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Alcohol interlock sentence proposals could create anomalies: NZ Law Society

10 November 2016

Proposals in the Land Transport Amendment Bill to change alcohol interlock disqualification sentences could create legal anomalies, says the New Zealand Law Society.

The Bill aims to make alcohol interlock sentences mandatory for serious and repeat drink-drivers. Drivers who have two or more drink-driving convictions within five years, and first-time offenders who are more than three times over the legal limit will face mandatory interlock sentences.

An alcohol interlock is an in-car breathalyser system, which means a car won’t start if alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath.

First-time offenders and recidivists

In its submission on the Bill, the Law Society recommends amendments to differentiate between first time offenders and recidivist offenders.

It suggests an amendment to provide for a shorter interlock sentence and zero alcohol licence period for first offenders than for repeat offenders “to better align with the scheme of the Act which provides for higher penalties for egregious or recidivist offending.”

Mandatory vs discretionary sentences

The Law Society is also recommending that discretionary interlock sentences be retained for non-qualifying offences, and that limited licences for drink/drug-related offences be abolished.

“This would address the anomaly…that drivers with a lower level of breath or blood alcohol are disqualified from driving, while those with a higher breath alcohol concentration are able to drive (subject to use of an interlock).”

Currently a drink-driver with a breath alcohol concentration of 790mg per litre of breath, just under the 800mg per litre of breath threshold for a mandatory alcohol interlock sentence, would be disqualified from driving for a minimum of six months.

After a mandatory 28-day licence suspension an offender can apply for a limited licence to alleviate extreme hardship under section 103. The Law Society says this a “relatively expensive processes” and using a discretionary interlock sentence instead would provide greater flexibility to drive. Legal aid would also be available for the application process.

Simplification of penalty provisions ‘desirable’

The Law Society says the alcohol interlock licence disqualification sentence is part of a complex penalty regime for driving offences involving drink and drugs.

It says a review of the legislation, aimed at simplifying the penalty provisions would be desirable, as it would improve the clarity of the regulation and contribute to a safer and more efficient land transport system.

“However, the Law Society acknowledges that such a review is outside the scope of this Bill.”

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Last updated on the 10th November 2016