Tougher penalties on the way for drivers caught under the influence of alcohol and drugs

By the end of the month there will be tougher penalties for drivers caught drink and drug driving on Victorian roads.

After April 30 if caught exceeding .05 there will be an automatic loss of licence and a requirement to complete a compulsory drink driver behaviour change program.

Once re-licensed there will be a requirement to have an alcohol interlock device installed in any vehicle operated by the driver for a minimum of six months.

Arnold Dallas McPherson solicitor and partner John McPherson said since drink driving laws were introduced decades ago they had been continually tightened.

“When I started working as a lawyer in the 1990s, if you had a BAC between .05 and .1 and it was your first offence, it was open to a court to impose a penalty without conviction,” Mr McPherson said.

“Where a parliament legislates to have a one size fits all solution to a problem, they’re going to cast the net too widely.

“People who don’t have a drinking problem and have evidence of not breaking the law for long periods of time will have to go through a drink driving program before they’re re-licensed.”

When the new changes come into affect there will also be a requirement for any driver caught exceeding .05 or under the influence of drugs to complete a mandatory behaviour change program before re-licensed.

Learners, P1, P2, restricted motorcycle riders and professional drivers must drive with a BAC of 0.0.

“At the time I began working within law there was no reliable roadside method to detect drug use apart from alcohol,” Mr McPherson said.

“Now the parliament and other government authorities continue to focus on the various causes of road trauma.”

Included in the changes will see drivers lose their licence for a minimum of six months if caught under the influence of drugs, which is an increase from the current penalty of three months.

They will also be required to complete a specific drug driver behaviour change program before they have their licence returned.

The programs will vary depending on the offence but are approximately 12 hours long and sessions are held over separate days.

The experience of being caught drink driving

Simon Hay has experienced the life of driving with an interlock. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

Simon Hay has experienced the life of driving with an interlock. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

You may feel a lot of embarrassment and regret if you get caught drink driving, especially when you need to have an interlock installed on your car.

But reformed drink driver Simon Hay learned from his mistake of driving over the limit and has not touched alcohol in over a decade.

“It made me realise I had a problem with alcohol and that needed to be fixed,” Mr Hay said.

Simon described his experience with interlocks as challenging, but beneficial as on one occasion it stopped him from getting behind the wheel of his car.

“I woke up after a big night of drinking and remembered that I had an appointment to go to,” he said.

“I went out to the car and blew into the interlock and it indicated I was over, so the car didn’t start.

“It was fantastic that it stopped me, I had little sleep and obviously I was still drunk and could have caused a problem for other road users or pedestrians.”

Despite the device’s random alerts where he was required to pull over to breathe into the interlock and also the monetary costs of having it installed and maintained, he still looks back with a positive perspective.

“I’m thankful because it saved me from re-offending,” he said.

Simon learned from his mistake and has not touched alcohol in over a decade. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

Simon learned from his mistake and has not touched alcohol in over a decade. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

After this stage of his life he knew it was time to make a change.

“A fantastic part of Australia is there are many avenues to seek help.

“We are so lucky to have access to medical help, 12 step programs, drink and drug driving education services, social workers and churches.”

In response to new drink and drug driving laws that will come into affect on April 30, he believes more people will be able to get the help they need to deal with their drug and alcohol problems.

“Hopefully mandatory laws that will see people lose their licence will make drivers think twice before getting behind the wheel,” Mr Hay said.

He believes one of the bigger problems is that in Australia you gain access to both alcohol and driving at the same time which can lead to poor decision making.

“They are two very big milestones on the same day,” he said.

“Particularly when people are still in their teenage years.

“It all depends on the personality to determine if they are wise enough to not mix the two, but unfortunately a lot of people aren’t.”