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Drink driving laws in Australia: Everything you need to know

Drink driving laws and punishment varies from state-to-state.

It’s been nearly 40 years since random breath testing and the famous ‘booze bus’ became a part of Australian driving. In that time road deaths from alcohol-related accidents have dropped dramatically, saving hundreds of families every year from trauma.

While drinking alcohol and driving is allowed there are restrictions - the famous 0.05 blood alcohol limit - and if you break that limit drink driving is a criminal offence and you’ll be facing stiff penalties.

Drink driving in Australia has been a major focus on law enforcement, and random breath testing has been a crucial tool in reducing the road toll and changing attitudes towards the highly dangerous practice that can have tragic consequences.

In this article we’ll answer the question - what is drink driving? And also look at the various laws, fines and charges that you could face if you’re caught driving over the legal limit.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as putting a number on how many drinks you can have and drive, as we all metabolise alcohol at different rates. 

It’s also not as simple as laying out Australia’s national drinking driving laws, because each state has some specific details. So we’ll go through it state-by-state so you can see the drink driving laws that define the legal alcohol limit and the penalties you will face if you break them.

The common element in each one is your blood alcohol concentration, or BAC. This is the measurement that law enforcement officers will take to determine if you are breaking the law or not. 

Put simply, BAC is  the amount of alcohol in your body and is measured by the concentration on alcohol in your breath or blood. The measurement is taken in the amount of grams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, so when you blow 0.05 into a breath tester your body contains 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

This shouldn’t be taken as legal advice and, if in doubt you should never drive if you do not feel capable of safely operating a car.


In Queensland there are four alcohol limits based on your BAC, which will determine the severity of the penalty you face.

The four categories are - ‘no alcohol’ limit, which means you have a BAC of 0.00; general alcohol limit, this is when you BAC is equal to or above 0.05; middle alcohol limit, when you record a BAC of equal to or more than 0.10; and a high alcohol limit, which is when you record a BAC equal to or more than 0.15.

In Queensland you must maintain a ‘no alcohol’ limit if you are a leaner, P1/P2 provisional or restricted licence holder. You must also maintain a 0.00 BAC if you are driving a truck (with a GVM of 4.5t or more), a bus, a semi-trailer, taxi or limousine, tow truck, tractor, driving a vehicle with dangerous goods or teaching a learner driver.

The penalty for exceeding these limits depends on your licence and driving history. A first time offence for a learner or provisional driver caught with a BAC between 0.01 and 0.05 could mean a fine of up to $1929, loss of licence of between three or nine months and a possible prison term of up to three months.

A general alcohol breach could mean a similar fine and prison term and a licence disqualification of  between one and nine months.

Confusingly, the issue of drinking alcohol in a parked car can be split between road laws and local council laws. Confusingly, the issue of drinking alcohol in a parked car can be split between road laws and local council laws.

A middle alcohol limit offence carries a maximum fine of $2757, licence suspension for three to 12 months and a possible six month jail term.

Recording a high alcohol limit could result in a fine up to $3859, up to nine months in jail and a minimum six month suspension of licence.

Any driver who records a BAC of less than 0.10 automatically receives a 24 hour licence suspension, which could be extended if you fail to comply with police requests for further BAC testing, and can last until the matter goes to court.

Repeat drink driving offenders face stiffer punishment, with fines up to $8271, have your licence disqualified for up to two years, be sentenced to a jail term decided by the court and have your car impounded.

Once you have served your disqualification you have to hold a probationary licence for at least 12 months and may have to do a drink driving education course and have an alcohol ignition interlock fitted to your car; this is a device that requires you to record a 0.00 BAC before the car will start.

New South Wales

NSW follows a similar path to Queensland, with offences split into different categories, specifically - low-range (0.05 to 0.08), mid-range (0.08 to 0.15) and high-range (0.15 and above). However, it does treat drivers of special category drivers - such as truck drivers - differently than Queensland, with a ‘special range’ BAC of 0.02.

Penalties for breaching these laws vary dramatically based on circumstances, but a first time offender caught with a low-range BAC will have their licence suspended immediately for three months and hit with a $587 on-the-spot fine. Those penalties can increase if the matter goes to court, with a maximum fine of $2200 and your licence can be suspended for up to six months. 

As part of its ‘Towards Zero’ road safety plan, the NSW state government introduced tougher penalties for first time drink driving offenders in 2019. If you are caught with a mid-range BAC you are likely to be required to fit an alcohol interlock to your vehicle, and that’s on top of a potential $2200 court-issued fine, the possibility of nine months in jail and a minimum licence suspension of six months and it could be “unlimited” if the court feels you pose a danger to society.

Those caught with a ‘high’ BAC are also subjected to the alcohol interlock program and could be hit with a $3300 fine, up to 18 months in prison and have their licence disqualified for at least 12 months, if not indefinitely.

In June 2021, the NSW government introduced harsher punishment for people caught with both alcohol and illegal drugs in their system. Penalties for these offences can range from a $5500 fine and 18 months in jail with your licence suspension, for those with low levels of alcohol and drugs in their system, there are fines of up to $11,000 and a minimum three year licence suspension for repeat, high-level offenders.


The nation’s capital takes a similar but different approach when it comes to BAC levels, with a simplified system. A learner, provisional and probationary driver must have a 0.00 BAC, which also applies to drivers of vehicles with a GVM of 15t or if they are carrying dangerous goods. All other drivers are required to stay under 0.05.

Penalties vary depending on the driver’s history, but the government’s official website states that a first time offender will face a fine of up to $2250, a nine month jail term, or both, plus they could have their license suspended for up to three years.

Repeat drink driver offenders obviously face stiffer punishment, with a fine up to $3000, 12 months in prison, or both, and up to five years of licence disqualification.

A.C.T. Police also have the right to suspend your licence on-the-spot for up to 90 days if they believe the circumstances warrant it.


The Victorian government got tough on first time drink driving offenders in 2017, introducing laws that required all drivers caught with a BAC over 0.05 to have an interlock fitted to their car for six months. In addition, anyone caught driving with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.069 faces a three month licence disqualification.

The state has some of the strictest and most comprehensive punishments in the country, with different penalties for not only low-, mid- and high-level offences but also differences based on age and experience.

For example, a general licence holder under the age of 26 caught with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.069 will receive a fine; have their licence cancelled; be disqualified from driving for at least six months; need to complete a drink driving behaviour change program; have the alcohol interlock for six months; and need to record a BAC of 0.00 whenever breath-tested for at least three years. 

The NSW Government is making it mandatory for the worst drunken drivers to have alcohol interlocks fitted to their cars. The worst drunken drivers will have alcohol interlocks fitted to their cars.

Those over the age of 26 caught with the same BAC receive a similar punishment but only have their licence disqualified for three months.

The government doesn’t publish its fines on its drink driving website, but it’s believed they range from $475 for a low-range, first-time offence up to $675 for the mid-level BAC and exceed $1500 for a BAC over 0.15.

Learner and provisional drivers caught with a BAC above 0.00 will cop a fine, have their licence cancelled, are banned for driving for at least three months, are required to take a behavioural change program, have an interlock fitted and then record a 0.00 BAC for at least three years.

The Victorian authorities can also impound your car if you are caught with a BAC of 0.10 or above or are caught with a BAC above 0.00 when your vehicle is fitted with an alcohol interlock.


Like the other states, Tasmania takes a staged approach to each offence with different penalties for the various BAC levels.

Recording a BAC between 0.05 and 0.10 will see you hit with a $346 fine and a three month disqualification of your licence. However, if you are caught with a 0.10 to 0.15 BAC you’ll receive a $692 fine and sixth month driving ban.

Tasmania also has an alcohol interlock program like NSW and Victoria. Get caught with a BAC above 0.15 and you’ll have one fitted to your car for at least 15 months. And you’re required to not record a BAC above 0.00 for 180 days before it can be removed.

The nation-wide blood alcohol limit for fully licenced drivers is 0.05. The nation-wide blood alcohol limit for fully licenced drivers is 0.05.

You can also get hit with an interlock if you’re caught drink driving more than twice in a five year period or if you fail to provide a BAC specimen.

Learners or provisional drivers are required to have no alcohol in their system. If they are caught they not only face the same penalties already listed but are required to complete a drink driving education course before they reapply for their licence.

South Australia

Like the other states, South Australia has categorised the penalties for the various levels of drink driving crimes.

Category 1 is for those caught with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.079. First offenders face an on-the-spot fine and four licence demerits points. A second offence will see you head to court where you face a fine up to $1100 as well as taking the four demerit points and a licence disqualification for at least six months. If you’re caught a third time in this low-level range you’ll face the same penalties as your second offence but with a driving ban of at least nine months.

For mid-level breaches, known as Category 2 and covering BAC readings between 0.08 and 0.149, the punishment is naturally harsher. A first offence results in a fine between $900 and $1300, five demerit points and a six month driving ban. A second offence means a fine between $1100 and $1600, five demerit points and a minimum 12 month licence suspension. Subsequent mid-level breaches will see you face a fine of at least $1500 and up to $2200, five demerit points and a two year licence ban at the very least.

Finally, Category 3 offences are for anyone caught with a BAC level of 0.15 or above. Get caught the first time and you’ll be fined between $1100-$1600, be hit with six demerit points and be banned from driving for no less than 12 months. A second offence ups the fine to $1600-$2400 and the driving ban no less than three years, while retaining the same demerit point penalty. Any further Category 3 offences means the fine is increased to between $1900 and $2900 in addition to the other punishments. 

Like the other states, South Australia requires all learner and provisional drivers to record a 0.00 BAC or be hit with a Category 1 penalty.

Western Australia

Out west they take a different tactic while still maintaining a three-tier BAC offence. Anyone caught driving over the 0.05 limit cops a $1000 fine, however, there are different demerit points applied depending on how high your reading is.

A BAC between 0.05 and 0.06 costs you three demerits, between 0.06 and 0.07 means four demerit points, while between 0.07 and 0.08 is five points.

All of these penalties will keep you out of court, as they are on the spot fines.

However, if you’re caught above 0.09 you’ll need to go to court and face a fine between $750 and $2250 as well as a six month driving ban.

There are increasing court penalties as your BAC levels rise - between 0.09 and 0.11 it’s an $850-$2250 fine and seven month licence suspension, while for those between 0.11 and 0.13 the fine ranges between $1000 and $2250 and an eight month driving ban.

When it comes to whether it is legal to drink-drive on private property, the answer is no. When it comes to whether it is legal to drink-drive on private property, the answer is no.

The harshest penalties are for those caught with a level above 0.15, then you’ll be facing a $1700 to $3750 fine and a minimum 10 month driving ban if it’s your first offence. However, if it’s your first offence above 0.15 but you’ve already been nabbed with a BAC above 0.08 you’ll face a minimum fine of $2400 and 18 months without driving.

West Australia throws the proverbial book at repeat offenders who blow above 0.15 - a third offence could mean a fine of up to $7500 or 18 months in prison and a lifetime driving disqualification.

Anyone who blows over 0.15 BAC is also required to fit an alcohol interlock to their vehicle.

For learners, provisional and probationary licence holders, as well as bus, taxi and truck drivers, they must have a zero BAC level, however there is some difference in penalties depending on what you do record.

Between 0.00 and 0.02 it’s a $400 fine and three demerit points; or a fine between $400 and $750 if you go to court. If you blow between 0.02 and 0.05 it’s an automatic licence disqualification for learners and provisional drivers, or a three month suspension for others (bus, taxi, truck, etc).

Northern Territory

They look to do things differently up north, with a relatively simple line-up of punishments but with a complex way to calculate the size of the fine you’ll need to pay.

The Northern Territory legal system uses a ‘penalty unit’ system instead of a direct financial fine. The penalty unit changes each year, but at the time of publication it’s set at $157.

Learner, provisional and probationary drivers need to record a BAC level of 0.00 or face a three month driving ban or three month prison term. There’s also the possibility of a fine that could be up to five penalty units, which at the current rate would be $785.

Drivers of trucks (over GVM of 15t), vehicles with dangerous goods or taxis and buses are also required to have a zero BAC but face different penalties to provisional drivers. They are not subjected to a licence suspension but do face up to three months in jail and either an on-the-spot fine of $400 or a court ordered fine of five penalty units ($785 until 30 June 2022).

For full licence drivers, the N.T. authorities have the same low-, mid- and high-level bands as other states and different penalties accordingly.

A low-level BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08 and will mean a three month driving ban, up to three months in jail and a $400 on-the-spot fine or a court-ordered five penalty units ($785 at publication).

A mid-range offence is considered blowing between 0.08 and 0.15. It will result in a six month licence suspension, a possible six month jail term and a fine of 7.5 penalty units ($1177.50 at time of publication).

Recording a BAC above 0.15 is considered a high-level offence and the penalties are naturally stiffer. It’s a 12 month disqualification from driving, a potential 12 month jail term and a fine of 10 penalty units ($1570 at publication).

The fines increase for a second offence - 7.5 penalty units for a low-level and 20 units ($3140 at publication) for a mid-range or high-level BAC reading.

Your licence will be immediately suspended if you’re caught a second time with a low- or mid-range drink driving offence and will remain so until your case goes to court or is withdrawn.