Being unfit to drive due to alcohol or exceeding the legal limit for alcohol on either a breath or blood test can land motorists in a whole heap of trouble in Singapore.
Drivers need to take care in Singapore as even a tiny amount of alcohol can lead to a drink driving conviction if the court believes it has affected the motorist’s ability to drive and be safely in charge of their vehicle.
Prosecutions for drink driving in Singapore have risen exponentially in the last decade alongside harsher tariffs, including imprisonment.
Learn more about the Road Traffic Act and what it means.
Drink Driving and the Road Traffic Act
Drink driving is a two-pronged offence in Singapore governed by Section 67 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA). This Act states that someone is unfit to drive under the influence of alcohol if they can’t have proper control of the vehicle or they exceed the legal alcohol limit for driving.
Penalties for drink driving
The starting penalty for a drink driving conviction for a first offender is a fine of between S$2,000 and S$10,000, or up to twelve months in prison, or both.
For repeat offenders, the fines are higher at S$5,000 to S$20,000 and up to two years in jail.
Offenders will also lose their driving licence (or be barred from applying for one if they are driving without one). This ban lasts at least two years for first offenders and up to five years for repeat offenders.
There are some exceptional circumstances where the court may reduce these minimum tariffs or not impose them at all. However, if the conviction for drink driving sits alongside a further offence of careless or dangerous driving, the court can stipulate an additional extended period.
Other punishments for drink driving in Singapore
As well as a fine and prison term, the court can impose other punishments on drink drivers; these include:
- Forfeiture of the vehicle.
- Licence suspension, which can be immediate from the point of apprehension by the traffic police.
Another consequence of a prosecution for drink driving is the failure of the driver’s insurance claim if the accident resulted in damage.
Most motor insurers will not pay a claim for damages resulting from an accident or incident caused by the insured’s drink driving. This can expose the guilty motorist to costs for vehicle repair for their own and other cars involved, medical expenses, and legal fees.
How does the court determine the appropriate sentence?
The court will consider two things after a conviction and before passing a sentence. The first of these is the driver’s culpability for the offence.
Culpability essentially means responsibility which is assessed in two ways:
- The manner of the offender’s driving.
- The amount in which the offender’s blood alcohol level exceeds the legal limit.
Concerning blood alcohol amounts, there are specific levels to guide the court.
- Low – a low alcohol level of 35-54 micro grams per 100ml of breath with no other evidence of dangerous driving.
- Medium – 55-69 micro grams per 100ml of breath or evidence of dangerous driving.
- High – a high alcohol level of over 70 micro grams per 100ml of breath and dangerous driving behaviour.
The higher the alcohol level, the harsher the punishment.
The potential and actual harm resulting from the offender’s behaviour
There are four categories of harm the court will consider:
- Slight – minimal or moderate damage to property and/or any slight physical injuries which can be deemed slight because no hospital intervention was required or time away from work.
- Moderate – serious damage to property and/or moderate personal injury evidenced by hospital treatment and/or medical leave but no permanent damage sustained or fractures.
- Serious – fractures or injuries that result in permanent harm or damage and/or that require significant surgical intervention.
- Very Serious – loss of a limb, sight or hearing, permanent paralysis, or death.
Reducing the sentence
A good lawyer will potentially find ways to reduce a potential sentence and will be keen to identify any mitigating factors. These include the offender being remorseful about the incident and showing that they have taken steps to make amends with the injured party via compensation, or other forms of support.
Previous traffic offences or drink driving offences are also relevant and likely to increase the sentence.
Are there any defences to a charge of drink driving in Singapore?
Challenging the results of the Breath Evidential Analyser (BEA)
Offenders take two breath tests, and it’s possible to challenge the validity of the second test by demonstrating that the BEA machine wasn’t working correctly, i.e., the calibration was faulty or broken; this is no easy task.
The other option is for the offender to prove that an inhaler or medication interfered with the breathalyser results.
To mount a defence under either of these heads requires expert evidence, notwithstanding the apparent difficulties of getting access to the BEA machine at the time of the offence rather than the trial date which could be months later.
Section 71A of the Road Traffic Act
A defence to a charge of drink driving can be mounted if the offender can prove that alcohol was only consumed after they had stopped driving.
This is difficult to prove without a valid test before the journey commenced, which demonstrated that no alcohol was consumed before the driver got into the car. Circumstantial evidence like, “We were all at a party, and there are witnesses to testify that the accused only had soft drinks,” may not be enough for the court.
Drink driving is a very serious offence in Singapore, and that’s because it is a serious offence with a very high potential for harm to human life and property.
Singapore law enforcement has seen a considerable rise in the number of drink drivers prosecuted in the first two decades of this century. There were 520 drink driving cases in 2011, 14 of which attracted prison sentences. Just two years later, in 2016, the number of prosecutions had risen to 1,340 cases, of which 187 were given prison sentences.
It’s always better to play safe and abstain from alcohol entirely if you are driving, rather than trying to work out whether your consumption will keep you under the legal limit.
Professional legal advice is essential to mount a claim against a drink driving charge or to offer mitigation to reduce the severity of the punishment.