Have You Been Charged with Novice Range Drink Driving/ PCA in NSW?

Man driving a car

What does PCA stand for?

PCA stands for Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol. Drive with PCA is often referred to as drink driving. PCA is calculated by a ratio of grams of alcohol to ml’s of blood.

What is ‘novice range’ drink driving?

Novice range drink driving is where a licence holder, usually a learner, provisional or interlock licence holder (who is subject to zero tolerance), records a blood alcohol concentration of 0.00 to 0.019.

I need my licence for work. Should I pay the fine or elect to go to court?

On 20 May 2019, the drink driving laws for novice range offences in NSW, came into effect. Prior to this date, everyone charged with novice range drink driving had to go to court. Now, for a first offence, you receive an infringement notice from police (like a speeding ticket). Like any infringement notice, you can elect to go to court or pay the fine.

I you elect to go to court you may have your matter dismissed (referred to as a section 10). This would mean that you don’t get a fine and don’t lose your licence. (Before you get your hopes us, keep reading…)

Prior to 20 May 2019, the courts were very reluctant to grant a section 10 for a novice range drink driving offence. Their rationale was the need for general deterrence, that is, sending a strong message to the community that you will not get any leniency for this offence.

Magistrates would often cite the fact that NSW Governments over the years have spent vast sums on advertising to get the message across that drink driving is serious. Section 10’s for drink driving offences were rare and remain so.

But here is the kicker…

Under the new system, if you elect to go to court and don’t get a section 10, you will have a criminal conviction on your record. If you pay the fine you don’t have a criminal conviction recorded. Only a (criminal) court can impose a criminal conviction.

Another point to consider is this. If you elect to go to court and don’t get a section 10, then the court will disqualify you from driving (where TfNSW will suspend your licence). The difference between a suspension (given by TfNSW) and disqualification (given by a court) is that if you are disqualified you must re-apply to TfNSW for your licence after the disqualification period expires before you can drive again. You do not have to re-apply if your licence is only suspended.

Also, the automatic disqualification period given by the court for novice range drink driving is 6 months. The court can reduce the disqualification period to 3 months (but cannot go below 3 months).

But I need my licence. Do I take the risk of getting a conviction?

The penalty for a first time drink driving offence, when you are given an infringement notice, is a $587 fine (currently) and immediate suspension of your licence for 3 months. In court the maximum penalties are up to 20 penalty units (currently $2,200) and an automatic licence disqualification of 6 months (which can be reduced to three months.) Again, if you elect to go to court and don’t get a section 10, you will have a criminal record.

Are there any other options?

Yes. Pay the infringement notice and appeal the licence suspension.

Remember that once you have received your infringement notice at the time you are fined, you are immediately suspended from driving. DO NOT DRIVE.

Go to your nearest local court registry and lodge an appeal against your licence suspension. Complete the form and pay the filing fee (currently $99). This appeal is against TfNSW, Transport or New South Wales (formerly known as the RMS).

You must lodge the appeal within 28 days of receiving your suspension notice (generally the date of the offence). If you don’t lodge the appeal within 28 days the magistrate will not be able to hear your case. This is an administrative application and not a criminal process.

If your appeal is unsuccessful TfNSW may ask the magistrate to make an order for you to pay their legal costs. However, TfNSW do not usually seek costs in licence appeal matters. Also note, you cannot get a criminal record from this process. If your appeal is successful the court can remove the suspension or lower the duration of the suspension.

I didn’t know about this. I elected to go to court and lost my licence and got a conviction. What can I do?

The only thing you can do now is appeal the decision of the Local Court magistrate to the District Court. Again, an appeal needs to be lodged within 28 days of the local court matter being finalised. You can lodge your appeal after the 28 days but only up to three months after the date that the local court decision is made. You would need to give reasons why you did not lodge the appeal within 28 days. The court may hear your appeal if they accept your reasons.

You should obtain legal advice before lodging your appeal. A lawyer can assist you in lodging the appeal and appear for you in court.

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Connor James

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