The ACT has fallen in step with the tough laws in NSW and Victoria, with low-range drink drivers apprehended for the first time facing an automatic six-month licence suspension and a fine of $800.
This will prevent police from attending court for these low-range offences and "make our roads safer for everyone", Transport Minister Chris Steel said.
Under existing ACT legislation, low-range first-time offenders are provided with a degree of leniency and are offered the opportunity to argue their case with a magistrate to seek a modest penalty. Imposing an automatic, legislated six-month suspension effectively makes that court option far more onerous.
This will be the second tranche of amendments to road safety legislation which has extended automatic licence suspension beyond the offences of high-range speeding, hooning, and street racing.
"The legislation will also improve road safety by increasing penalty levels to more effectively deter drink and drug driving and better reflect the risk to the community," Minister Steel said.
Low-range drink-driving is defined as driving a motor vehicle on a road or road-related area with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05 to 0.079.
Higher penalties have also been flagged for drivers affected by both alcohol and drugs, with a maximum court-ordered fine of up to $8000 for those in the low alcohol range.
Around 40 per cent of drivers involved in fatal collisions in the 10 years between 2010 and 2020 had had either alcohol or an illicit drug in their system, or both.
The potential detrimental effect of eased drug possession laws on road safety had been raised by ACT police and road safety experts in the lead-up to illicit drug decriminalisation rolling out across the territory in late October.
The government has faced increased pressure on toughening road safety laws after 18 people died on ACT roads in 2022, a 63 per cent increase on the previous year and the worst outcome in the territory since 2010.
So far this year, the ACT has had only three road deaths but other states and territories are experiencing increases. During the October Labour Day long weekend alone, 20 people died in car crashes around the country, including four children.
ACT police have been swift to act on the new automatic suspension laws which came into effect mid-year. Five cars were seized between June and October and 151 drivers automatically suspended, with offences also including improper use of a motor vehicle, failing to stop, burnout, crime scenes, proceeds of crime and warrants.