonment term
  • 1 -5 years of license disqualification

The severity of the punishments an offending driver receives is only worsened by their number of previous convictions,

DUI offences and Penalties

Not all offences on poor or reckless vehicle handling are treated as PCA related offences.

The driving under Influence charge occurs when the Police official declares that the driver was unable to properly handle the vehicle due to being intoxicated. It is a “serious” criminal offence punished by;

  • 30 and 50 penalty units for first and subsequent offenders
  • Imprisonment term of 6 months,
  • 12 month imprisonment term for second offenders
  • 6 months – 3 years license disqualification period (first offenders)
  • 12 months to 5 years license disqualification period (subsequent offenders)

Other forms of DUI are;

Riding a bicycle, horse, cattle, sheep, and co while under the influence.

These offences are punishable by fines or imprisonment of not more than 6 months.

What should I do if I get charged with a drink driving offence?

A charge for a drink driving offence is usually communicated with a “Summons to Court”. You will be able to make your arguments or plead to the court on that day.

It is important to engage the services of a lawyer experienced in the Traffic and Criminal Laws of the ACT.

A Lawyer will assess your situation and conviction, and advise you on the best case to make. If you enter a guilty plea, your lawyer will ensure you receive the lowest and minimal punishments possible. Otherwise, your legal team will have to seek different means to prove your innocence. Once the matter goes through court, a drink driving offence will also appear as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) in the form of a traffic offence on a police check on your Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check ACT.

Defence for a Drink Driving Offence

There are few ways to exploit the Traffic laws of ACT, and it will be hard trying to do so.

However, some instances of successful defence were that the results of Blood sample testing differed from the Police’s Breathalyzer tests

The driver may be acquitted if they can prove that they never attempted to start, ignite or set the vehicle in motion (for DUI charges).


Road Transport (Alcohol and Drugs) Act 1977 (ACT) -

Section 133 of the Legislation Act 2001 (ACT) -

ACT Magistrates Court (Information for Defendants) -

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