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Drink Driving: 1st Offence

Unfortunately, drink driving is not an uncommon charge. All it takes is a single error of judgment and you could find yourself facing a drink driving charge.


The punishment for a drink driving charge depends on many factors; primarily the concentration of alcohol, manner of driving and any damage caused. The Court will take these factors into account before deciding on the sentence for a drink driving charge. For a 1st offence, Section 67(1)(b) of the Road Traffic Act the sentence is a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months. The person is also liable for disqualification for a period of not less than 12 months. The Honourable Sundaresh Menon CJ had set out the appropriate benchmark range of sentences for first time offenders in Edwin s/o Suse Nathen v Public Prosecutor (“Edwin s/o Suse Nathen”) under s.67(1)(b) Road Traffic Act. His Honour explained that:  “It was incumbent on the court to… first considering the extent to which the concentration of alcohol in the offender’s blood or breath exceeded the prescribed limit, and then examining whether there were aggravating or mitigating factors”. (Emphasis added)


Concentration of Alcohol

With regard to the concentration of alcohol in the offender’s breath, the court also classified the different concentrations into different categories:

  • Below moderate: a concentration level of 35μg to 54μg per 100ml of breath, which was close to the prescribed limit
  • Moderate to high: a concentration level of 55μg to 69μg per 100ml of breath was moderate to high; and
  • High: a concentration level of 70μg to 89μg per 100ml of breath, which was more than double the prescribed limit.


As the Honourable Chief Justice stated in Stansilas Fabian Kester v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGHC 185, “the custodial threshold would not typically be crossed in cases involving slight harm and low culpability”. The court in Stansilas held at [39] and [77] that the custodial threshold will not typically be crossed in cases involving slight harm and low culpability. In all other settings, the starting point would be the imposition of a custodial sentence unless the mitigating factors warrant otherwise. It would remain open to the court to consider other sentencing options, including that of a fine. The High Court in Stansilas also helpfully stated the following points in relation to the degrees of harm (personal injury/ property damage) and culpability (alcohol level/ dangerous driving behaviour):


Harm and Culpability

Harm Culpability
Slight Slight or moderate property damage and/or slight physical injury characterised by no hospitalisation or medical leave Low Low alcohol level and no evidence of dangerous driving behaviour
Moderate Serious property damage and/or moderate personal injury characterised by hospitalisation or medical leave but no fractures or permanent injuries Medium Moderate to high alcohol level or dangerous driving behaviour
Serious Serious personal injury usually involving fractures, including injuries which are permanent in nature and/or which necessitate significant surgical procedures High High alcohol level and dangerous driving behaviour
Very Serious Loss of limb, sight or hearing or life; or paralysis


Factors that affect culpability of the Accused

(a)The Manner of Driving.This assesses how dangerous the driving was and the extent of danger to road users posed by the offender’s conduct.

(b)The Circumstances of Driving.The circumstances surrounding the incident that may have increased the danger to road users during the incident.

(c)The Offender’s Reasons for Driving . The offender’s reasons or motivations for driving.” As stated by the Honourable Chief Justice, the guidelines he gave in Stansilas’ case “pertain only to the crossing of the custodial threshold in cases involving first offenders where physical injury and/or property damage has been caused. It does not affect the consideration of whether the custodial threshold is crossed in other cases including those where no harm to person or property has actually eventuated”. In examining the issue of culpability, the Honourable Chief Justice stated that “in relation to culpability, this would entail consideration of the extent to which the offender’s alcohol level exceeded the prescribed limit as well as the manner of the offender’s driving.”

Please note that this article does not constitute express or implied legal advice, whether in whole or in part. If you require legal advice, please contact us for your free first legal consultation. While efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the work, any errors remain the author’s own.


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