What Are The Penalties For A First Drug Driving Offence

A first-time drug driving offence can have serious consequences for drivers in Victoria. If you’re caught driving with illicit drugs or prescription medication in your system, you could face fines, licence disqualification, and even a criminal record. It’s important to understand the penalties for drug driving and the legal options available to you if you’re facing charges.

What Is Drug Driving?

Drug driving is a serious offence in Victoria under the Road Traffic Act and can have severe consequences for drivers. If you are caught driving under the influence of drugs, it can result in penalties that may affect your driving record and personal life.

Driving a motor vehicle in Victoria while having illicit drugs in the driver’s system is considered drug driving. Victoria police can detect traces of THC or Cannabis, Methamphetamines, and Ecstasy or MDMA by conducting a saliva test on the driver.

Under Road Traffic laws in Victoria, drug driving is prohibited in the following circumstances:

  • When the driver’s saliva or blood contains any amount of illicit substances.
  • When the driver is impaired by any drug.
  • When the driver is affected by any drug to the extent of being incapable of controlling the vehicle properly.

In addition, driving a vehicle and failing a roadside drug test or refusing to undertake a roadside drug test and/or impairment test by Victoria police is also considered a road traffic offence and drug driving offence in Victoria.

Drug Driving Laws

We’ve compiled a brief outline of the Road Safety Act 1986 laws around Drug Driving.

 Offence Particulars
S49(1)(a) Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
S49(1)(ba) Driving While Impaired by Drugs
S49(1)(bb) Driving with Illicit Drugs in System
S49(1)(h) Exceed Prescribed Concentration of Drugs (Oral Fluid Sample)
S49(1)(i) Exceed Prescribed Concentration of Drugs (Blood Sample)
S49(1) Driving with Illicit Drugs and Exceed Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol
S49(1)(j) Exceed Prescribed Concentration of Drug and Alcohol (Blood Sample)


Types Of Drug Driving Offences

There are three main types of drug driving offences in Australia:

  • Driving with illicit drugs in your system: This offence occurs when you test positive for an illicit drug (such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine or methamphetamine) in a roadside saliva test. You do not have to be impaired by the drug to commit this offence.
  • Driving while impaired by drugs: This offence occurs when you are unable to drive safely due to the effects of a drug (whether illicit, prescription or over-the-counter). You may be required to undergo a roadside impairment test or a blood test to determine your level of impairment.
  • Driving under the influence of drugs: This offence occurs when you are so affected by a drug that you are incapable of having proper control of your vehicle. This is the most serious type of drug driving offence and requires proof of your level of intoxication.

What Are The Penalties For A First Time Drug Driving Offence?

Typically, for a first-time drug driving offence, you are more likely to be fined rather than being served any gaol time. First time offenders may be given somewhere between 12 and 30 penalty units depending on their level of intoxication. Further penalties may include a suspension or cancellation of your driver’s licence for a period of six months, along with mandatory participation in a drug driver program or a fine.

The only drug driving penalty that can lead to a gaol term is Driving Under the Influence per S49(1)(a) of the Road Safety Act. This maximum time served under this sentence is 3 months imprisonment or 25 penalty units.

However, that may not always be the case, the penalties may vary depending on the state or territory you are in. However, some general penalties may include:

  • Suspension or cancellation of your driver’s licence for a period of time (typically 6 months)
  • Fines that range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars
  • A criminal record which can have negative impacts on future employment and travel opportunities
  • Mandatory participation in drug and alcohol education programs
  • Imprisonment in some cases where the driver was significantly impaired, caused an accident, or put others’ lives at risk.

It’s important to note that the severity of the penalty can be influenced by factors such as the type and concentration of drugs detected in your system, as well as any prior driving or criminal convictions. If you are facing a first offence of drug driving, contact Anthony Isaacs, expert drug driving lawyers, to help you understand your legal rights and options.

Penalties For A First Offence Of Drug Driving

For a first offence of drug driving, the usual penalty is a fine, which is typically handled through an infringement. However, Driving Under the Influence (s49(1)(a) Road Safety Act 1986) is an exception, which carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to three months or 25 Penalty Units. To learn about the maximum penalties and mandatory minimum licence loss periods for first-time offenders, refer to the table below.

 Offence Maximum Penalty Minimum Required Licence Suspension
 S49(1)(a) Financial Penalty up to 25 Penalty Units or maximum  imprisonment for 3 months 2 Years
 S49(1) (ba) Financial Penalty up to 12 Penalty Units 12 Months
 S49(1) (bb) Financial Penalty up to 12 Penalty Units 6 Months
 S49(1) (bc) Financial Penalty up to 30 Penalty Units Depends on BAC
 S49(1)(h) Financial Penalty up to 12 Penalty Units 6 Months
 S49(1)(i) Financial Penalty up to 12 Penalty Units 6 Months
 S49(1)(j) Financial Penalty up to 30 Penalty Units Dependent on BAC


Common First Time Drug Driving Offences Resulting In Licence Suspension

Your driver’s licence may be suspended immediately by the Victorian police if you are charged with any of the following:

  • Refusal offence – not willing to provide oral fluid, drug impairment, blood or urine tests. Under s49(1)(EB)
  • Combined drug and alcohol offence – this is the result of a high alcohol reading which has been impaired by a drug
  • Committing a second drug or drink driving offence within the last 10 years

Even though these offences are considered “immediate suspension,” they might not be enforced right away. Sometimes, it can take up to a year to get the suspension in place. Plus, the suspension can stick around until your case is heard in Magistrates court.

Read about How To Get Your Licence Back after a Drug/drink driving charge.

How Does Victoria Police Test Drivers For Drug Driving Offences?

In the event that the police suspect that you are operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs that could impair your driving abilities, they may request that you take a saliva test. Refusing to take this initial test is an offence under the law.
Refusing to comply with this request may lead to a charge of refusing a drug test, which is a severe offence. If you are a first-time offender, this can result in a lengthy disqualification of your driver’s licence and a substantial fine.

If the initial saliva test yields positive results for one or more illicit substances in your system, the police may request that you accompany them to the nearest police station or drug and alcohol bus (commonly referred to as a “booze bus”) for a further evidentiary oral test. It’s important to note that you have the right to request a further sample be taken by a medical practitioner in the presence of a police officer at the drug inspection booze bus or police station.

What to Do If You Are Charged with a First Time Drug Driving Offence?

If you are charged with drug driving, drink driving or any drug related offence it is essential to seek legal advice from a criminal law firm such as Anthony Isaacs. We can provide you with expert advice on how to proceed with your case as well as represent you in court if necessary. For a free assessment of your case today contact Anthony Isaacs!

Tony Isaacs

Anthony Isaacs

Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Commerce

Anthony Isaacs has been practising criminal law in Melbourne for over 35 years. He completed his Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce at Monash University. During his time as a criminal defence lawyer he has encountered every type of case, and has worked with the changing criminal law and legal process in Victoria. As a lawyer, Anthony has sat on a number of committees which aim to promote access to justice. Anthony is a member of the Law Institute of Victoria and is an accredited LIV Criminal Specialist.