TODAY new laws for low range drink driving and driving with drugs present in your system come into effect.
It will mean an immediate licence suspension for three months and an on the spot fine of $561.
Previously, people with low range drink driving would receive a court attendance notice and the ramifications of the charge were at the discretion of the magistrate.
Michael O’Brien from Equilaw Solicitors said it is possible the new law would result in more people coming before the court to appeal the suspension, especially in country areas.
“Instead of lightening court loads, it could well have the reserve effect and increase the workload of the courts,” said Mr O’Brien.
“It’s more unfair for people living in the country because of the paucity of public transport, particularly shift workers, we have men and women who start at 5:30 and 6 o’clock in the morning, there is no public transport and you can’t catch ride share at that time of the morning,” he said.
“People living in Sydney have public transport, everything close and even UberEats, so you can get by without a licence,” Michael O’Brien said.
Understanding what your blood alcohol level may be, is complicated and many people who are found to be low-range are often surprised.
Most alcoholic drinks served in licenced establishments are not a standard drink, the content of alcohol in each type of drink and even between wines and beers can be different and how each person metabolises alcohol is highly variable.
At a local coronial enquiry, an expert in alcohol gave advice to the court that drinking a standard shot of whisky was more likely to be a standard drink than beer or wine.
When asked by the Magistrate why there was a perception that spirits were stronger than beer and wine her response was “marketing”.
As a well-known legal identity once explained off the record, “low range you were unlucky, mid-range you knew you were drunk and you shouldn’t have been driving, high range arguably you didn’t even know you were in a car.”
Michael O’Brien agrees that many people who are low-range have simply miscalculated what alcohol may be present in their system.
“To go 0.5 or slightly more in that low range category, you may have been drinking the night before and it could just be an error of judgement rather than a flagrant disregard for the law,” said Mr O’Brien.
“You’d have to have some sort of breath testing machine on you, because even if you go by standards, individuals aren’t standards, a standard is a standard drink,” he said.
“They started out saying three beers in the first hour puts you at 0.5, then they revamped that campaign and said, ‘women rethink your second drink’, so that changed over time,” he said.
“And I’ve had clients with a 30 year good driving record who have said, ‘but Mick I’ve always had three beers and been ok,’ but as we get older our metabolisms change.
‘The one cap fits all doesn’t really work because it takes away the judicial discretion which is so important to the administration of justice in our state,” he said.
“The Magistrate still has the discretion to quash the suspension, but it is the same process you embark on to appeal a licence suspension for speeding,” Michael O’Brien said.
In the country though, the time frames for being able to enrol in the Traffic Offenders Program and have your appeal go before the court and then be heard in court can take a considerable amount of time.
Josh Whale, solicitor with Equilaw said people should phone a solicitor immediately if they want to appeal a licence suspension and also cautioned drivers about the ramifications of the new laws if they have any illicit drugs present in their system.
“It’s another thing that disadvantages people in the country, because we don’t have the lists and hearing dates like the city have, so people might be waiting a long time before they can have their appeal heard,” said Mr Whale.
“Also, with have drugs present in your system, it doesn’t mean your driving is impaired, it could mean someone has had a big weekend and gets pulled over on Tuesday, but because it is still detectable in their system they will have an immediate suspension and that is more difficult to appeal,” Josh Whale said.