Drink driving can lead to serious consequences. It can sharply increase the likelihood of accidents and endangers the lives of other road users. As such, Singapore takes a dim view of those driving under the influence of alcohol or other banned substances. In 2019, the Road Traffic Act was amended to increase the possible penalties imposed for drink driving offences.
In the following article, we touch upon the laws surrounding drink driving and the possible penalties for those who are caught and charged.
The law on drink driving in Singapore
Under Section 67 (1) of the Road Traffic Act, it’s a criminal offence to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. One may be found guilty of this offence if:
- Their breath or blood alcohol exceeds the legal limit levels; or
- They are unfit to drive due to the intoxication that incapacitates them from controlling a vehicle correctly. It’s not mandatory for the driver to be above the legal limit for this case.
- They are under the influence of drugs and/or other intoxicating substances.
At the end of the day, the only requisite is establishing that the driver is intoxicated and incompetent to control the vehicle.
Can I refuse to give a sample?
In Singapore, if the authorities have reasonable cause to suspect that an individual is under the influence, they are required to provide a blood specimen or undertake a Breathalyzer test. If the individual, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with the authority’s request, they will be treated as having committed the offence of driving while drunk according to Section 70 (4) of the Road Traffic Act.
Punishments for drink driving in Singapore
Following the amendments of the Road Traffic Act, effective from November 1 2019, the penalties for drink driving were increased. A first-time offender would now face a penalty amounting from between $2,000 to $10,000, imprisonment of up to 12 months or both. The court will also ban the driver from driving for a minimum of two years unless it finds special reasons for the driver not to be disqualified from driving.
A second-time offender or a successive offender will face a compulsory jail term of up to two years in addition to a fine amounting to between $5,000 to $20,000. The offender will also be banned from driving for a minimum of five years.
In scenarios where an individual is sentenced to prison, it’s important to note that the disqualification period from driving starts on the day the individual is released from prison.
Depending on the degree of the traffic violation, sentencing can vary. According to Section 139AA of the Road Traffic Act, a judge may, in minor traffic violations (both compounded and otherwise), consider speeding and such other offences as an aggravating factor. However, the offender may still be sentenced within the above-established ranges.
A judge may choose to sentence an offender up to three times the typical penalties stated in Section 67A of the Road Traffic Act if the offender was charged previously with more serious traffic offences.
If more serious injury or even death occurs, the penalties will be higher. Though rare, the penalty may include caning of up to six strokes.
Deliberations when sentencing
The first factor for consideration in drink driving offences, especially for first-time offenders who have no other aggravating factors, is the alcohol level found in the offender’s breath or blood at the time the offence occurred.
The legal limit for alcohol in a person’s body is 35 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of breath or 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. If a person’s breath or blood alcohol doesn’t surpass the stated limit, they may not be found guilty of an offence.
In the case of Edwin s/o Suse Nathen v Public Prosecutor  4 SLR 1139, the High Court established a wide-ranging band for sentences to be given as a starting point for first-time offenders.
(mg per 100ml of breath)
|Range of fines||Range of disqualification|
|35 - 54||$1,000 – $2,000||12 – 18 months|
|55 - 69||$2,000 – $3,000||18 – 24 months|
|70 - 89||$3,000 – $4,000||24 – 36 months|
|≥90||> $4,000||48 months +|
Following the 2019 amendments to the law, such ranges are likely to be revisited, especially now since a first-time offender must be disqualified from driving for a minimum of two years.
The general principle still stands though- the higher the offender’s breath or blood alcohol level, the harsher the penalty to be awarded.
Other factors that the court may consider in drunk driving cases were established in Stansilas Fabian Kester v Public Prosecutor  5 SLR 755. These factors are:
- The behaviour of the offender; was they driving dangerously, recklessly or showed a lack of control;
- The level of harm caused and the culpability of the offender
- Other sentencing considerations, like the need to discourage and deter the general public from drunk driving or the need to rehabilitate the offender;
- Other mitigating factors that may be relevant
According to the law, a person may still be found guilty of the drunk driving offence even if they aren’t the vehicle’s driver but merely in charge of the vehicle while under the influence.
Section 68 of the Road Traffic Act states that any person who is considered to be in charge of a motor vehicle- and not driving the vehicle- in a public place or on the road is regarded guilty of an offence if the individual is unfit to drive because they are intoxicated to the point that they are unable to control the vehicle properly or their breath or blood alcohol levels exceed the legal limit.
However, a person will not be considered to be in charge of a vehicle if they did not drive the vehicle between the time that they were unfit to drive at the time of the arrest and if there was no possibility that they would drive the vehicle at the time of the arrest.
Consult with a Lawyer
It’s very important that you know your rights should you be investigated or charged with drink driving. Whether you have admitted to a drink driving offence, it is in your best interest to consult with a lawyer who has experience in this area as soon as possible.