On 9 August 2016, Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss announced that alcohol interlock sentences will become mandatory for serious and repeat drink-driving offenders.

Drink driving in New Zealand

Drink driving contributes significantly to vehicle crashes in New Zealand. It causes an average of 77 road deaths, 436 serious injuries and 1252 minor injuries each year.

For the five years from 2011 to 2015, the estimated social costs associated with drink-driving averaged $704 million per year.

Information provided by one of New Zealand’s alcohol interlock providers suggests that the 556 interlocks fitted over the past three years prevented around 2,200 drink-drive events.

Alcohol interlocks

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

Alcohol interlocks are very effective as a public safety measure, as they physically prevent an offender from driving after drinking. However, only around 2 percent of eligible offenders have received the sentence since it became available.

Alcohol interlocks will become mandatory for those offenders who are currently eligible for the alcohol interlock sentence. The Government will also include offenders who are currently 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.

Since being introduced, interlocks have been funded by offenders themselves. Interlocks cost between $2,400 and $2,800 for a 12-month interlock sentence. This cost comprises driver licensing fees, interlock installation and removal fees, and monthly rental costs.

This overall cost could mean that some offenders would not be able to afford to fit the interlock and complete the alcohol interlock sentence. As a result, the Government proposes establishing a financial assistance scheme of up to $4 million per annum (GST exclusive).

Mandatory alcohol interlock sentences (announced)

The Government has announced that the interlock sentence will become mandatory for elligable offenders. Once an offender has received the mandatory alcohol interlock sentence, they need to apply to the NZ Transport Agency for an alcohol interlock licence. Once they have an alcohol interlock licence, they will need to use a 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.

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 offence merit it.