Drunk drivers and those caught with illegal drugs in their system in New South Wales now face the prospect of automatically losing their licence for three months under new rules announced by the State Government today.
From May 20 drink drivers who are first-time, lower-range offenders will receive an immediate three-month licence suspension and fine of $561, as will those who test positive for illicit drugs if the offence is confirmed by laboratory analysis.
The Minister for Transport and Roads, Andrew Constance said alcohol-related crashes claimed the lives of at least 68 people on NSW roads last year, accounting for nearly one in five road deaths and including 55 lives lost on country roads.
“But what is also very concerning is that when low-range drink drivers appear before the court, around 56 per cent of them have basically recorded a non conviction,” Mr Constance said.
“That means no loss of licence, no fines attached — this now changes that.
“If you choose to you can go to court and appeal it, but you also risk a bigger fine and potentially an longer period of suspension on your licence.”
Assistant Police Commissioner Michael Corboy said the changes would protect all road users and free up police by ensuring swift and certain penalties.
“Currently there is brief preparation [and] going to court which is associated with these things,” he said.
“Those police that were tied up in court can now spend that time out on our roads.
“With the current road toll being 137, it is a timely reminder that drink driving and driving under the influence of drugs will not be tolerated.”
Cannabis concerns in the country
The new drug-driving rules are already creating controversy, and were a hot topic of conversation at the 27th annual Nimbin Mardi Grass over the weekend.
Hemp Embassy President Michael Balderstone said the drug driving crackdown was a nightmare for the local community which has few public transport options, and the new penalties would make the situation even worse.
“You lose your job, especially for country people, so it’s a massive impact,” he said.
“I tell you, the hills around Nimbin are full of grocery delivery trucks already — people have just stopped driving.
“All these people with criminal records, they’re the bullets in this war.”
Lismore-based lawyer Steve Bolt said the new laws were unfair.
“Most people who are stopped and charged with this offence are not under the influence in any way at all, they’ve got some reside of cannabis from the day before, the night before — the effect has well and truly worn off,” he said.
“The loss of licence for three months is a real impost on most people … in the country you need a car to do anything, pretty much, and that’s the real consequence.
“My very strong suspicion is the point of the law is not about road safety, the point of the law is to harass people who use cannabis.
“It’s a cultural war in my view, and the reason the government is so keen to throw the resources at it that they do — it costs millions to run this program — is to discourage people using cannabis.