Drink driving in New Zealand

Drink driving contributes significantly to motor vehicle crashes in New Zealand. It is a contributing factor in crashes that result in an average of 72 road deaths, 406 serious injuries and 1151 minor injuries each year.

For the five years from 2012 to 2016, the estimated social costs associated with drink-driving averaged $689 million per year.

On 1 July 2018, alcohol interlock sentences became mandatory for serious and repeat drink-driving offenders.

Alcohol interlocks

An alcohol interlock is a breath testing device wired into a vehicle’s starting system. Before the vehicle can start, the driver must blow into the device. If alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath, the vehicle will not start.

Alcohol interlock sentences have been available as a sentencing option for the courts since September 2012. The sentence is one of a range of sentences available to the courts for people convicted of some repeat or high alcohol level drink-drive offences.

Alcohol interlocks are very effective as a public safety measure, as they physically prevent an offender from driving after drinking. Under the previous discretionary sentence  only around 2 percent of eligible offenders received the sentence since it became available in 2012.  There were several possible reasons for the low uptake of the sentence the most likely reason being the cost of interlocks which had to be paid for by the offender.   

Alcohol interlocks have now become mandatory for those offenders who were  eligible for the alcohol interlock sentence under the previous regime. Parliament  has also included, in the mandatory alcohol sentence regime,  offenders who are subject to compulsory alcohol assessments and indefinite disqualification As well as the normal criteria that apply for removing an interlock, these offenders will also need a satisfactory alcohol assessment.

Interlocks cost between $2,500 to $3,100 for a 12-month interlock sentence. This cost comprises driver licensing fees, interlock installation and removal fees, and monthly rental costs.

The Government has established a financial assistance scheme to assist low-income offenders with the costs of the alcohol interlock. This includes assistance for the costs of an alcohol interlock licence, installing the interlock, ongoing rental costs, and uninstallation costs within a 15-month period.

If you have been sentenced to an alcohol interlock sentence you may be eligible for the subsidy scheme if you meet the specified financial criteria. To check if you meet these criteria, visit the NZ Transport Agency website via: www.nzta.govt.nz/alcohol-interlock-programme(external link)

Mandatory alcohol interlock sentences (announced)

Once an offender has received the mandatory alcohol interlock sentence, they need to apply to the NZ Transport Agency for an alcohol interlock licence. After receiving an alcohol interlock licence, they will need to use a motor vehicle fitted with an interlock for at least 12 months.

Generally the interlock can only be removed if the offender has had six months free of violations before applying for removal. A violation is earned, for example, when an offender attempts to start the vehicle with alcohol on their breath, or they attempt to tamper with the interlock. The six-month violation free period can be reduced to three months if the offender obtains a satisfactory alcohol assessment.  They must apply to the NZ Transport Agency for approval to have the interlock removed.

After the interlock is removed, the offender must apply for a zero-alcohol licence. The zero-alcohol licence must be held for three years. This means that the licence holder cannot drive with any alcohol in their breath or blood.

A mandatory alcohol interlock sentence will not prevent the courts from giving additional sentences, such as fines and imprisonment, should the circumstances of the offending merit it.