Sentencing drink drivers

Date: 14 Jan 2009 

Click here for the full report (pdf, 573Kb)


New research by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found that, following the issuing of a guideline judgement by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) on sentencing for high range PCA (drink driving) offences, penalties for high and mid range PCA offenders became a lot tougher.

Prior to the issuing of the guideline judgement, many PCA offenders escaped mandatory licence disqualification because they were given section 10 non-conviction orders (s10 bonds) There were also marked disparities between Local Courts in the relative frequency with which they dealt with PCA offenders using these bonds. Concern about this state of affairs prompted the NSW Attorney General to apply to the CCA for a guideline judgement on sentencing for those convicted of high range PCA offences.

The CCA issued its guideline judgement in September 2004. The current Bureau report examines trends in sentencing for PCA offences before and after the guideline judgement. It finds:

High range PCA offences

  • A 71 per cent fall in the use of s10, from 9.3 per cent of cases to 2.7 per cent.
  • An eight per cent increase in licence disqualification, from 88.9 per cent of cases to 95.6 per cent.
  • A 65 per cent decline in the standard deviation (average variation) between courts in their use of s.10, from 7.7 to 2.6.

Mid-range PCA offences

  • A 30 per cent fall in the use of s.10, from 25.5 per cent of cases to 17.9 per cent of cases.
  • A 10 per cent increase in licence disqualification, from 73.5 per cent of cases to 81.1 per cent.
  • A 22 per cent decline in the standard deviation between courts in their use of s.10, from 13.7 to 10.7

Low-range PCA offences

  • A non-significant decline in the use of s.10
  • A non-significant increase in licence disqualification
  • A very slight (0.4 percentage point) decline in the standard deviation between courts in the use of s.10


Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn said that, while the guideline judgement has had a substantial impact on sentencing for high and mid-range PCA offences, it has clearly had very little impact on sentencing for low range PCA offences. "Where these offences are concerned, the use of s.10 for low range offences remains fairly high (at about 40 per cent of cases), as does the level of variation between courts in their use of s.10. Further guidance from the CCA may be necessary to deal with these problems", Dr Weatherburn said.

Further Enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn: 9231-9190 or 0419-494-408.