Not only are the above penalties severe but the court only has very limited power to reduce the penalties below the minimum. A court can reduce the minimum disqualification to one month for a first offence if it is satisfied the offence is trifling.
When deciding whether or not an offence is trifling, the court takes into account all the surrounding circumstances of the driving but a person's need for a licence is not relevant to this issue.
The factors considered by the courts include the extent of impairment of faculties, the locality, the nature and extent of the driving, the reason for the offending behaviour and the actual or potential damage to the public. A low alcohol reading alone will not be enough to be considered trifling; there must be additional circumstances that are rare and exceptional. It is extremely rare for an offence to be categorised as trifling.
Examples where an offence was not considered trifling
Where an alcohol reading of just within the prescribed limit i.e. 0.08 is recorded. If there are no other circumstances to make the situation unusual or atypical this is not a trifling offence (Boyland v Dunsmore(1988) 141 L.S.J.S. 186).
Where the driver did not realise they were over the prescribed limit i.e. the offending was 'inadvertent' because it was not intended. The courts have held that since most people do not know their actual blood alcohol level when they make the decision to drive this cannot be either rare or exceptional (see Przybtniak v Police SASC 6581).
Where a driver drove a short distance (400 metres and back) to a service station in the middle of the night to buy milk for his sick children. The fact that the distance travelled was a very short one was rejected by the court as a factor making the offending trifling. Similarly the argument that the offending was prompted by humanitarian reasons was not accepted by the courts. For offending to be classified as trifling on humanitarian grounds there must be a compelling and urgent need with no other courses of action available (see Police v Mutton  SASC 328).
Minimum disqualification period must be imposed regardless of circumstances
When determining the penalty, courts cannot consider the person's need for their licence. In Janz v Woolven (1990), the Full Bench of the Supreme Court held that the minimum licence disqualification must be imposed even where a licence is needed for work and the loss of the licence will result in great personal or financial hardship. Hence most defendants lose their licence for at least the minimum period, and it is not possible to retain one's licence even on a restricted basis, eg during working hours, even if the defendant will lose his/her employment as a result. When the disqualification period is over, a person must hold a provisional licence for at least one year.
Alcohol interlock device
From 1 May 2009 the mandatory alcohol interlock scheme applies.
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