Alcohol & drink driving

Drink and drug driving continues to be a major contributor to death and serious injuries on South Australian roads. The presence of alcohol or drugs in a pedestrian’s system can also impair their ability to safely negotiate roads and traffic.

Alcohol impairs skill and decision making and increases confidence and aggression. It can also lead to an increase in other risk-taking behaviour. Studies have shown that every increase of 0.05 in blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level above zero doubles the risk of being involved in a casualty crash.

Road crash facts

Alcohol involvement among drivers and riders killed in crashes in South Australia has remained fairly stable over the past 5 years. During 2010 – 2014, 24 per cent of drivers and riders killed had an illegal BAC. The majority of driver and rider fatalities that test positive to an illegal BAC are more than three times the legal limit.

Of the pedestrian fatalities that were tested between 2010 and 2014, 30 per cent were found to have a blood alcohol content of more than 0.05.

Read our fact sheet for more information on alcohol and drugs in road crashes in South Australia (PDF).

What the law says

In South Australia it is illegal to:

  • drive exceeding the prescribed concentration of alcohol for your licence class
  • drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • refuse to comply with directions from a police officer in relation to an alcotest or breath analysis

Police may test road users for the presence of alcohol and drugs through random roadside tests.

The following drivers must have a zero BAC when driving - learner’s permit; provisional or probationary licence holders; bus, taxi, heavy vehicle drivers and drivers of vehicles carrying dangerous goods.

The following drivers must not drive with a BAC of 0.05 or more - unconditional (full) licence holders and qualified supervising drivers accompanying a learner driver.  

The presence of cannabis, speed or ecstasy detected in a driver also constitutes an offence.

Severe penalties apply to drivers who commit drink driving offences.  Penalties may include heavy fines, licence disqualification, demerit points, wheel clamping, impounding or forfeiture of a vehicle, a requirement to have an alcohol interlock fitted to a vehicle and even imprisonment in some cases.

These penalties are designed to send a clear message to drivers about the severity of drinking and operating a motor vehicle and highlight the dangers these drivers present to themselves and the safety of other road users.

The current penalty system uses graduated fines and licence sanctions that reflect the increases in crash risk at higher BAC levels and also whether it is a person’s first, second or third offence.

Refer to the MyLicence website for more information on the drink and drug driving penalties that apply in South Australia.

Mandatory Alcohol Interlock Scheme

South Australia introduced the mandatory Alcohol Interlock Scheme in May 2009. It requires drivers who commit a serious drink driving offence to have an alcohol interlock (small breath-testing device) fitted to their vehicle which prevents it from being started or operated if the driver’s BAC exceeds a zero reading.  In this way, alcohol interlocks are strong “incapacitators” with interlock schemes around the world demonstrating good separation of alcohol and driving (and thereby improving road safety outcomes) while a person is on the scheme.

Safe driving tips

Visit the MyLicence website for safe driving tips on how to avoid the risks of drink or drug driving.

Key strategies and actions

In recent years, the State Government has introduced a raft of initiatives to deter drink driving behaviour.  This includes increasing the number of breath tests being performed, the introduction of full-time mobile random breath testing, immediate loss of licence of high level drink driving offenders and the mandatory alcohol interlock scheme.  

Stronger penalties have also been introduced with higher fines and demerit points in place for drink driving offences as well as the availability of wheel clamping, impounding and/or forfeiture of a vehicle. For repeat offenders, the courts are now able to consider previous drink and drug driving offences during sentencing.

To further reduce fatalities and injuries associated with drink driving, increased use of technological solutions, including the use of alcohol ignition interlocks will need to be further explored alongside enforcement measures and education and awareness.

The Road Safety Action Plan 2013-2016 identifies a number of key actions in relation to drink driving:

  • Conduct coordinated State-wide driver screening operations each year at high risk times and locations;
  • Enhance the general drink driving deterrent by maximising the exposure of South Australian road users to roadside driver alcohol screening;
  • Review the operations of the SA interlock scheme and conduct research into recidivist alcohol offenders.

References and links

The Driver’s Handbook – Alcohol, Drugs, Medicines and Driving

Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia

Motor Accident Commission - Drink Driving campaign

Adelaide University, Centre for Automotive Safety Research, 2013, Alcohol ignition interlock schemes: best practice review,

Adelaide University, Centre for Automotive Safety Research, 2012, Characteristics of alcohol impaired road users involved in casualty crashes

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