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Introduction to the Alcohol Interlock Program

Prior to 2015 the Alcohol Interlock Program was a voluntary and seldom used penalty option used by the Courts. Since 2015 it is a compulsory system that applies to high range drink driving offences and second offences committed within five years of a previous drink driving offence.

This program is one of many steps that parliament has taken towards reducing drunk driving. Anyone ordered to participate by the court will have their driver’s licence disqualified and an alcohol interlock installed in his or her vehicle for at least one year.

The interlock is a typically assigned in conjunction with more severe punishments.  If you fail to comply with the interlock court order, however, you forfeit your right to drive for at least five years.

What exactly is an interlock?

An interlock is an electronic breath-testing device typically linked to the ignition system of your vehicle. To start his or her car, a driver must breathe into the interlock.  In the presence of any alcohol, the car will not start. To keep driving, those under interlock orders must pass randomly timed breath tests. 

Breathing test results, attempts to tamper with the device, and photographs of the person trying to start the car will be recorded by the interlock.  The authorities will then use this data to detect any actions which violate the rules of interlock licensing conditions. This includes drinking and driving or asking another individual to participate in your breathing tests.

While driving, individuals in NSW’s interlock program must maintain a blood-alcohol concentration of zero.

What’s the objective of the interlock program?

The program was developed to reduce the number of drunk-driving casualties throughout New South Wales.  By helping at-risk drivers to separate drinking from driving, the interlock encourages better driving behaviour. Closely-monitoring offenders helps Roads and Maritime determine which drivers have truly learned their lesson and deserve to have the interlock system removed from their vehicle.

What punishments typically accompany an interlock-qualifying offence?

If you’ve been convicted of a high-range or repeat drunk driving offense, the court will order you to:

Undergo a license disqualification period of at least six (6) months.

  • Participate in the interlock program for at least twelve months.
  • The normal interlock order on a high range drink driving offence is your licence is disqualified for six (6) months and then a further 2 ½ years with an interlock device in your car.
  • Please note that the above is just what happens to your licence. You will also be punished the options ranging from a fine to at worst a full time imprisonment.

In very limited circumstances, the courts can choose to waive the interlock-related portion of your punishment.

What do I need to get my interlock license?

Participation in the interlock program starts only after Roads and Maritime grants you an interlock licence. These are available for normal drivers, motorcycle riders, and those who operate heavy vehicles. To receive an interlock license, you must:

  • See a doctor to get a Medical Consultation Certificate
  • Install the interlock system and have that that installation certified by a qualified professional
  • Sign a privacy declaration and driver’s license statement
  • Have no other court-imposed license disqualifications or fines owed to the State Debt Recovery Office

Once those steps are completed, you can go to your local NSW centre or area registry and receive your interlock license. Please note that the issuance period exceeds that of a normal license.

How does someone drive with an interlock?

Before driving your vehicle, you must blow into the device. The interlock will then analyse your breath for alcohol and take your photograph. The vehicle will not start until it confirms that the driver has no alcohol in their system. If the New South Wales police find you with any trace of alcohol in your system, you can be charged with drunk driving.

The system randomly prompts drivers to provide additional breath samples. You must then pull over to a safe location to take the test.  During these secondary tests, photographs and data will continue to be collected by the interlock system.

After a failed test, you will be locked out of the program for a length of time befitting your current blood alcohol concentration. You must wait for the lockout time to reach zero before taking another test. Failing more than a couple tests triggers an early service alert.  You will then be forced to take your vehicle to a nearby interlock service provider. You will be responsible for any maintenance or repair costs arising from that visit.

What are my responsibilities in an interlock program?

Participants in the interlock program have a multitude of responsibilities. Failure to comply with the conditions laid out by the program typically results in much heftier penalties. These include fines, extensions to your interlock period, license cancellation, and license suspension. By agreeing to take part in an interlock program, you promise to:

  • Never drive with alcohol in your system.
  • Only operate a vehicle that’s outfitted with an interlock device.
  • Take the steps to ensure that an interlock is installed in at least one vehicle
  • Only drive a vehicle for which you have provided a breath sample.
  • Go to all court-mandated medical consultations.
  • Make certain that your interlock system receives proper maintenance
  • Never drive any motor vehicle that has an interlock system that qualifies as broken or tampered with.
  • Refrain from driving a vehicle that is loaded with dangerous goods. You can find out what qualifies by reading the Dangerous Goods Regulation outlined in 2014.
  • Allow a police offer to inspect an interlock at any time.

Those who cooperate with the above guidelines will be given an opportunity to:

  • Drive a vehicle legally.
  • Learn how to separate drinking from driving.
  • Meet with a doctor qualified to discuss alcohol use.
  • Access any needed employment, education, or health services.
  • Continue to provide transport for loved ones.

What costs are involved in an interlock program?

The offender will be required to pay all costs included with the interlock program. These costs include, but are not limited to, interlock maintenance, interlock removal, and program administration fees. Annual interlock costs average around $2,200 dollars.

What Type of Monitoring and Maintenance is involved in an interlock program?

To remain compliant with the requirements of the interlock program, you must have your device regularly serviced. You must be present for the entirety of these maintenance sessions. The length between maintenance sessions, usually between two and three months, will be determined by your service provider. You will be alerted of upcoming service appointments by a countdown located on your interlock. If you miss the listed date by more than a week, the interlock will enter a state known as permanent lockout. If this happens, you’ll have to contact your provider.

An individual who performs particularly well in the program, and does not fail any tests, can have the intervals between service visits extended. This results in less time spent at your service provider and more time spent bettering yourself.

Three things of note happen during interlock maintenance:

  • All data stored in your device will be downloaded and sent to Roads and Maritime for analysis.
  • The interlock, and its labels, will be examined for any signs of tampering.
  • The device will send your number of failed breath tests to Roads and Maritime.

Anyone who failed a test will receive an advisory letter or health referral from Roads and Maritime.

How do I complete the alcohol interlock program?

To be eligible to hold a license without an interlock, you must prove that you can separate driving from drinking. Failed interlock tests may result in a court order to undergo a Fitness to Drive assessment before interlock removal. Based on the outcome of this assessment, and your device’s data, Roads and Maritime may extend your interlock sentence for six or more months. After this extension period ends, you’ll have to undergo revaluation.

Roads and Maritime advises participants when their interlock participation period has come to an end. Once that happens, you can go to your local service centre or registry to obtain a non-interlock driver’s licence. After that, you can have your service provider remove the device from your ignition.

What happens if I move states while in an interlock program?

Moving from NSW to another territory: If you choose to leave New South Wales during your interlock period, your licence will be disqualified. If you return to NSW, however, you’ll be able to finish the remainder of your program without penalty.  Due to differing requirements between the states, you may be unable to get a license in your new place of residence without first completing your interlock program. If that’s the case, you’ll need to discuss your options with a lawyer or licensing authority before your move.

Moving from another territory to NSW: If you hold an interlock licence from another state, you are eligible to enter the NSW Interlock program.  This remains the case if you’ve been court-ordered to join an interlock program and have failed to do so. Be aware that requirements for these programs vary from state to state.

Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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