Written by Andrew Fraser
Published under Proposals
July 17, 2015
There is a middle ground in the current debate around sentencing drivers with drugs in their system – and it is on our doorstep.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Current ACT law does not adequately provide for the cases of people who still have drugs in their bodies but are not affected by them at the time of driving.
Drink-driving and drug-driving are different.
The level of alcohol in drivers is measurable, and studies have demonstrated the effect of those levels on driving. Different levels of alcohol attract different penalties.
The same cannot be done for drugs. Tests show the presence or otherwise of drugs, but not the level, and not the effect. Marijuana, for example, can stay in one’s system for weeks.
ACT law provides driving disqualifications for drug-affected driving that match those for a repeat-offender mid-range drink-driver: an automatic three years off the road, reducible to a minimum of six months.
In NSW, a repeat mid-range drink-driver faces the same automatic disqualification, but a minimum of 12 months.
A repeat NSW drug-affected driver faces the same, but a first-time drug-affected driver faces an automatic 12 months, reducible to a minimum six months.
That is a distinct difference to the ACT.
And the distinction gets even finer.
NSW provides, in a separate section of its legislation, for those drivers with a drug found in their systems but with no demonstrable affect on them. They face only an automatic six months off the road, reducible to a minimum of three months.
While ACT magistrates are alive to the facts and circumstances of each case (was the person affected or not?) and can sentence accordingly, might it not be better to draft a specific section along the lines of what NSW has done?