Drink Driving in Singapore

  • Criminal Law
Drink Driving in Singapore

In Singapore, drink driving comes with serious consequences—including the possible loss of life. A drunk driver may also possibly face a ruined life, as driving over the legal limit typically results in punishment for both first time offenders and subsequent offenders. When it comes to prosecuting offences such as these, authorities show neither favour nor fear.

The Strait Times, for instance, reported that Aloysius Pang Wei Chong, a Mediacorp actor, was found to be guilty of drink driving and was consequently banned from driving for 18 months and made to pay a fine of S$2,000.

An established lawyer was also prosecuted for drink driving, and was convicted, fined, and forbidden from driving for a 26-month period—despite his entering a plea of guilt and having significant mitigating factors in his case.

** The above-mentioned cases occurred under the pre-2019 legal framework, and may no longer reflect current sentencing trends in Singapore.

According to Sun Xueling, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs, drink driving does not only greatly increase the chances of accidents occurring, but also the likelihood of the lives of others being endangered. As such, amendments to the Road Traffic Act passed by parliament in July 2019 included the increase of penalties to dissuade individuals from driving irresponsibly and drunk. A first-time drink driver may face a fine of anywhere from S$2,000 to S$10,000, up to a year in prison, and/or be disqualified from driving for a minimum of two years.

Drink Driving Laws

The Road Traffic Act’s section 67(1) deems it a criminal offence to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A person may be found guilty of such offence if the person driving is on a road or any other public place while:

  • His or her breath or blood alcohol level exceeds the legal limit; or
  • Unfit to drive due to intoxication that deems him or her incapable of controlling a vehicle properly. It is not necessary for the driver to be above the legal limit.

Ultimately, it only needs to be established that the individual is intoxicated and unable to control his or her motor vehicle. It is also important to know that an individual may be found guilty of this offence if he or she is under the influence of drugs and/or other intoxicating substances.

Giving Blood or Breath Samples

Under Singapore law, an individual is required to provide a blood specimen or undergo a breathalyzer test if the authorities have reasonable cause to suspect that he or she is under the influence.

If the individual fails to comply with a police offer’s request without reasonable excuse, the Road Traffic Act section 70(4) may deem this an offence punishable as with the same manner as if he or she were actually drink driving.

Drink Driving Punishment

Effective November 1, 2019, parliament amended the law that calls for higher penalties for drink driving offences.

A first-time offender may face a penalty amounting anywhere from S$2,000 to S$10,000, imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both. The offender will also be banned from driving for a minimum of two years, unless the court finds that the driver has special reasons not to be disqualified from driving.

A second-time offender or subsequent offender will face mandatory jail time of up to two years, as well as a fine amounting anywhere from S$5,000 to S$20,000. The offender will also be banned from driving for a minimum of five years.

If an individual is sentenced to prison, it is crucial to know that the period of disqualification from driving only begins on the day that the individual is released from prison.

Sentences for Previous Traffic Offenders

Sentences can vary greatly. For minor traffic violations, both compounded and otherwise, a judge may consider speeding and such offences as an aggravating factor according to the Road Traffic Act’s Section 139AA. An offender, however, may still be sentenced within the ranges established above.

If an offender was previously charged with more serious traffic offences, a judge may opt to sentence him or her up to three times the typical penalties stated in Section 67A of the Road Traffic Act.

It is important to note that penalties may be higher if injury or serious death results. Though rare, the penalty may include caning of up to six strokes.

Considerations When Sentencing

Typically, the first factor any court will take into consideration is the alcohol level found in the offender’s blood or breath at the time the offence occurred. This is especially true for first-time offenses with no aggravating factors.

The legal limit for alcohol in a person’s body is 35 µg of alcohol per 100 ml of breath, or 80 µg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. A person may not be found guilty of an offence if his or her breath or blood alcohol does not surpass the stated limit.

The revolutionary case Edwin s/o Suse Nathen v Public Prosecutor [2013] 4 SLR 1139 shows that the High Court established a wide-ranging band for the sentences to be given as a starting point for first-time offenders.

Alcohol level
(µg 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 +

Given the 2019 amendments to the law, such ranges are expected to be revisited, particularly since a first-time offender now must be disqualified from driving for a minimum of two years. Of course, the general principle still stands—the higher the offender’s breath or blood alcohol level, the higher the penalty to be awarded.

For drink driving cases, other considerations also apply when there is injury, harm, and other factors. As established in Stansilas Fabian Kester v Public Prosecutor [2017] 5 SLR 755, the court will consider factors such as:

  • The conduct of the offender – If the offender was driving dangerously, recklessly, or showed a lack of control;
  • The degree of harm caused and the offender’s culpability;
  • Sentencing considerations, such as the need to dissuade the general public from drink driving, or the need to rehabilitate the offender;
  • Other mitigating or aggravating factors that might be relevant.

Arrests While Under the Influence

An individual may still be found guilty of a drink driving offence, even if he or she is not the vehicle’s driver but merely in charge of the motor vehicle while under the influence.

According to the Road Traffic Act’s Section 68, any person deemed to be in charge of a motor vehicle—and not driving the vehicle—in a public place or on the road, is deemed guilty of an offence if the individual is unfit to drive because he or she is so intoxicated that he or she is incapable of controlling the vehicle properly or his or her blood or breath alcohol levels exceed the legal limit.

However, an individual is not deemed to be in charge of a vehicle if he or she did not drive the vehicle between the time that he or she was unfit to drive and the time of arrest, and if there was no likelihood that he or she would drive the vehicle at the time of arrest.

Consult with a Lawyer

It is crucial that you know your rights should you ever be investigated or charged for drunk driving. Whether you have admitted to a drink driving crime, it would be best to consult with an experienced lawyer at the soonest possible time.