Alcohol Interlock Sentence

Since July 2018, the alcohol interlock sentence, for first time serious drink drivers and recidivist drink drivers, has become a mandatory sentence handed out by the Court.

An alcohol interlock device is similar to a breathalyser and is connected to a driver’s vehicle starting system. The device allows the driver to start their vehicle (and drive) but only if the interlock device detects zero alcohol present in the driver’s breath.


When would a mandatory alcohol interlock sentence apply?

For those charged with a first time drink driving offence, the alcohol interlock sentence will only be mandatory if:

  • The portion of alcohol in the breath is, or exceeds, 800 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath; or
  • The portion of alcohol in the blood is, or exceeds, 160 milligrams of alcohol per litres of blood.

For those who have been charged with at least one drink driving offence in the past, the alcohol interlock sentence will only be mandatory if the previous drink driving offence was committed within 5 years of the date of the commissions of the drink driving offence currently dealt with by the court.


What are the exemptions to an alcohol interlock sentence?

If the above criteria for a first time drink driver or recidivist drink driver fits, there are several scenarios where the Court may not be required to impose the mandatory alcohol interlock sentence and instead the driver would be disqualified.

A disqualification sentence will be imposed instead of an alcohol interlock sentence if the Court is satisfied of at least one of the following:

  • There is a medical condition which renders the offender incapable of providing a valid breath sample to activate the alcohol interlock device;
  • The offender usually lives in a non-served area and is not prepared to drive to a service area for an initial installation and any necessary service (must be 70 km or more from a service station);
  • The offender has never held a New Zealand licence;
  • The offender holds a licence that has been revoked or is suspended; or
  • Is not likely, during the term of the alcohol interlock sentence, to have lawful possession of a vehicle able to be used and fitted with an alcohol interlock device or have lawful possession of a vehicle at all.


What happens if you are imposed with an alcohol interlock sentence?

Once a judge has imposed an alcohol interlock sentence, there is a mandatory disqualification period of 28 days where the alcohol interlock device cannot be applied for to be installed. However, once the mandatory disqualification period ends, an application for an alcohol interlock device must be filed with a New Zealand Transport Agency to obtain an alcohol interlock licence. Once the application is granted, the alcohol interlock device will need to be installed by one of the approved installers in New Zealand.

The minimum time the alcohol interlock must be installed in the vehicle is 12 months before an application can be made for the device to be uninstalled. The timeframe starts on the day the interlock device is installed. If no alcohol interlock licence is obtained and no interlock device is installed in the vehicle, the timeframe will not start and the alcohol sentence still stands.


Interactions of the alcohol interlock sentence with other possible sentences/ applications

If an alcohol interlock sentence is required and the offender is also liable for mandatory confiscation of its vehicle, the Court is prohibited from making an order confiscating a vehicle if the alcohol interlock sentence is order.

An application for community work in lieu of disqualification (section 94) will not apply if the alcohol interlock sentence applies or if the alcohol interlock sentence has been ordered.


What are the costs of the alcohol interlock?

The cost of an alcohol interlock is between $2,300 and $3,100 for a 12 month interlock sentence. This can be paid by monthly rental fees and includes licensing fees, installation and removal fees.

Subsidy assistance is available if the eligibility criteria is met.


Issues of removal to be aware of

After a minimum of 12 months of having the interlock device installed, an application can be made to NZTA for removal of the device.

The Agency will only grant a removal if in the last 6 months there are no violations of the interlock device. A violation would be entered into the system if the driver blows into the device and alcohol is detected in their breath or if the device is tampered with. After the Agency has confirmed that there is a 6 month violation-free period, the removal will be granted.

Alternatively, the 6 months violation free period can be reduced to a 3 month violation free period if a satisfactory alcohol assessment is obtained.


Zero alcohol licence

If the Agency has approved the removal, an application for a zero alcohol licence (pink licence) must be made. Once a zero alcohol licence is obtained, the Agency will then allow for the uninstallation of the interlock device. The zero alcohol licence lasts 3 years, at the end of which a standard driver’s licence can be applied for.


This article contains general information only, and is not intended to be a comprehensive review of traffic law.  For specific advice tailored to your individual needs, please contact Cherry Mo.