Alcohol & driving

Alcohol and driving

Alcohol negatively affects your driving skills and concentration. Driving when affected by alcohol or drugs has no place on our roads. Drivers with illegal drugs or illegal levels of alcohol in their system face serious consequences.

Get the facts

You don’t have to be drunk to be affected by alcohol. You might feel normal, but no one drives well after drinking alcohol.

Drink driving is a factor in about one in every seven crashes in NSW where someone loses their life.

Alcohol impacts your ability to drive by:

  • slowing your brain so that you can’t respond to situations, make decisions or react quickly
  • reducing your ability to judge your speed or distance from other objects
  • giving you a false sense of confidence – you may think that your driving is better than it really is
  • making it harder to do more than one thing at a time
  • making you drowsy - you could fall asleep at the wheel
  • affecting your sense of balance, which is especially risky for motorcycle riders.


The effects of alcohol are wide ranging and impossible to avoid. After a big night out you may still have alcohol in your system for much of the next day.

Blood alcohol limits

Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measures the amount of alcohol you have in your system.

NSW has three blood alcohol limits for drivers: zero, under 0.02 and under 0.05.

The limit that applies to you depends on your licence and the type of vehicle you are driving.

Zero BAC applies to all:

  • learner drivers or riders
  • provisional 1 drivers or riders
  • provisional 2 drivers or riders
  • visitors holding an overseas or interstate learner, provisional or equivalent licence.

Under 0.02 applies to:

  • drivers of vehicles of "gross vehicle mass" greater than 13.9 tonnes
  • drivers of vehicles carrying dangerous goods
  • drivers of public vehicles such as taxis or buses.

Under 0.05 applies to:

  • all other licences (including visitor licences) not subject to a 0.02 or zero limit
  • most drivers.

We recommend that you don’t drink any alcohol if you plan to drive.

Combined drink and drug driving offence

Since 28 June 2021 a new law introduced harsher penalties for combined drink and drug driving offences.

Tougher penalties apply for a combined offence, compared to those currently available for separate drink and illicit drug driving offences.

This offence increases deterrence and sends a clear message that mixing alcohol and illicit drugs and then getting behind the wheel will not be tolerated on NSW roads.

Tools and tips

Sobering up

Trying to calculate your BAC is impossible. Your BAC starts to rise as soon as you start drinking and may continue to increase for up to two hours after you have stopped.

We recommend that you don’t drink any alcohol if you plan to drive.

Alcohol affects different people in different ways and attempting to guess your blood alcohol concentration is difficult and inaccurate.


Counting standard drinks to guess your BAC is difficult and often inaccurate because:

  • Drinks come in non-standard sizes – pre-mixed drinks sold in bottles or cans may contain more than one standard drink.
  • Alcohol concentrations vary between drinks, such as light beer (2.5%), full strength beer (5%), wine (14%) and spirits (40% or higher).
  • Beer may be served in glass sizes ranging from a middy to a pint. Wine glasses vary in size from 100ml to 280ml or more.
  • Drinks are often topped up so it's impossible to know how many standard drinks you’ve had.

Alcohol also affects people differently. Two people who drink the same amount can have different BACs. This is due to factors such as:

  • Size and weight – a smaller person will have a higher BAC from the same amount of alcohol.
  • Gender – a woman the same height and weight as a man, drinking the same amount, will have a higher BAC.
  • Liver function – an unhealthy liver will process alcohol slower than a healthy liver.
  • Recent consumption of food – lack of food in your stomach means you'll absorb alcohol into your blood faster. Note that eating food during or after you have been drinking will not decrease your BAC any faster.
  • Fitness, fatigue, and general health condition – your BAC can be higher if you’re feeling unwell, tired, stressed or unfit.

Random breath testing

Every police car is a mobile RBT. In NSW, police have the power to:

  • stop drivers at random to test for alcohol
  • arrest drivers who test over the legal limit
  • mandate that drivers take a sobriety test in certain circumstances
  • breath test any driver or supervising driver involved in a crash.

It is also an offence if you refuse to take a breath test.

Penalties and other consequences vary according to the offence.

If you are caught drink driving, NSW Police may suspend your licence immediately.

If you are convicted, significant penalties apply, including fines and even prison terms. You will be disqualified from driving and may also be ordered to install an alcohol interlock device.

Find out more about the penalties for drink driving, and the Alcohol Interlock Program on the NSW Government website.

Plan ahead to get home safely

If you’re affected by alcohol or other drugs after a night out, trying to drive or ride home puts you and other road users in danger.

For your own safety and the wellbeing of others, have a Plan B to get home.

If you are planning to drink, plan ahead

  • Leave the car at home when you go out.

  • Use public transport: Trip Planner.

  • Take a taxi or book a ride share.

  • Get a lift with someone who has not been drinking or using drugs.

  • Stay at a friend’s house.

  • Tell a friend or let someone know if you’ve been drinking or have taken drugs and don’t feel well enough to drive.

  • Walk home, but take extra care.