Alcohol interlocks and Zero Alcohol licences

This article was supplied by the NZ Transport Agency to acquaint lawyers with the new provisions relating to alcohol interlocks.

On 9 May 2011, Royal assent was given to the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2011. The amendment provides two new sentencing options for dealing with repeat drink-driving offenders and some first time offenders.

Later in 2012, courts will be able to order the use of alcohol interlocks and/or a Zero Alcohol Licence (see ss65A and 65B of the Land Transport Act 1998). Current penalties for drink-driving will remain and sentences will be handed down on a case-by-case basis.

An alcohol interlock is a device similar to a breathalyser that is connected to a vehicle’s starting system. Before the vehicle can be started, the driver must conduct a breath test. If the result is over the pre-programmed breath-alcohol level, the vehicle will not start. For those participating in the alcohol interlock programme, this pre-programmed limit will effectively be zero.

The sentencing option will be available for dealing with offenders convicted of a drink-driving offence within five years of the commission of the offence being dealt with by the court. The option can also be used for first time offenders convicted of driving with a breath or blood alcohol concentration twice the legal limit or higher.

The alcohol interlock programme aims to assist the offender to change their drink-driving behaviour.

The sentence includes a licence disqualification of three months, subject to the application of s81 of the Act, followed by an order authorising the person to apply for an Alcohol Interlock Licence. This licence, coloured pink to help distinguish it from standard licences, entitles the person to drive only a vehicle or vehicles to which an alcohol interlock has been fitted.

There will be some instances where an alcohol interlock sentence may not be appropriate; for example, where the offender has caused a crash resulting in injury or death.

The Alcohol Interlock Licence must be held for a minimum of 12 months, and the person may apply to exit the alcohol interlock programme if:

The devices will be available from two approved providers. Each provider has a network of installers around the country, who will only install devices approved by the Minister of Transport by notice in the Gazette. The applicant will have to pay:

  • an Alcohol Interlock Licence application fee of $200 to the NZTA; and
  • a device installation fee and a monthly fee for lease of the device.

Fee information will be detailed on the NZTA’s and provider’s websites once it is known.

The device will require a monthly service check, which will also enable the installer to download data on vehicle use and compliance with the requirements of the Alcohol Interlock Licence. After the first few months with the device fitted, the service check period may be reduced to bi-monthly where the offender is found to be compliant with their licence conditions.

It is intended that new regulation-making powers will be used to impose additional requirements of the Alcohol Interlock Licence.

Do alcohol interlocks work?

Overseas research on similar alcohol interlock programmes suggests that a short period of disqualification followed by being restricted to driving only vehicles fitted with an alcohol interlock device is a successful alternative to long-term licence disqualification in preventing repeat impaired driving offences.

Use of the device aims to assist the offender to change their behaviours by helping them develop the habit of not consuming alcohol before driving. Part of what makes alcohol interlocks effective while installed are the build in anti-circumvention and anti-tampering measures. Attempting to tamper with an interlock can immobilise the vehicle, requiring the device to be reset by an approved service agent. They have safeguards built in to prevent the driver having someone sober blow into the device for them. They also prompt the driver to perform further breath tests during their journey.

Zero Alcohol Licences

Alcohol interlock programme participants who have met the criteria to exit the alcohol interlock licence stage must apply for a Zero Alcohol Licence as the next mandatory step.

From later in 2012, the Zero Alcohol Licence will also be available to courts as a standalone sentencing option when dealing with repeat drink-driving offenders.

Repeat offenders and alcohol interlock programme participants must hold a current Zero Alcohol Licence for three years. A person who drives with any alcohol in their system while on the Zero Alcohol Licence or the Alcohol Interlock Licence commits an offence.

Zero alcohol v alcohol interlock

The following table summarises the differences between these two new types of sentences and licences.


Zero alcohol sentences and licences

Alcohol interlock sentences and licences

Target group

Repeat drink-driving offenders.

Repeat drink-driving offenders and first time offenders with double the adult alcohol limit.

Licence application fee



Other fees


Alcohol interlock device installation fee and monthly lease fees.

Applying for additional licence classes and endorsements

Is entitled to apply for additional licence classes or endorsements.

Not entitled to apply for any additional licence classes or endorsements.

Limited Licences

Not automatically precluded from obtaining a Limited Licence.

Not entitled to a Limited Licence.

Further information about the alcohol interlock programme and the Zero Alcohol Licence will be made available from mid-June 2012 on the NZ Transport Agency website,

This article was published in LawTalk 796, 25 May 2012, page 23.