Drugs, driving and you

What to do if:

  • You have received a fine and threemonth licence suspension for adrug related driving offence, or
  • You are pleading guilty in the LocalCourt to a drug related drivingoffence.

Drugs can be detected in your system for a long time after you use them. How long they stay in your system can depend on the type of drug, how much you took, how often you use it, and other personal factors.

In NSW, it is against the law to drive with the presence of any illegal drug in your system.

NSW police often conduct mobile drug testing (MDT) on drivers. The test can occur at roadside random drug testing, or if you are stopped by police. They use a saliva swab and drug screening equipment.

If illegal drugs are detected, the test will be repeated. If the test is still positive, you will be required to take additional laboratory tests including blood tests or urine samples. These test results can take longer to process than a saliva test. You must not drive while waiting for the test results.

If the test confirms the presence of illegal drugs, you will be charged with a drug driving offence.

You may be charged with:

  • ‘driving under the influence of a drug’. You must be affected by the drug to be charged with this offence; or
  • ‘driving with an illicit drug present in oral fluid, blood or urine’. For this offence the drug only needs to be detected in your system. You can commit this offence even if you are no longeraffected by the drug.

These are the most common drug-related driving offences – if you have a different offence, or a combined offence you should speak to a lawyer.

NSW Police can drug test drivers who are under the influence of alcohol. If you are over the alcohol limit and also test positive for drugs, you may be charged with a combined drug/alcohol offence. The penalties for combined offences are much higher. See the penalty tables in this brochure.

For more information on drink driving see Drink driving charges and you.

If your offence is ‘driving with an illicit drug present in your system’ and this is your first alcohol or other drug related driving offence in the past five years, instead of receiving a notice to attend court, the police can give you a fine and licence suspension. This will mean that you do not have to go to court.

If you admit the offence, you should pay the fine, or make arrangements to deal with the fine before the due date. Once the fine is paid, or an overdue fine notice is issued, Transport for NSW will suspend your licence for three months. You should receive a notice in the mail telling you when the suspension starts.

You can lodge an appeal against your suspension at the Local Court. You must lodge the appeal within 28 days of receiving notice of your licence suspension. There may be a fee for this appeal. If you are on a Centrelink payment or experiencing financial hardship, ask if this fee can be waived.

The court will not decide your appeal straight away. The appeal will be listed before a magistrate, usually at least 28 days after you have lodged the appeal. The court must be satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances before it can lift or vary your suspension

If you are thinking of lodging an appeal, it is a good idea to get legal advice about whether your circumstances are exceptional and what to prepare to support your appeal.

You have the option to dispute the fine and for your matter to be heard by a court. The fine notice gives you information on how to do this.

You should get legal advice before asking to have your matter dealt with by the court. If you choose to go to court, once the court attendance notice is issued you cannot change your mind. The court attendance notice can be issued very quickly – sometimes within 24 hours of the application.

Before you decide to dispute the fine in court you should consider the following:

  • The amount of your fine and the period ofyour suspension may increase. The court can increase the fine amount and length of time you are unable to drive. The court can also record a conviction for the offence.
  • You may get a criminal record and yourlicence disqualified. If the court convicts you of the driving offence, the conviction will appear on your criminal record and your licence will be disqualified. If your licence is disqualified you must re-apply and be issued with a driver licence before you can drive again.

If you are going to take the matter to court, you should do this before the due date of your fine. If an overdue fine notice has been issued you can still apply, however you must prove that you were prevented from paying or managing your fine before the due date. This is called hindrance. You must supply supporting evidence, such as medical or travel documents.

Get character references

Written references from people who can talk about your good character may help your case. They should be addressed to the magistrate, and the people writing them should say they know about the charges you are in court for.

For more information see Character References.

Write down what you want to say to the court

Write a letter to the magistrate, or make notes of what you will say in court. The court will consider what you say when it decides what penalty to give you

You should consider these things:

  • if you believed you were under the influenceof a drug when you drove
  • if you were stopped by a random test or because you were driving erratically or dangerously
  • how long you had been driving for (or intended to drive for) when you were stopped
  • how many people (passengers, members of the public) were put at risk by your driving
  • if there was an accident
  • if not having a licence will affect your employment or other people who rely on you (for example, children, sick relative)
  • if you don’t have other transport you can use
  • how long you had a licence and what your overall driving record is like, and
  • if you are a regular drug user and it would be appropriate for you to get some kind of treatment or counselling for your drug use.

You should also explain:

  • any special reason you were driving
  • why you were driving with drugs in your system
  • that you understand the risks of driving after using drugs, and if you can, that you will not repeat this behaviour
  • if you need a licence for work—get a letter from your employer to say what will happen to your job if you are disqualified from driving for a long time, and
  • what your weekly income and expenses are (this will help the court work out any fine it gives you).
What should I do at court?
  • You should not drive to court in case you lose your licence. Take your licence with you (unless the police have already taken it) because the court may tell you to hand it in.
  • When you get to court, find the court officer and tell them that you are unrepresented and that you are pleading guilty. You can usually find them inside or just outside your courtroom.
  • If you want legal advice, find the Legal AidNSW duty lawyer at court or ask the court to adjourn your case so you can get legal advice. You should see the duty lawyer if you think you could go to gaol.
  • Listen to what other people say to the magistrate while you wait for your name to be called. It can be helpful to sit in the courtroom and listen to other people presenting guilty pleas to give you a better idea of how to present yours.
  • The prosecutor will have a fact sheet which says why you were arrested and what thepolice say happened. Make sure you read it. If you disagree with what the police say happened, you should get legal advice before you plead guilty.
  • The police prosecutor should also show you a copy of your previous criminal record if you have one. If you do not have a criminal record, the prosecutor might still have your bail history. If the prosecutor has your bail history you should ask to see it. You should also ask the prosecutor to show you a copy of your driving record. Read these documents carefully to make sure they really are yours. If you think there is wrong information on your criminal, bail or driving record, tell the magistrate when it is your turn to speak.
  • The prosecutor will also hand the magistrate documents about the correct handling and testing of the sample and the presence of an illicit drug.
  • Speak to the magistrate when your name is called. Say you are pleading guilty and either hand your letter to the magistrate or read from the notes you’ve made
  • Give the court any written references and documents that you have to support your case.
  • Think about doing a Traffic Offender Intervention Program (TOIP). If you attend the program and complete the coursework your penalty may be reduced. If you want to do the program, tell the magistrate and ask for your case to be adjourned so you have time to complete it. You will have to pay to do a TOIP.
The MERIT program

Local Courts have a special program called the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment Program (MERIT). Adult defendants with drug problems can volunteer to work towards rehabilitation.'

The program takes about 12 weeks to complete. You can ask the magistrate to refer you to the MERIT program and adjourn your case so they can assess if you are suitable to take part in it. If you are, your case will be adjourned so you have time to complete the program.

The court will get a report about your progress. If you make positive progress on the program this will help you when the court sentences you.


Table 1: Drug related driving offences
Provision of Road Transport Act 2013 1st offences2nd and subsequent offences
Maximum fineMaximum gaolAutomatic disqualificationMinimum disqualificationMaximum fineMaximum gaolAutomatic disqualificationMinimum disqualification
s.112(1)(a)Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drug$3,30018 months3 years12 months$5,5002 years5 years2 years
s.111Drive with illicit drug in oral fluid, blood or urine$2,200Nil6 months3 months$3,300Nil12 months6 months
Schedule 3
Cl. 16(1)(c) or 16(1)(d)
Refuse to submit to oral fluid or sobriety test$1,100NilAt the discretion of the court$1,100NilAt the discretion of the court
Schedule 3
Cl. 17(1)(a) or 17(1)(b)
Refuse to submit to taking of blood or oral fluid sample$3,300Nil3 years6 months$5,50018 months5 years12 months
Schedule 3
Cl. 17(1)(c)
Refuse to submit urine sample$3,30018 months3 years6 months$5,5002 years5 years12 months
Schedule 3
Cl. 17(2)
Prevent taking of blood sample$3,30018 months3 years12 months$5,5002 years5 years2 years
Table 2: Combined drink drug driving - 1st offence
Penalties1st offence
Mid-range + illicit drug presence
1st offence
High-range + illicit drug presence
Immediate licence suspensionYesYes
Max court fine$3,300 (30 penalty units)$5,500 (50 penalty units)
Max prison term18 months24 months
Min disqualification12 months18 months
Max disqualificationUnlimitedUnlimited
Auto disqualification2 years4 years
Min interlock period12 months2 years
Vehicle sanctionsNoYes
Table 3: Combined - 2nd and subsequent offences
PenaltiesLow, novice or special range + illicit drug presenceMid-range + illicit drug presenceHigh-range + illicit drug presence
Immediate licence suspensionYesYesYes
Max court fine$5,500 (50 penalty units)$6,600 (60 penalty units)$11,000 (100 penalty units)
Max prison term18 months2 years2 years
Min disqualification18 months2 years3 years
Max disqualificationUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Auto disqualification2 years4 years6 years
Min interlock period12 months2 years4 years
Vehicle sanctionsYesYesYes
Notes on the combined offences penalty
  • Interlock periods are consistent with the current interlock periods for drink driving offences.
  • Vehicle sanctions are currently applicable to repeat mid and high-range PCA offenders.
  • Vehicle sanctions may apply for a mid-range combined first offence if the driver has been convicted of an alcohol related major offence in the last five years.

In most cases you will lose your licence for some time unless the court decides not to record a conviction against you. The penalties for some of the main drug related driving offences are set out in the tables above.

If there is something you don’t understand about the court’s decision, ask the magistrate to explain. If you aren’t able to ask the magistrate, ask the court staff to explain when you go to the Registry.

  • Don't drive while disqualified
    If you have been disqualified from driving, you must hand in your licence. If you drive you can go to gaol for up to six months or be fined $3,300 fine (or both). If it is not your first offence, you could go to gaol for up to 12 months and be fined $5,500.
    You will also be disqualified from driving for at least three months (or six months if this is not your first offence) when you are convicted for driving while disqualified.
    Police can take away your vehicle for six months if you drive while disqualified three or more times in a five year period. Some people can apply to the Local Court to ask for their existing disqualification periods to be removed from their driver licence after two or four years without a driving offence. To find out if you can do this, see the Legal Aid NSW brochure  Are you disqualified from driving?
  • Re-apply for your licence
    When your disqualification period is over, you must re-apply for your licence. You will not get it back automatically
    .Contact Transport for NSW on 13 22 13 or visit www.nsw.gov.au to find out how to get a new licence.
  • Pay your fine
    If the court gives you a fine and you think you will have trouble paying it in the 28 days you have to pay it, speak to court staff at the registry before you leave about making a ‘time to pay’ arrangement.
    If you don’t pay the fine in the time you are told to pay it, Revenue NSW can take other action against you. If you need help to manage your fines debt, contact Revenue NSW on 1300 655 805 or see www.nsw.gov.au/moneyand-taxes/fines-and-fees
    You may be able to get a Work and Development Order (WDO) which allows you to clear up to $1,000 a month off your fines through approved activities or treatment programs. For more information go to the Work and Development Orders page.

You can appeal to the District Court if you are not happy with the magistrate’s decision, but you should get legal advice before you do this. You have 28 days from the date of the magistrate’s decision to appeal.

You will also have to pay a fee. If you are on a Centrelink benefit or experiencing financial hardship, ask if the fee can be waived.

For more information about how to appeal, see the Legal Aid NSW brochure Appealing to the District Court.

If you had good reason for not being in court when the magistrate made the decision, you can apply to have the decision reviewed.

Where can I get more help?

OrganisationInformationContact details
LawAccess NSWProvides free telephone legal information and referrals to other services, including to your nearest Legal Aid NSW office, Community Legal Centres, private lawyers and other organisations that can help.Chat to our team by clicking on 'Chat with us' on the right or by calling 1300 888 529 Mon to Fri 9am - 5pm.
Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS)If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander you can also contact the ALS for free legal advice.Phone: 1800 765 767
Website: www.alsnswact.org.au

September 2023

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