Zero tolerance and drug driving laws

J. Quilter

School of Law, University of Wollongong,

All Australian States and Territories have drug-driving laws which make provision for driving under the influence of alcohol or any other drug as well as to ‘randomly’ test for the presence of ‘prescribed illicit drugs’. While ‘random’ drug road-side testing is equivalent to random breath testing (RBT), unlike RBT which tests for all forms of alcohol and demarcates whether an offence has been committed on the basis of prescribed concentrations of alcohol, drug-road side testing is for mere presence of an illicit drug and usually only for three illicit drugs: cannabis, methamphetamine and ecstasy. Fines and certain periods of license disqualification result from these offences. This paper considers whether there is an evidence-based rationale for the zero-tolerance approach reflected in such laws. This paper also considers the challenges posed for courts in determining guilt and for sentencing in drug driving cases. In a context where state governments and police forces have made major commitments to addressing drug-impaired driving it is critical that current legislative and operational flaws be addressed.


Dr Julia Quilter is an Associate Professor in the School of Law and a member of the Legal Intersections Research Centre at the University of Wollongong. Her research focuses on criminal law responses to alcohol-related violence and ‘one punch’ fatalities and the law’s treatment of alcohol and drug intoxication.


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