Legal alcohol limits for driving in NZ
The legal alcohol limits for the purpose of drink driving offences are contained within the Land Transport Act 1998. The alcohol limit that applies to each person depends on their age. The penalties that are incurred by exceeding these limits while driving depend on how far the person is over their limit. For example, whether they are within a range just over the limit or whether they are far in excess of it.
A person under the age of 20 has a zero alcohol limit. That means that a person under the age of 20 cannot drive with any alcohol in their system.
A person over the age of 20 must not drive with a breath alcohol level more than 250 micrograms per litre of breath or with a blood alcohol level more than 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.
What does this mean practically? As each person’s tolerance level and the rate at which they process alcohol varies due to a number of factors, there is no magic number of standard drinks each person can have before they reach their limit.
What happens if I exceed my limit?
If a person exceeds the alcohol limit while driving, but to a relatively low level, this is an infringement offence and they can be given a notice for a $200 fine and 50 demerit points. Infringements do not require a person to go through a court process and they do not result in a criminal record.
Infringements can be given to those under the age of 20 if they drive with a breath alcohol level under 150 micrograms or a blood alcohol level under 30 milligrams. If a person is over the age of 20, they can receive an infringement if they drive with a breath alcohol level between 250 and 400 micrograms or a blood alcohol level between 50 and 80 milligrams.
If it is your first drink driving offence.
If it's your first DUI and if it's a minor infraction, then we can apply for a Diversion or a Discharge without Conviction, depending on the circumstances. You will most likely be required to take remedial action as part of this process.
Diversion and Discharge without Conviction are two different opportunities to avoid a criminal conviction. The first is a scheme run by the police while the other is in the hands of the courts. If the police declines your diversion, you may still apply for a discharge without conviction. Talk to us at the earliest for the best outcome.
What if my breath alcohol reading was really high?
If a person drives while significantly exceeding the alcohol limit, they can be prosecuted. If convicted, someone under the age of 20 that drove with a breath alcohol level between 150 and 400 micrograms or a blood alcohol level between 30 and 80 milligrams, could receive up to three months imprisonment or a fine of up to $2250. They must also be disqualified from driving for a minimum of three months and receive 50 demerit points. If a person, regardless of their age, is convicted of driving with a breath alcohol level over 400 micrograms or a blood alcohol level over 80 milligrams, they can be imprisoned for up to three months or be fined up to $4500. This also results in automatic disqualification from driving for at least six months. In these situations, Police also have the power to seize and impound vehicles for up to 28 days.
What if this is not my first drink driving offence?
Heavier penalties can apply to people with a history of drink driving. For example, if someone is on their third or higher offence for driving with a breath alcohol level over 400 micrograms or a blood alcohol level over 80 milligrams, the maximum period of imprisonment is increased to two years and the fine can be up to $6000. The judge must also order disqualification from driving for a minimum period of one year.
Some repeat offenders can also be ordered to attend alcohol assessment centres and be disqualified from driving indefinitely. A judge can also impose an alcohol interlock sentence against them. This involves four weeks disqualification from driving (on top of any other disqualification that applies), followed by 12 months on an alcohol interlock license. An alcohol interlock license requires a breathalyser device to be attached to the person’s car to prevent driving if there is alcohol in their breath. Following this, the person is required to be on a zero alcohol license, meaning they cannot drive with any alcohol in their system, for three years.
What if I have an existing criminal conviction?
You may still apply for a discharge without conviction but the judge will likely look at the application and affidavit evidence with more scrutiny.