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NSW Interlock Changes

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December 18, 2014

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More NSW drink-drivers are set to return to the road somewhat earlier – but only with the mandatory imposition of alcohol-ignition-interlock devices under a significant restructure approved by state Parliament.

Both houses of parliament passed the Bill with bipartisan support in mid-2013 and the new scheme is to begin on February 1, less than two months before the next state election.

Under the shake-up, a high-range (0.150 or more) drink-driving offence and repeat drink-driving offences at all levels will become “mandatory interlock offences”, meaning drivers will have to have an alcohol-ignition interlock system fitted to their vehicles before being able to drive again. The devices prevent vehicles starting unless drivers have no alcohol in their breath.

But actual time off the road can be reduced, in a move Roads Minister Duncan Gay says strikes an appropriate balance, with the focus being on keeping drink-affected drivers off the road.

In introducing the new measures to Parliament, Mr Gay, said, “Interlock programs help offenders to learn how to separate their drinking from their driving, while enabling them to continue to access employment and essential services for their families.

“By providing a strictly monitored way back into licensing, interlock programs reduce the chance that offenders will drive unlicensed, and potentially under the influence, while disqualified.”

The changes are marked.

A mid-range (0.08 to 0.150) repeat offender currently faces an automatic disqualification of three years, reducible to a minimum 12 months.

Under the new law, such an offender faces a minimum of 6 months off the road (extendable by a court to 9) at which point the driver enters a minimum interlock period of 24 months (or more, if the court so orders).

The new minimum disqualification periods relating to the Interlock are supposed to work in tandem with the existing penalty regime. So, for example, someone might be disqualified by the court for 18 months, but could be back on the road after six months – only because they would have to have an interlock fitted to their vehicle at that time. That device would have to stay there for at least the 24-month minimum, which would stretch 12 months after the court-imposed disqualification period ended.

Currently high-range and repeat drink-drivers have the option of taking up the interlock after a “compliance period” of disqualification. The new interlock minimum disqualification periods largely mirror the old compliance periods, with one exception being made for high-range repeat offenders. The old “compliance period” for them had been 12 months. The new minimum disqualification period is to be 9 months (but extendable to 12 if a court deems it necessary).

A new mandatory interlock order will disqualify a person from holding a driver licence (other than a learner licence or interlock driver licence) for five years from the day of the conviction – unless the person has first held an interlock driver licence for a period (or periods in total) equivalent to the minimum interlock period, or for a longer period specified by the court.

Other than choosing to stay off the road for five years, there are some limited exemptions from mandatory interlock orders, but the threshold is high.

An interlock exemption order can only be made if the court is satisfied that the offender does not have access to a vehicle in which to install an interlock device, or that the offender has a medical condition diagnosed by a registered medical practitioner that prevents the offender from providing a sufficient breath sample to operate an approved interlock device.

A person is deemed to have “access” to a vehicle if the person is the registered operator, owner or part-owner, or shares the use of the vehicle with the registered operator, owner or part-owner.

The legislation declares, “An interlock exemption order must not be made merely because an offender cannot afford the cost of installing or maintaining an approved interlock device, or will be prevented from driving a vehicle in the course of his or her employment if the interlock exemption order is made, or has access to a vehicle but the registered operator of the vehicle refuses to consent to the installation of an interlock device in the vehicle.”

The cost of having an interlock can be high: around $1200 for every six months’ use.

The new interlock rules apply also to those convicted of dangerous driving causing death or grievous bodily harm, in those cases where alcohol was involved.

Labor MP Ron Hoenig, who led parliamentary debate for the Opposition, noted that NSW, which introduced interlock on a voluntary basis more than a decade ago, had fallen behind other states and territories in the time since, noting that many jurisdictions had already moved to mandatory interlock regimes.

The NSW parliamentary passage came a month after the ACT introduced the interlock for the first time with a system that allows first-offending low- and mid-range drink-drivers to return to the road voluntarily immediately they have been dealt with by the court.

Those ACT drivers with a reading of 0.150 or more and those who are repeat offenders have to undergo a mandatory assessment for the Interlock. But, unlike NSW, the time that ACT offenders have to have the interlock fitted for does not extend beyond their court-imposed disqualification. The interlock period begins halfway through that court-imposed disqualification and ends at the same time.

Roughly 5,000,000 breath tests are conducted annually in NSW with approximately 20,000 drivers charged. One in six offenders is convicted for a second drink-driving offence within five years.

About the Author

Andrew represents clients in the ACT Supreme and Magistrates Courts as well as the NSW Local and District Courts of the Canberra region. He appears also before the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal in licensing, mental-health and other matters. His breadth of experience allows him to tailor his advice and submissions to ensure the best possible results for his clients. View Andrew's profile


  1. Leigh


    I am half way through a 3yr first time high range drink driving ban. Can I reduce this sentence if I voluntarily instal the interlock system?

  2. Dear Leigh,

    As you are currently beyond both the 9-month minimum disqualification period and the 12-month maximum disqualification period, you are able to apply for an Interlock device to be fitted.

    That will be done on the terms of the new mandatory regime, and not the previous voluntary system. That means that you will have to have the device fitted for 48 months (4 years), which obviously extends beyond the three-year disqualification imposed.

    That is the way the new system works: you get on the road sooner, but you have to have the device fitted for longer.

    Roads and Maritime Services need an order from the Local Court before processing your application for the Interlock.

    We can draft that application and appear at court on your behalf to seek that order. Please give us a call at the office to arrange a conference. I’m on 02 6288 1100 in our Canberra office, and appear in various Local Courts from Griffith in the west, up to Crookwell and Goulburn in the north and across to and down the South Coast. My colleagues in Sydney (02 9261 4555) deal with matters in the city and in other parts of the state.

  3. Will


    What happens if you get convicted novice to low range during the interlock program?

    • Dear Will,

      If you have been convicted of a low-range PCA while on an interlock licence you are deemed to have ceased participation in the program.

      You should expect that any unserved portion of your initial interlock period will be superseded by a subsequent interlock order.

      Subsequent interlock orders have no specified maximum interlock period, though you might expect the court to take into account the unserved portion of the initial interlock period as well as the statutory period for the subsequent offence.

      You should expect to receive a further disqualification period for the subsequent offence before being able to enter the subsequent interlock period.

      For more detailed legal advice I would need some more information regarding the circumstances surrounding the new PCA offence. If you would like further legal advice on this issue please do not hesitate to contact our office on 1300 168 676.

  4. ian


    I have been been disqualified from driving for a second time in 5 years. Given 6 months disqualified, and will have to go on the interlock program in June 2016. Is my minimum interlock going to be for 2 years from when I was actually caught, or does it start from when I enter the interlock program in June.

  5. Dear Ian,

    Firstly, you need to check on your Court order that you have been ordered to complete a 2 year Interlock period. As a second or subsequent offender, 2 years is the minimum period a court can impose for certain offences, but it does have the power to order a longer period. So just to be safe I would suggest confirming on your order the Interlock period.

    Any Interlock period cannot commence until you have completed the minimum disqualification period set by the Court. Once you have completed your 6 month disqualification period you will be able to apply to the RMS for an interlock licence. Your interlock period will commence on the day you receive your Interlock licence. Before the RMS will issue you with an interlock licence, you will need to complete the Traffic Offender Program and have your vehicle fitted with an approved interlock device. You can complete both of these requirements before your 6 month disqualification has expired.

    I hope this answers your question, if you wish to discuss further please don’t hesitate to contact one of our solicitor on 02 9261 4555.

    Todd Trotter

  6. Blake land`


    Hi Guys

    I am a QLD resident & I am required to get an interlock in QLD when my suspension period finishes. I have since moved to NSW. My question is am I required to get an interlock in NSW ?

    Thanks in Advance Eddie

  7. Dear Eddie

    Assuming you have moved to NSW during the period of a court ordered disqualification of your driver licence (which is different to a suspension of your licence in subtle, but important, ways), then you will actually be required to apply to the Roads and Maritime Service for a NSW licence before you can drive again. This is because upon disqualification, your QLD licence was cancelled and so having moved to NSW without any licence at all, you need to obtain one before you are allowed to drive.

    The NSW driver licencing regime does not allow you to apply for a licence in that state during any period of court ordered disqualification (even if that disqualification is imposed in another state, in this case QLD) so you will have to wait until the end of your disqualification period before you can apply.

    NSW law does not expressly require you to obtain an interlock licence in your circumstance, meaning the interlock requirement which would attach to a QLD licence if you applied for one in that state, does not automatically attach to a licence which you apply for in NSW. With that said, in your circumstance the RMS have the power to issue you an interlock licence if they choose to and, if they do that, you would need to have an interlock device fitted in order to drive.

    As with anything in the law, much turns on the specific details of your case and I strongly encourage you to make contact with one of our lawyers (myself in Queensland or one of our team in New South Wales) to get some specific, tailored, advice in relation to your situation before you make your application for a new licence.

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