DUI: Here are the Penalties for Drink-Driving in Singapore

Last updated on June 13, 2019

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The number of local drink-driving cases and imprisonment sentences meted out have risen tremendously. In 2011, there were 520 drink-driving cases in which 14 were given imprisonment sentences. In 2016, this increased to 1340 cases in which 187 were given imprisonment sentences.

Before you add yourself to this statistical data owing to a moment of high or convenience, pay close attention to this.

What is the Offence of Drink-Driving?

You are guilty of drink driving under section 67 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) if you:

  1. Are unfit to drive under the influence of alcohol to the extent you are incapable of having proper control of the vehicle; or
  2. Exceed the prescribed alcohol limit

The prescribed alcohol limit is:

  • 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath; or
  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood

Under section 69 of the RTA, police officers are empowered to ask for a specimen of your breath for a preliminary breath test. If you refuse to do so, police officers can arrest you without a warrant.

What are the Maximum Penalties for Drink-Driving?

If you are convicted of drink-driving, you are liable to fines of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months’ jail. Repeat offenders face fines of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months’ jail.

Offenders can also be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence for a minimum of 12 months.

What Sentences do Drink-Drivers get?

When deciding the appropriate sentence for a driver convicted of drink-driving, the court will consider the following two factors:

  1. The nature and degree of actual/potential harm that has resulted from the offence
  2. The offender’s culpability for the offence

Nature and degree of actual/potential harm resulting from the offence

The court will first look at the form and degree of harm that had resulted from the offence. There are 4 categories of harm:

HARM
Slight Slight or moderate property damage and/or slight physical injury characterised by no hospitalisation or medical leave;
Moderate Serious property damage and/or moderate personal injury characterised by hospitalisation or medical leave but no fractures or permanent injuries;
Serious Serious personal injury usually involving fractures, including injuries which are permanent in nature and/or which necessitate significant surgical procedures;
Very Serious Loss of limb, sight or hearing or life; or paralysis.

Culpability of the offender

The court will then assess the culpability of the offender, which consists of:

  • The extent of which the offender’s alcohol level exceeds the prescribed limit
  • The manner of the offender’s driving
CULPABILITY
Low Low alcohol level (35 – 54 microgrammes per 100ml of breath) and no evidence of dangerous driving behaviour
Medium Moderate to high alcohol level (55 – 69 microgrammes per 100ml of breath) or dangerous driving behaviour
High High alcohol level (>70 microgrammes per 100ml of breath) and dangerous driving behaviour

The indicative sentencing ranges, which are calibrated according to the two factors mentioned above, are as follows:

COMBINATION OF DEGREE OF HARM AND CULPABILITY SENTENCE
Slight Harm + Low Culpability Fine
Serious Harm + Medium Culpability Moderate Harm + High Culpability Up to 2 months’ imprisonment
Serious Harm + High Culpability Very Serious Harm + Medium Culpability 2 to 4 months’ imprisonment
Very Serious Harm + High Culpability 4 to 6 months’ imprisonment
Any other combinations of the degree of harm and culpability Up to 1 month’s imprisonment

Case Study: Public Prosecutor (PP) vs Edwin s/o Suse Nathen

In PP vs Edwin s/o Suse Nathen, the accused was stopped by a traffic police officer during a spot check. The latter noticed that the accused smelled strongly of alcohol and administered a breathalyzer test.

Further tests revealed that the proportion of alcohol in the accused’s breath was 64 microgrammes for every 100 millilitres of breath. This was 1.82 times the prescribed legal limit of 35 microgrammes of alcohol for every 100 millilitres of breath. He pleaded guilty to an offence under section 67(1)(b) of the RTA.

In sentencing, the court held that:

  • The higher the alcohol level, the harsher the punishment. The weight of this offence was not in the lower end of the spectrum.
  • The accused made the deliberate decision to drive home despite having consumed alcohol, hence highlighting the need for deterrence.

The accused was sentenced to a fine of $2,500 and 21 months’ disqualification from driving after appeal.

Case Study: Public Prosecutor (PP) vs Stansilas Fabian Kaster

In PP vs Stansilas Fabian Kaster, the accused (a Major in the Singapore Armed Forces) ran a red light after drinking three beers. A pedestrian was injured on her right foot and a motorcyclist who was hit, suffered amnesia and was warded for three days.

The accused faced two charges under the RTA. He pleaded guilty to section 67(1)(b) of the RTA in which his alcohol level was 43 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.

He consented to the second charge, for the offence of driving in a manner which is dangerous to the public under section 64(1) of the RTA. This was taken into consideration.

The accused’s case was classified to be one of “moderate harm” and “medium culpability”. The case fell within the “moderate harm” category as:

  • The pedestrian suffered a crush injury on the right foot and was given eight days of medical leave.
  • The motorcyclist suffered amnesia and warded for 3 days. Further examination showed no neurological harm and he was given 14 days’ hospitalisation leave.
  • The collision between the accused and motorcyclist resulted in scratches and twisted right and left wing mirrors of the latter’s motorcycle.

The case fell within the “medium culpability” category as:

  • While the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level was on the lower end of the scale, the accused’s driving was dangerous.
  • Owing to the amount of alcohol consumed, the accused’s driving ability was substantially impaired (or weakened) when:
    • The accused sped up instead of slowing down when the traffic light turned amber, continuing down the junction when the light turned red.
    • He was also involved in two accidents involving two different victims
    • His vehicle collided with the motorcycle with immense force, on a signalised green light, causing the rider to  flung off.
  • The accused was a source of immense danger when he beat a red-light at the intersection of two busy roads in the Central Business District during peak traffic hours. This heightened the peril posed to road users.

The accused was initially given 2 weeks’ imprisonment and 3 years’ disqualification from driving. After appeal, his imprisonment was reduced to 1 week after considering the accused’s restitution to his victims. His illustrious service to the SAF and further disciplinary action posed by his employer (SAF) were also not deemed as relevant mitigating factors.

Examples of Drink-Driving Mitigating Factors that are Invalid in Court Include:

  • “I had only drank a little”
  • “It was only a short distance”
  • “I did not cause any damage”

What are the Defences to Drink-Driving?

Under section 71(a) of the RTA, the accused will be not be guilty of drink-driving if he can prove that he consumed alcohol after he had stopped or attempted to drive.

Another defence is to contest the BEA (Breath Evidential Analyser), which is the second test an offender takes after failing the initial breathalyser test. The offender will have to prove through expert evidence that:

  • that the inhalant or medication he took skewed the breathalyser’s results (Note that driving under the influence of medication can be an offence)
  • that the BEA machine was poorly maintained, calibrated or malfunctioning.

Yet, an issue with this is that the trial might come months or even years after the arrest, and the machine might have been calibrated or repaired since.

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Drink-driving has real and serious consequences both on yourself and others. It is always best to err on the side of caution and deliberately plan beforehand to ensure you will not drink and drive.

For example, you can engage valet services such as iDrive or arrange alternate transport arrangements. It is also a criminal offence to be in charge of a vehicle while drunk under section 68 of the RTA, even if you are not driving it.

One wrong decision is all it takes. Don’t drink and drive.

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