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Alcohol and You

Alcohol consumption is widespread in Australia, and it's entwined with many aspects of our culture. In moderation, drinking is supposed to be enjoyable – but what happens when the fun stops?

These facts about might make you rethink that next drink:


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What illnesses can alcohol cause?

Most Australians don't drink so much alcohol that it significantly affects their health1 – yet around 15 people a day die from an alcohol-related illness.2

According to the Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre, injuries (including road crashes) make up the largest proportion of alcohol-related deaths among males (36%), although for females it's considerably lower (12%). Cardiovascular diseases are much more likely to kill women who drink (34%) than men (13%).3

Alcohol is also a leading contributor to deaths from cancer, particularly bowel cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer.4

Is the drinking problem
getting worse in Australia?

Actually, statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare5 suggest some areas are improving, but gradually.

Daily drinking fell by 0.7% between 2010 and 2013, and fewer under-18s are drinking too. There has also been a long-term decline in "risky" drinking, meaning those who drink enough to endanger their health – whether over long periods or in single nights.

How much are people drinking?

According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics,6 total alcohol consumption hit a 50-year low in 2013-14, at 9.71 litres of pure alcohol per person.

Australians are also choosing different drinks – wine, especially white wine, is becoming more popular while beer consumption is declining.

What's the drink-drive limit?

The legal blood alcohol concentration limit in Australia is 0.05% for fully qualified drivers.

For learners and probationary licence-holders, it's zero – any amount of alcohol will put you over the limit.7

How much alcohol makes a 0.05% blood alcohol concentration?

As a general rule, drinking two "standard drinks" – that is, two 285ml glasses of full-strength beer or two 100ml glasses of wine – within an hour is enough to put you over the limit.8 Every standard drink per hour after that will keep you over it.

This varies according to gender and body mass, however. The best way to be sure you're not over the limit is simply not to drink and drive.

How does blood alcohol concentration contribute to crashes?

It doesn't take much. At just 0.05% blood alcohol concentration, you're twice as likely to crash as you were when you were completely sober.

After a couple more drinks, at 0.08%, you're five times more likely to crash,9 and at 0.12% you're ten times more likely.

What's the toll of drink driving?

It's believed that around one quarter of road deaths in Australia involve drink driving in some way.10

With an average of 1,527 annual road deaths overall,11 that's about 382 lives every year.

What are the penalties for drink driving?

Australia's road laws vary from state to state, but the severity of penalties usually reflects the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time they were arrested.12

At the very least, offenders normally face a fine and demerits or restrictions on their licence. More serious or repeat offences carry the risk of a lost licence or even jail time.

Most states also require learner drivers, under-25s and people who have not yet held a licence for three years to have a BAC of zero at all times.

What are the penalties

Victoria

As of October 2014, Victoria's drink driving penalties for a fully-qualified driver's first offence are as follows:13

BAC % Penalty
0.05 to under 0.07 A fine
10 demerit points
0.07 to under 0.10
  • A fine
  • Driving licence or permit cancelled
  • Disqualified from driving for 6 months
  • A minimum 6 months alcohol interlock period managed by VicRoads
0.10 to under 0.15
  • A fine
  • Driving licence or permit cancelle
  • Disqualified from driving for 10 to 14 month
  • A minimum 6 months alcohol interlock period managed by VicRoads
0.15 and over
  • Court summons
  • A fine
  • Driving licence or permit cancelled
  • Disqualified from driving for a minimum of 15 months
  • A minimum 6 months alcohol interlock period managed by VicRoads

What are the penalties

Western Australia

Western Australia has a very specific sliding scale of penalties depending on BAC. This table shows the maximum penalties for a first offence:14

BAC % Penalty
0.05 to under 0.06
  • $400 infringement or $500 court penalty
  • 3 demerit points
0.06 to under 0.07
  • $400 infringement or $500 court penalty
  • 4 demerit points
0.07 to under 0.08
  • $400 infringement or $500 court penalty
  • 5 demerit points
0.08 to under 0.09
  • $500 to $1,500 fine
  • Disqualified from driving for 6 months
0.09 to under 0.11
  • $550 to $1,500 fine
  • Disqualified from driving for 7 months
0.11 to under 0.13
  • $650 to $1,500 fine
  • Disqualified from driving for 8 months
0.13 to under 0.15
  • $750 to $1,500 fine
  • Disqualified from driving for 9 months
0.15 and over
  • $900 to $2,500 fine
  • Disqualified from driving for 10 months

What are the penalties

Queensland

In Queensland, a 24-hour licence suspension also applies when the offender's BAC is under 0.10. If over 0.10, the licence is suspended until the charge is dealt with. The maximum penalties for first-time offenders are as follows:15

BAC % Penalty
0.05 to under 0.10
  • $1,649 fine
  • Licence disqualified for 1 to 9 months
  • 3 months imprisonment
0.10 to under 0.15
  • $2,356 fine
  • Licence disqualified for 3 to 12 months
  • 6 months imprisonment
0.15 and over
  • $3,298 fine
  • Licence disqualified for a minimum of 6 months
  • 9 months imprisonment

What are the penalties

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory operates a system of penalty units, one of which is currently worth $153.16 Depending on the severity of the offence, these units may be converted into jail time.

Most offenders must also complete a drink driving programme before regaining their licence. The maximum penalties for first-time offenders are:17

BAC % Penalty
0.05 to under 0.08
  • 5 penalty units
0.08 to under 0.15
  • 7.5 penalty units
  • Disqualified from driving for 6 months
0.15 and over
  • 7.5 penalty units
  • Disqualified from driving for 12 months

What are the penalties

South Australia

Penalties for first-time offenders in South Australia are as follows:18

BAC % Penalty
0.05 to under 0.08
  • $1,100 fine
  • Licence disqualified for at least three months
  • 4 demerit points
0.08 to under 0.15
  • $900 to $1,300 fine
  • Licence disqualified for at least six months
  • 5 demerit points
0.15 and over
  • $1,100 to $1,600 fine
  • Licence disqualified for at least twelve months
  • 6 demerit points

What are the penalties

New South Wales

New South Wales uses a penalty units system for drink driving offences, each of which is worth $110.19 The following maximum penalties apply to first-time offenders in New South Wales:20

BAC % Penalty
0.05 to under 0.08
  • 10 penalty units
  • Automatic 6 month disqualification – minimum of 3 months
0.08 to under 0.15
  • 20 penalty units
  • Automatic 12 month disqualification – minimum of 6 months
  • 9 months imprisonment
0.15 and over
  • 30 penalty units
  • Automatic 3 year disqualification – minimum of 12 months
  • 18 months imprisonment

What are the penalties

Tasmania

Tasmania uses penalty units, with each unit currently worth $154.21 The maximum penalties for a first-time offence are as follows:22

BAC % Penalty
0.05 to under 0.10
  • 10 penalty units
  • Disqualified from driving for 12 months
  • 3 months imprisonment
0.10 to under 0.15
  • 20 penalty units
  • Disqualified from driving for 18 months
  • 6 months imprisonment
0.15 and over
  • 30 penalty units
  • Disqualified from driving for 36 months
  • 12 months imprisonment

Are these penalties too harsh?

Drink driving is a killer, and research suggests that 85% of Australians actually support tougher penalties for those who get behind the wheel when drunk.23

What help is there for people who drink too much?

Alcohol can be addictive, something that can devastate individual lives and families alike.

If you know somebody who gets drunk too often, and especially if they regularly endanger others by driving after drinking, they may have a problem with alcohol.

These organisations offer more information. Some work to help people in Australia with alcohol problems. Get in touch and find out what they can do – you could just save a life.

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