Alcohol & Testing 

What are the breath and blood alcohol limits for driving?

If you are under 20, a zero limit applies. This means that if you test positive for any measurable amount of alcohol in your blood, you can be charged with drink-driving.

If you are over the age of 20, the limit is 250 micrograms per litre of breath or 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. This is not a set number of drinks. It depends on many factors: your body type and size, how much sleep you have had, whether you have eaten, and so on. If you want to avoid driving over the alcohol limit it is best not to drink at all if you will be driving.

It’s also illegal to drive if you have taken drugs which could impair your ability to drive safely (see our question below about drug testing).

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What do I have to do if I’m stopped and tested for alcohol?

The Police can stop and breath-test you at any time if they suspect you have been drinking or taking drugs. They can also test any driver at a breath testing checkpoint. It is against the law to leave if you are being tested.

The Police can use the following tests to see whether you’ve exceeded the legal alcohol or drug limits:

  • passive breath test - this test is done with a device that measures breath alcohol.  
  • breath screening test - this is another breath test using machine analysis

If you fail or refuse either of the above tests, you will be required to take one of the evidential tests:

  • evidential breath test - this test can be used as evidence in court. It is done using a more accurate machine either at a police station or a mobile breath-testing station.

You can choose to undergo a blood test after a positive evidential breath test. If you do, the results of the evidential breath test cannot be used as evidence in court -  the blood test results will be used instead. If you refuse to take an evidential breath test, you will be required to take an evidential blood test. You may also be required to take an evidential blood test if no evidential breath testing device is available.

  • An evidential blood test - is given by a doctor or nurse and can be used as evidence in court.

You will also have to:

  • hand over the keys to your vehicle, if asked by a police officer 
  • go with a police officer, if required

You have the right to ask to do the blood test if an evidential breath test shows you are over the legal limit. It is also your right to talk to a lawyer after a breath screening test and before an evidential breath or blood test.

See our information about your rights and the police.

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Is there any way I can refuse a blood test?  

If you refuse a Police request to do a blood test, or fail an evidential breath or blood test, your licence will be suspended on the spot, for 28 days. You can also be arrested and charged for your refusal, and the court can impose a fine and/or prison sentence.

However if you can prove that the test would damage your health, you can use it as a defence in court, against a charge of refusing a blood test. You would need to provide evidence from your doctor.

If you refused a Police request to take the compulsory impairment test (see the next question) because of a pre-existing medical condition or disability or an injury (if the injury is a result of the accident which led to the Police requesting you to take the test), then you can use this as a defence against a charge of failing or refusing to take the test.

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What do I have to do if I’m stopped and tested for drugs?

The Police can stop you and ask you to be tested for drugs at any time if they have reason to suspect that you have taken drugs e.g. if you are driving erratically, or you are behaving as though intoxicated but have passed the breath alcohol test. The test for drug impairment is called the “compulsory impairment test” (CIT).

As for alcohol testing, it is against the law to leave if you are being tested for drugs. 

The CIT involves the following assessments
  • a one leg stand assessment
  • a walk and turn assessment
  • an eye assessment – pupil size, reaction to light, abnormal eye movement

If you do not complete these tests to the satisfaction of the Police officer taking the tests, the Police officer can require you to take an evidential blood test. 

If you have any amount of a qualifying drug in your blood sample you can be convicted of a drug driving offence. It is also an offence to refuse to take a CIT test, or to refuse to take a blood test once you have failed a CIT.

Also see our information about your rights and the police.

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What is the penalty if I’m caught drink-driving?

It will depend on whether you cooperated with the Police during alcohol or drug testing, how much over the limit you were, whether anyone was hurt as a result of your driving while under the influence of alcohol (or drugs), and whether it is your first offence.

It will generally be a combination of suspension of your driving licence (or disqualification) for a period of time, a fine, and possibly a prison sentence.

The full list of penalties is in the Official New Zealand Road Code.