Disqualification & Suspension 

I was charged with drink-driving. What happens now?

If you are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will have to attend a court hearing where it will be decided whether you are guilty and what penalties you will have to pay.

Depending on your age, how much over the limit you were, and whether it is your first, second or third (or more) offence, the penalty is likely include disqualification from driving for three months or more, plus one or more of the following:

  • a prison term
  • a fine
  • liability for court costs
  • community work

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

If you have been charged with drink-driving and need legal help, your local CAB can help you locate your local community law centre or some lawyers in your area. Also see our section on the courts.

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What is the difference between disqualification and suspension?

Both of these are penalties for committing a driving offence.

Suspension is what happens to your driver licence - you are unable to use it for a period of time.

Disqualification is what happens to you - if you have a driver licence it is suspended for a period of time (the disqualification period). If you don't have a licence you won't be able to get one during the disqualification period.

In both cases the effect is that you must hand in your driver licence (to the Police, the court or an NZ Transport Agency office) and are not allowed to drive for a specified period of time.

If you only have an overseas driver licence at the time of suspension or disqualification, you won’t be allowed to drive in New Zealand until you have obtained a New Zealand driver licence - and you can’t apply for one until the end of the suspension or disqualification period.

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What actions would cause my licence to be suspended?

  • If you accumulate a certain number of demerit points over two years and you have a driving licence, your licence could be suspended for three months (this is called a demerit suspension). 
  • If you have unpaid traffic fines the Ministry of Justice can give you a driver licence stop order, which suspends your licence until you pay the fines or can reach a payment arrangement with the Ministry.

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What actions would disqualify me from driving?

You could be disqualified if your licence can’t be suspended because you don’t have a current driving licence. You could also be disqualified for any of a range of driving offences, including:

  • drink-driving offences in which you are over the legal limit - if convicted the court may give you an alcohol interlock disqualification
  • reckless or dangerous driving;
  • a breath or blood test shows evidence that you are driving with blood or breath alcohol over the legal limit; 
  • a breath or blood test shows evidence that you are driving under the influence of a controlled drug; 
  • driving while disqualified from driving will add to your disqualification period
  • repeat driving offences involving drugs or alcohol (which can lead to an indefinite disqualification).

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I have had my licence suspended but I need to be able to drive for my work – what can I do?

You may be able to apply for a limited licence if your disqualification or suspension will cause you, or another person, extreme hardship. 

View our Limited licences page.

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What is a demerit suspension?

If you collect 100 or more demerit points over a two-year period, you will be suspended from driving for three months. The suspension period starts as soon as you receive the demerit suspension notice from the NZTA, the Police or an NZTA authorised agent.

At the end of the suspension period you can get your licence back – but you can’t drive again until then.

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What is a 28 day roadside suspension?

If you are caught committing a serious driving offence which puts lives at risk, the Police (or the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) or an authorised agent of NZTA) can give you a 28-day roadside licence suspension notice. This means that the Police will take your driver licence from you immediately, and you cannot drive for 28 days. You won't be allowed to drive the car home.

You can find out what kinds of offences would attract a 28 day roadside suspension, by visiting the NZ Transport Agency website.

Depending on the seriousness of the offence you may also have to go to court. The court could disqualify you from driving and/or give you a fine or prison sentence.

After the suspension period ends you can get your driver licence back unless:

  • the District Court extends the suspension period; or
  • your licence has expired; or
  • during that 28 day period you were disqualified from driving or your licence was suspended for another reason.

More about this is on the NZ Transport Agency website.

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What will happen if I drive during the disqualification or suspension period?

If you’re caught driving while disqualified or while your licence is suspended, the vehicle you’re driving will be seized and impounded for 28 days. This will happen even if the vehicle is not yours. If you are caught driving while disqualified you can get a prison sentence or a fine, and get an additional disqualification period.

More information about impoundment, including other situations in which a vehicle can be impounded and what you have to do to retrieve the vehicle, is on the NZ Transport Agency website.

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Can I appeal my suspension?

You can appeal to NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) against a 28-day roadside suspension. The only grounds for appeal are:

  • you were not the driver of the vehicle at the time of the offence, or 
  • the police officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe the offence was committed, or 
  • the police officer did not give you a notice that met the requirements.

To support your appeal, you will need to complete a DL21 Statutory Declaration (printed forms are available from your local NZTA office). You will need to sign it in front of a Justice of the Peace, solicitor, authorised NZTA employee or Court Registrar.

Send this, along with any supporting documentation and a copy of the suspension notice, to:

Team Leader Business Administration,
NZ Transport Agency,
Private Bag 11777,
Palmerston North 4442. 

More about this is on the NZTA website.

Otherwise, if you think your suspension or disqualification will cause you extreme hardship you may be able to apply for a limited licence.

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How do I get my licence back after a suspension?

If you were given a 28 day roadside licence suspension, and the Police handed your licence over to the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), then the NZTA will return your licence to you - unless the suspension period was extended by the court, your licence expired or you were disqualified from driving during the suspension period.

If the Police didn't hand your licence over to the NZTA, you'll have to apply for a replacement.

If your licence was suspended other than a 28 day roadside suspension, or you have been disqualified, the process is slightly different.

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What is an alcohol interlock disqualification?

If you are convicted of driving offences involving alcohol you could be given an alcohol interlock disqualification for 28 days or longer. This means that your driver licence is cancelled and you cannot apply for a limited licence

After your disqualification period ends you are not allowed to drive until you have obtained an alcohol interlock licence. This type of driving licence only allows you to drive a vehicle which has an approved alcohol interlock device installed.

An alcohol interlock is a device which tests your breath for alcohol and prevents the vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol. You have to breathe into the device before you start the vehicle, and also at random intervals while you are driving.

The device records all of your readings; every month you have to take the vehicle to the installer for servicing and to download the readings (if you don’t, the device will prevent your vehicle from being started). You’ll have to pay an installation fee and a monthly lease fee to the installer. There is also an application fee for the licence but you may be eligible for a subsidy to help you meet these costs.

If you were sentenced before 1 July 2018 you can apply to exit the programme after you’ve had your alcohol interlock licence for at least 12 months. If you were sentenced on or after 1 July 2018 you need to have had an alcohol interlock device installed in your vehicle for at least 12 months before you can apply to exit the programme.

If you get approval to exit the programme you will be issued a zero alcohol licence and you can have the interlock device removed from your vehicle.

More information about this is on the NZ Transport Agency website.

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What is a zero alcohol licence?

If the court has given you a zero alcohol sentence, or if you are exiting the alcohol interlock programme you will only be able to drive if you hold a zero alcohol licence.

A zero alcohol licence allows you to drive but only under a zero alcohol limit. You must hold it for three years (ie if you have just one drink and then drive you could be charged with drink driving and disqualified).

After three years your zero alcohol licence will expire and you can apply for a normal driving licence.

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How can I get my licence back after I’ve been disqualified?

At the end of your disqualification or suspension period (other than the 28 day roadside suspension), or when your zero alcohol licence expires, you can apply to have your licence reinstated.

To do this you'll need to visit an NZTA driver licensing agent and: 

  • complete an Application for reissue of driver licence form (DL7) 
  • provide evidence of identity
  • prove your eyesight is of the required standard
  • have your photo taken and signature recorded 
  • pay a reinstatement fee (around $66).
  • If you have been disqualified for more than a year, you will also have to re-sit the appropriate tests to regain the licence class or classes you held before being disqualified.

If you were indefinitely disqualified after convictions for repeat driving offences involving drug or alcohol, you'll need to prove that you've dealt with your drug or alcohol problem before you apply to have the disqualification ended. More about this is on the NZTA website.

There's information about reinstating your driver licence on the NZ Transport Agency website

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What support is there for me if I’ve been drink driving?

Sometimes it can help to talk to a close friend or family member. If this doesn’t feel right, you could call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797. Your local CAB may also be able to help you find an organisation that can provide support.

You might also find our Addiction information useful.