nz road code test logo
New Zealand Road Code Test

Alcohol and drugs limits

Alcohol and drugs limits

Alcohol and drugs, including some drugs given to you by a doctor, can seriously affect your driving. They can slow your reaction times and affect your senses.

You risk causing death and serious injury to yourself and other people if you drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Legal alcohol limits for driving

The law says you must not drive if the amount of alcohol in your blood or breath exceeds certain age-related limits. These limits are shown below.

Under twenty

The legal alcohol limit, if you are under 20, is 150 micrograms per litre of breath or 30 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. This is effectively a zero limit consuming just one drink will mean you can be charged with drink-driving.

Twenty or over

You must not drive if you have consumed more than the legal alcohol limit, which is 400 micrograms per litre of breath or 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.

It is difficult to say how many alcoholic drinks you can have before you reach these limits. It depends on many factors, including:

  • whether you are male or female
  • your size
  • how much food you have eaten.

Because of this, and because even small amounts of alcohol can affect your driving, the best advice is: if you drink at all, don't drive.

If you've been drinking, call a taxi, take a bus or get someone who hasn't been drinking, such as a friend or 'dial-a-driver', to drive you home.

Drugs and driving

The law also says you must not drive if you have taken any type of drug that may affect your driving ability. If you are prescribed drugs by a doctor, always ask if they will have any effect on your driving.

Testing for alcohol and drugs

You can be stopped by the Police and breath-tested at any time. The Police can use the following tests to see if you have been drinking or taking drugs.

Passive breath test

The officer will place a hand-held device in front of your mouth and ask you to talk into it. This will show if you have recently drunk any alcohol. If any alcohol is detected, a breath screening test will be required.

Breath screening test

The police officer will give you either a tube of crystals with a bag on the end or a small electronic device, and will ask you to blow into it. If your alcohol level is high, you will be asked to take an evidential breath test or have a blood test.

Evidential breath test

This is an electronic device you blow into, which gives a reading that can be used in court as evidence of your breath–alcohol concentration.

Blood test

If you have a blood test, a medical doctor or other approved person will take a sample of your blood to be tested for alcohol or drugs.

When are the tests carried out?

A police officer can ask you to take a passive breath test or breath screening test if:

  • you are suspected of drinking and driving
  • you are signalled to stop at a Police alcohol check point.

You must wait with the officer for the result of the test.

If the test shows you have been drinking, you must:

  • take a further test – this will be either an evidential breath test or a blood test
  • hand over the keys to your vehicle, if asked by a police officer
  • go with a police officer, if required
  • agree to a blood test, if asked by a police officer, medical doctor or other approved person.

If you don't, you may be arrested.

What are your rights?

You may:

  • choose not to take a breath screening or evidential breath test – however, if you:
    • refuse a breath screening test, you will be asked to take an evidential breath test
    • refuse an evidential breath test, you must undergo a blood test
  • choose to give blood if an evidential breath test suggests you are over the legal limit
  • talk to a lawyer (if you wish to) after a positive breath screening test and before an evidential breath or blood test – a telephone will be made available to you for this purpose.

If your blood test shows you are over the legal limit, you will be given a copy of the blood test certificate.

You may ask for your blood sample to be tested by an independent analyst. If you want this to happen, it’s important that you talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.

What are the penalties?

The following table shows some of the penalties for driving offences related to alcohol and drugs.

Court-imposed penalties for alcohol/drugs offences

Offence Amount of alcohol Penalty
  Blood Breath Prison Fine Disqualification or suspension of licence
You kill or injure someone when driving after drinking too much or taking drugs More than 80 mg per 100 ml More than 400 mcg per litre Up to five years Up to $20,000 First or second offence one year or more, third or subsequent offence more than one year
You drive, or try to drive, after drinking too much or taking drugs and you are aged 20 years or over More than 80 mg per 100 ml More than 400 mcg per litre First and second offences
Up to three months Up to $4,500 Six months or more
Third and subsequent offences
Up to two years Up to $6,000 More than one year
You drive, or try to drive, after drinking too much or taking drugs and you are aged under 20 years More than 30 mg per 100 ml More than 150 mcg per litre Up to three months Up to $2,250 Three months or more
You refuse to give blood when asked by a police officer, doctor or approved person     First and second offence
Up to three months Up to $4,500 Six months or more
Third and subsequent offences
Up to two years Up to $6,000 More than one year
You refuse to go with a police officer for an evidential breath test or blood test       Up to $4,500 As decided by the court
You are in charge of a vehicle after drinking too much or taking drugs and you do not hand over the keys when asked by a police officer       Up to $10,000  

On-the-spot (roadside) licence suspension

Your licence will be suspended on the spot if you refuse to have a blood test or if, following an evidential breath or blood test, you are found to have:

  • more than 130* milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or
  • more than 650* micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.

* A lower threshold of 80 milligrams or 400 micrograms will apply if, in the previous four years, you have been convicted of:

  • driving or attempting to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or
  • driving or attempting to drive with excess breath or blood alcohol, or
  • failing or refusing to allow a blood sample to be taken, or
  • causing death or injury while in charge of a motor vehicle and under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or with excess breath or blood alcohol.

Your licence will be suspended for 28 days and you will still have to face court-imposed penalties.

Repeat offences

The penalties described above may be increased substantially for repeat offences.

In addition, if you commit two alcohol-related offences within a five-year period and one of those offences involves:

  • refusing to go with a police officer
  • refusing to give a breath or blood sample
  • driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • having a breath–alcohol level above 1000 micrograms
  • having a blood–alcohol level above 200 milligrams per 100 millilitres

then you will be:

  • disqualified from driving for an indefinite period, and
  • required to attend an approved alcohol assessment centre.

Applying for removal of an indefinite disqualification

You can apply for the removal of an alcohol-related indefinite disqualification if:

  • you have served at least one year and one day of the disqualification, and
  • you receive a satisfactory report from an assessment centre.

The disqualification can only be removed by the NZTA, and you must resit and pass your driver licence tests before you can drive again.

⇪ return < previous next >