Drink driving has serious consequences. A moment of irresponsibility can lead to loss of life or lives ruined.
This is why Singapore takes a zero-tolerance approach to drink driving offences. It doesn’t matter who you are: if you are found driving while over the legal limit for alcohol consumption, you will face serious punishments.
For example, the Straits Times recently reported that Mediacorp actor Aloysius Pang Wei Chong found guilty of drunk driving and was fined $2,000 and banned from driving for 18 months.
Everyone has a responsibility to themselves, their loved ones, and to other road users. However, if you are charged with a drink driving offence, it is important to know your rights. This guide tells you what you need to know about drink driving.
The law on drink driving
Under the Road Traffic Act, it is an offence to drive or attempt to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Specifically, section 67 of the Act provides that you are guilty of this offence if you drive on roads or in public, while
- you are unfit to drive because you are so intoxicated that you are incapable of properly controlling the vehicle; or
- your blood or breath alcohol level exceeds the legal limit.
Do I have to comply with a breathalyser test?
Yes. Under the Road Traffic Act, the police do not require a warrant to require you to take a breathalyser test or arrest you if they have a reasonable cause to suspect that you are under the influence of alcohol.
Similarly, if you refuse to comply with a police officer’s request for a breath test and you do not have a reasonable excuse for refusing, you may also be found guilty of an offence. This is punishable with a fine of S$1,000-S$5,000 or up to 6 months’ jail for a first offence. For a second or subsequent offence, the punishment increases to a fine of S$3,000-S$10,000 or up to 12 months’ imprisonment.
Punishment for driving under the influence of alcohol
The punishment for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs depends on whether you are a first-time or a repeat offender.
If you are a first-time offender, the available sentence is either a fine of between S$1,000 and S$5,000 or jail for up to 6 months.
However, if you are a second-time or subsequent offender, the minimum and maximum fines increase to S$3,000 and $10,000 respectively. The maximum possible jail term also increases to 12 months.
In addition to fines or jail, you may also be disqualified from driving for up to a year from the date of conviction, imprisonment, or release from prison. The Court also has discretion to extend the period of disqualification.
Higher punishments for repeat offenders
If you have been convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs on more than two previous occasions, the Court has the power – under certain circumstances – to impose a higher punishment than that provided for the offence under section 67 of the Road Traffic Act.
If the Court is convinced that that a higher sentence is necessary to protect the public or prevent the offender from re-offending, then the minimum and maximum fines increase to S$9,000 and S$30,000 respectively. The maximum possible jail sentence also increases to 3 years.
Additionally, if the drink driving led to death or serious injury, the punishment may also involve up to 6 strokes of the cane. For the purpose of the offence, a serious injury is defined as one which causes a person to be in severe bodily pain or unable to follow his or her ordinary pursuits within a period of 7 days.
To determine the most appropriate sentence, the Court takes into consideration the level of alcohol in the offender’s body.
Under Singapore law, the legal limit is 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The more that you exceed this limit, the more likely you are to face a harsher penalty.
In this regard, the High Court in the case of Edwin s/o Suse Nathen v Public Prosecutor  4 SLR 1139 defined the following sentencing benchmarks as a starting point for first time offenders:
|Level of alcohol (µg per 100 ml of breath)||Range of fines||Range of disqualification|
|35 – 54||$1,000 – $2,000||12 – 18 months|
|55 – 69||$2,000 – $3,000||18 – 24 months|
|70 – 89||$3,000 – $4,000||24 – 36 months|
|≥ 90||> $ 4,000||36 – 48 months (or longer)|
However, these are not the only factors that the Courts consider in sentencing. As with all criminal offences, the Court also factors relevant mitigating or aggravating factors into its decision.
What if I was not the driving the vehicle?
Even if you are not the driver of a vehicle, you may still be guilty of an offence if you are in charge of the vehicle while you are under the influence of alcohol.
Section 68 of the Road Traffic Act provides that any person who is in charge of a vehicle, but not driving the vehicle, on the road or in a public place, is guilty of an offence if
- he or she unfit to drive because he or she is so intoxicated that you are incapable of properly controlling the vehicle; or
- his or her blood or breath alcohol level exceeds the legal limit.
A person is not considered to be in charge of the vehicle if either
- he or she had not driven the vehicle between the time that he or she became unfit to drive and the time that he or she was arrested, or
- at the time that he or she was arrested, there was no likelihood of that he or she would drive the vehicle while unfit to drive
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