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Alcohol and drugs, including some drugs given to you by a doctor, can seriously affect your driving. They can slow your reaction times and affect your senses.

You risk causing death and serious injury to yourself and other people if you drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Legal alcohol limits for driving

The law says you must not drive if the amount of alcohol in your blood or breath exceeds certain age-related limits. These limits are shown below.

Under twenty

There is a zero alcohol limit if you are under 20. That means if you drive after consuming even one drink you can be charged with drink-driving.

  • If you have an alcohol level of less than 150 micrograms per litre of breath, or less than 30 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, you could be fined and given 50 demerit points.
  • If your alcohol level is higher, you could be disqualified from driving, given 50 demerit points and either fined or imprisoned.

Twenty or over

You must not drive if you have more than 250 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath, or more than 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

  • If you have an alcohol level between 251 and 400 micrograms per litre of breath, or between 51 and 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, you could be fined and given 50 demerit points.
  • If your alcohol level is higher, you could be disqualified from driving and either fined or imprisoned.

It is difficult to say how many alcoholic drinks you can have before you reach these limits. It depends on many factors, including:

  • whether you are male or female
  • your size
  • how much food you have eaten.

Because of this, and because even small amounts of alcohol can affect your driving, the best advice is: if you drink at all, don’t drive.

Drugs and driving

The law also says you must not drive if you have taken any type of drug that may affect your driving ability. If you are prescribed drugs by a doctor, always ask if they will have any effect on your driving.

Testing for alcohol and drugs

You can be stopped by the police and tested at any time for alcohol and drugs. The police can use the following tests to see if you have been drinking or taking drugs.

Passive breath test

The police officer will place a hand-held device in front of your mouth and ask you to talk into it. This will show if you have recently drunk any alcohol. If any alcohol is detected, a breath screening test will be required

Breath screening test

The police officer will give you a small electronic device, and will ask you to blow into it. If your alcohol level is high, you will be asked to take an evidential breath test or have a blood test.

Evidential breath test

This is an electronic device you blow into, which gives a reading that can be used in court as evidence of your breath–alcohol concentration.

Blood test

If you have a blood test, a medical doctor or other approved person will take a sample of your blood to be tested for alcohol or drugs.

Compulsory (drug) impairment test

This includes an eye assessment, a walk and turn, and a one leg stand assessment. If you fail you may be forbidden to drive and required to have a blood test.

When are the tests carried out?

A police officer can ask you to take a passive breath test or breath screening test if:

  • you are suspected of drinking and driving
  • you are signalled to stop at a police alcohol check point.

You must wait with the officer for the result of the test.

If the test shows you have been drinking, you must:

  • take a further test – this will be either an evidential breath test or a blood test
  • hand over the keys to your vehicle, if asked by a police officer
  • go with a police officer, if required
  • agree to a blood test, if asked by a police officer, medical doctor or other approved person.

If you don’t, you may be arrested.

A compulsory impairment test can be required if a police officer has good cause to suspect that you are impaired by a drug or drugs. This could be because of your erratic driving, or if you have been stopped for another reason and appear to be under the influence of drugs.

What are your rights?

You may:

  • choose not to take a breath screening or evidential breath test – however, if you:
    • refuse a breath screening test, you will be asked to take an evidential breath test
    • refuse an evidential breath test, you must undergo a blood test
  • choose to have a blood test, if an evidential breath test shows you are over the legal limit. The court will take the results of the blood test over the results of the evidential breath test
  • talk to a lawyer (if you wish to) after a positive breath screening test and before an evidential breath or blood test – a telephone will be made available to you for this purpose.

If your blood test shows you are over the legal limit, you will be given a copy of the blood test certificate.

You may ask for your blood sample to be tested by an independent analyst. If you want this to happen, it’s important that you talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.

Court-imposed penalties for alcohol/drugs offences

Offence

Amount of alcohol

Penalty

 

Blood 

Breath

Prison

Fine

Disqualification or suspension of licence

You kill or injure someone when driving after drinking too much or taking drugs More than
80mg per 100ml
More than 400 micrograms per litre  Up to 10 years Up to $20,000

First or second offence - one year or more

Third or subsequent offence - more than one year

You drive, or try to drive, after drinking too much or taking drugs More than 80mg per 100ml More than 400 micrograms per litre First and second offences
Up to three months Up to $4500 Six months or more
Third and subsequent offences
Up to two years Up to $6000 More than one year
You drive, or try to drive, after drinking too much  More than 80mg per 100ml  More than 400 micrograms per litre Second and subsequent offences  
The court may impose a 'zero alcohol licence' in addition to the penalties listed above  
You drive, or try to drive, after drinking too much More than 160mg per 100ml More than 800 micrograms per litre First and subsequent offences  
The court may impose an alcohol interlock disqualification with an accompanying three month disqualification period as an alternative to the penalties listed below
You drive, or try to drive, after drinking too much or
taking drugs and you are aged under 20 years
More than
30mg per 100ml
More than 150 micrograms per litre  Up to three months Up to $2250   Three months or more
You refuse to give blood when asked by a police officer, doctor or approved person      First and second offences
Up to three months Up too $4500 Six months or more
Third and subsequent offences
Up to two years Up to $6000 More than one year
You refuse to go with a police officer for an evidential breath test or blood test   Up to $4500 As decided by the court
You are in charge of a vehicle after drinking too much or taking drugs and you do not hand over the keys when asked by a police officer   Up to $10,000  

Penalties for drug impaired driving or driving with class A drugs in the blood stream

Offence

Penalty

  Prison Fine Disqualification or suspension of licence
You drive drug impaired but no one is injured, or fail or refuse to do the impairment test First or second offence
Up to three months Up to $4500 At least six months
Third or subsequent offence
Up to two years Up to $6000 More than one year
You drive drug impaired causing injury or death Up to three years Up to $10,000 One year or more
You drive carelessly causing injury or death with class A drugs in the blood Up to three years Up to $10,000 Once year or more

What are the penalties?

The above table shows some of the penalties for driving offences related to alcohol and drugs.

On-the-spot (roadside) licence suspension

Your licence will be suspended on the spot if you refuse to have a blood test or if, following an evidential breath or blood test, you are found to have:

  • more than 130* milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or
  • more than 650* micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.

*A lower threshold of 80 milligrams or 400 micrograms will apply if, in the previous four years, you have been convicted of:

  • driving or attempting to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or
  • driving or attempting to drive with excess breath or blood alcohol, or
  • failing or refusing to allow a blood sample to be taken, or
  • causing death or injury while in charge of a motor vehicle and under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or with excess breath or blood alcohol.

Your licence will be suspended for 28 days and you will still have to face court-imposed penalties.

Repeat offences

The penalties described above may be increased substantially for repeat offences.

In addition, if you commit two alcohol-related offences within a five-year period and one of those offences involves:

  • refusing to go with a police officer
  • refusing to give a breath or blood sample
  • driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • having a breath–alcohol level above 1000 micrograms
  • having a blood–alcohol level above 200 milligrams per 100 millilitres

then you will be:

  • disqualified from driving for an indefinite period, and
  • required to attend a Ministry of Health alcohol assessment centre.

If you commit an alcohol-related offence and:

  • your breath and/or blood alcohol levels are twice the legal limit or higher, or
  • you have already been convicted of a previous offence (as listed above) within a five-year period

then you could be:

  • given an alcohol interlock disqualification with an accompanying three-month disqualification period, or
  • given a zero alcohol disqualification.

Applying for removal of an indefinite disqualification

You can apply for the removal of an alcohol-related indefinite disqualification if:

  • you have served at least one year and one day of the disqualification, and
  • you receive a satisfactory report from a Ministry of Health approved assessment centre.

The disqualification can only be ended by the Transport Agency. Once it has been ended, you will be unlicensed and must not drive again until you apply to have your licence reinstated and a new licence has been issued. Before a new licence can be issued you will also need to sit and pass the relevant tests or complete approved courses.