Drink Driving in Singapore

Drink Driving in Singapore

Driving under the influence of drink or drugs is a criminal offence in Singapore under the Road Traffic Act 1961 (RTA). In 2023, there were 180 drink driving accidents in Singapore, with 11 of these having been fatal accidents. The RTA dictates what constitutes drink driving and the sanctions that may be imposed if a person is found guilty of such an offence.

Drink driving is considered a serious offence in Singapore, which is reflected in the strict sentencing imposed for both first-time and repeat offenders. The court will also consider various other factors when deciding on the severity of the offender’s punishment. The knock-on effect of these sanctions can significantly impact the offender’s day-to-day life, even once they have completed their sentence.

The offence of drink driving

Section 67 of the RTA provides that a person shall be guilty of an offence if they drive a motor vehicle on a road or public place, and they are either:

  1. are unfit to drive and incapable of having control of the vehicle due to being under the influence of drink, a drug, or an intoxicating substance; or
  2. have so much alcohol in their system that the proportion of it in their breath or blood exceeds the prescribed limit.

The prescribed limit in Singapore is either 35mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath or 80mg per 100ml of blood

If pulled over for drink driving by the Traffic Police, the driver will be obligated to provide a breath test under section 69 of the RTA. If the driver refuses to take the test, they will be guilty of an offence and could face a fine of between S$1,000 to S$5,000 as well as a term of imprisonment of up to 6 months. If it is not their first offence of this nature, the fine can increase to a maximum of S$10,000, with the term of imprisonment increasing to a maximum of 12 months.

Seriousness of the offence

To determine the appropriate sentence for a drink driver, the court first needs to assess the severity of the offence. The court will look at several factors, including:

  • The level of alcohol found in the driver’s breath;
  • The offender’s behaviour, for example, whether they were driving dangerously;
  • The level of harm caused, for example, whether the offence resulted only in minor damage to property or in a serious injury to another person;
  • Whether the driver is a repeat offender; and
  • Whether the driver is pleading guilty, i.e. admitting to the offence.

Punishments for drink driving

Depending upon the seriousness of the offence and whether the driver is a repeat offender, there are various punishments the court has the power to enforce.

Imprisonment and fine

Section 67 states that a person found guilty of the offence will be liable to pay a fine of between S$2,000 and S$10,000 or could face imprisonment for up to 12 months or both. Where it is a repeat offence, the fine shall be between S$5,000 and S$20,000, and the term of imprisonment will be up to 2 years. This is double what was in force before 2019 when the law was amended to clamp down on the number of drink driving offences in Singapore.

In the 2013 case of Edwin s/o Suse Nathen v Public Prosecutor, the High Court provided a guide to assist the court with issuing fines and sentencing depending on the levels of alcohol found in the offender’s system. For example:

  • For levels between 35 to 46mg in 100ml of breath, fines should range from S$1,000 to S$2,000, and imprisonment should range from 12 to 18 months, and
  • For levels between 55 to 69mg, the fine should range from S$2,000 to S$3,000 and imprisonment should be between 18 to 24 months.

These ranges will likely need to be updated following the increase in sentencing adopted in 2019 but nevertheless demonstrate that more serious sanctions will be put in place where the driver has consumed higher quantities of alcohol.

Removal of driving licence

The court will also have the power to disqualify the driver from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a minimum of 2 years if they are a first offender, and a minimum of 5 years if they are a repeat offender. This period will start from the date of conviction or, in the case of imprisonment, from the date the offender is released from prison.

The law also provides that where the offender has been convicted on two or more occasions of drink driving, they shall be disqualified for life from holding or obtaining a licence. However, the court won’t make such an order in every instance. If specific special reasons apply, the court may not consider it appropriate to remove the offender’s licence, and it has the power to make an alternative order as it sees fit.

In a recent case involving Mr Lee Shin Nan in December 2023, Chief Justice Menon clarified what is generally meant by special reasons, stating that it will only apply if the driving was necessary to “avoid other likely and serious harm or danger” and if the driving in question was the only reasonable way to do so.

Suspension of driving licence

Upon being stopped by the Traffic Police for drink driving, a driver’s licence may be suspended by the police until the court has had an opportunity to hear the case. The court may reinstate the driver’s licence later, but in the meantime, this power allows the police to protect other road users from reckless drivers.

Insurance

An accident resulting from drink driving is unlikely to be covered by the driver’s insurance policy. This means the offender will not be able to claim for any damage to vehicles or any injuries. In turn, offenders could find themselves in a difficult financial position where they are expected to front the vehicle repair costs, plus medical and legal fees, etc.

Being in charge of a motor vehicle under the influence of drink or drugs

The RTA goes one step further and makes it an offence for a person to be in charge of a motor vehicle they are not driving, if:

  1. They are unfit to drive due to the influence of drink or drugs; or
  2. The alcohol in their system is over the prescribed limit.

The court must determine whether the driver was “in charge” of the vehicle at the time. If the driver can prove the following, they will be deemed not to have been in charge of the vehicle:

  1. That there was no likelihood they would drive the vehicle whilst they remained unfit to do so or whilst the alcohol levels in their system were above the prescribed limit; and
  2. That between the time they became unfit to drive or the time their alcohol level first exceeded the prescribed limit, and the time of the alleged offence, they did not drive the vehicle on a road or other public place.

The sanctions for this offence are not quite as serious as under Section 67. The offender will be subject to a fine of between S$500 and S$2,000, or imprisonment of a maximum of 3 months. Where the court is dealing with a repeat offender, the fine will be between S$1,000 and S$5,000, with the maximum imprisonment term increasing to 6 months.

Additionally, the offender will be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for 12 months from their release from prison unless the court considers it fit to order otherwise due to special reasons (as referred to above).

Conclusion

With drink driving accidents on the rise in Singapore, the laws under the RTA must be complied with. Due to the consequences an offender can face if charged with drink driving, drivers should avoid driving even where they have only consumed minimal amounts of alcohol.

The risks associated with drink driving offences are simply too high, not only for third-party road users but also for the offender. While the court will consider any mitigating factors to lessen the sanctions imposed, a less serious punishment cannot be guaranteed. A ban from driving is also likely to significantly impact various aspects of the driver’s daily life, including their work and family.

A person who has been charged with a drink driving offence should seek the assistance of a criminal lawyer as soon as possible, as they will be able to advise on the driver’s options and discuss any mitigating factors that may apply.

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