Australia: The interlock program for drink driving in NSW – a basic guide

Last Updated: 17 December 2018
Article by Caitlin Drabble

What is the interlock program?

When someone has committed a major driving and usually alcohol related offence, commonly referred to as "drink driving", the court must impose a licence disqualification period and a period of participation in the interlock program.

The interlock period starts after the completion of the disqualification period and once the interlock device is installed. If you are subject to an interlock order you may only drive a vehicle equipped with an interlock device and must have a blood alcohol concentration of zero.

An "interlock" is a breath testing device attached to the ignition system of a car that requires the driver to provide a breath sample. If the sample is not provided or if alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start. The interlock device also requires the driver to provide breath samples at random intervals while driving.

The interlock device records all breath test results, attempts to tamper with the device and also a photo of the person providing the breath sample.

Offences that attract a mandatory interlock period

If you commit any of the following offences you will receive a mandatory interlock order as described below.

Interlock order for a period of 12 months

The following offences attract a mandatory 12 month interlock order.

  • Novice range prescribed concentration of alcohol if there is a previous conviction for any alcohol related major offence within the previous five years
  • Special range prescribed concentration of alcohol if there is a previous conviction for any alcohol related major offence within the previous five years
  • Low range prescribed concentration of alcohol if there is a previous conviction for any alcohol related major offence within the previous five years

Interlock order for a period of 24 months

The following offences attract a mandatory 24 month interlock order.

  • Mid-range prescribed concentration of alcohol if there is a previous conviction for any alcohol related major offence within the previous five years
  • High range prescribed concentration of alcohol for a first offence
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol if there is a previous conviction for any alcohol related major offence within the past five years

Interlock order for a period of 36 months

The following offences attract a mandatory 36 month interlock order.

  • Dangerous driving occasioning death with driver being under the influence of alcohol
  • Aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death where alcohol was present
  • Dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm with driver being under the influence of alcohol
  • Aggravated dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm where alcohol was present

Interlock order for a period of 48 months

The following offence attracts a mandatory 48 month interlock order.

  • High range prescribed concentration of alcohol if there is a previous conviction for any alcohol related major offence within the previous five years

Mandatory interlock orders and exemptions

With the commission of the above offences an interlock period is mandatory, unless an exemption order has been made. An exemption order is only granted in limited and exceptional circumstances.

One such circumstance is when the offender can prove to the court that he or she does not have access to a vehicle to install the interlock device. Another is when the offender has a medical condition preventing the provision of a sufficient breath sample and it is not reasonably practicable for the device to be modified.

Interlock licence conditions

An interlock driver licence is subject to the following conditions.

  • The holder of the licence must not drive a motor vehicle with a placard load within the meaning of the Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Regulation 2014.
  • For the purpose of counselling with respect to the consumption of alcohol, the holder of the licence must undergo such medical consultations, with such medical practitioners and at such times, as may be required by the Authority. These medical consultations are at the licence holder's own cost.
  • The holder of the licence must ensure that an approved interlock device is installed in at least one nominated vehicle at all times.
  • The holder of the licence must ensure that the approved interlock device installed in any nominated motor vehicle has been maintained in accordance with the requirements of the Authority.
  • The holder of the licence must not drive any motor vehicle in which an approved interlock device is installed if the device is not functioning properly or if any features of the interlock device (including any driver identification features of the device) have been circumvented or interfered with.
  • The holder of the licence must not drive a motor vehicle to which an approved interlock device is fitted if any breath sample required to start or operate the vehicle is provided by another person.

It is important that you comply with the conditions of the interlock licence, because failure to comply may result in a $2,200 fine, an extension of the interlock licence or a suspension of the interlock licence.

Failed breath tests can result in you needing to undergo a Fitness to Drive Assessment with a doctor before your interlock condition can be removed and you return to a normal licence.

Getting the interlock licence

It is crucial that once you have a mandatory interlock order you comply with it, because people who do not enter or complete their interlock period will remain disqualified for at least five years from the date of conviction.

Your interlock licence may be issued after you have completed the disqualification period. However, there are numerous tasks that you must attend to before being issued with an interlock licence.

Towards the end of your disqualification period you should take the following steps.

  • See your doctor and get your Medical Consultation Certificate filled out and signed
  • Install the interlock device in your vehicle and get your Interlock Installation Certificate
  • Sign your Driver Licence Statement and Privacy Declaration

Once you have performed the steps above, you need to apply for your interlock licence at a Service NSW centre or your local registry.

You should note that you will be responsible for all costs associated with the interlock program, such as the installation, monthly leasing, maintenance and removal fees.

Financial hardship and the scale of court-imposed fines

In our personal experience, for clients facing financial hardship, we often make the submission at court on the day of sentencing that the compulsory interlock period comes at great expense to that individual and ask that with that in mind, the court consider leniency in the fine to be imposed.

This often results in a significantly reduced fine, especially where by producing bank statements, tax returns and evidence of Centrelink payments, it can be shown that the person is in a situation of financial hardship.

Caitlin Drabble
Criminal law
Stacks Heard McEwan

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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