On February 1 2020, 29-year-old Samuel William Davidson decided to get behind the wheel for a short 2km trip to a nearby service station. The drive would likely have been uneventful had he not had drugs and alcohol in his system.
With an alleged blood-alcohol content of 0.15 – three times the legal limit – and a number of illegal drugs in his body, Davidson ran a red light and crossed onto the opposite side of the road.
At a speed of 133km/h, his ute mounted a kerb in a 50km/h street zone in Oatlands, NSW, crashing into a group of seven young children who were walking to buy ice cream that night.
Veronique Sakr, 11 and her cousins Antony, 13, Angelina, 12 and Sienna Abdallah who was only eight, all died at the scene.
The grief and trauma caused by the death of these four children is incomprehensible, and the tragedy will continue to impact countless of lives.
In honour of the four children, on June 28 2021 harsh penalties for combined drink and drug driving under the Four Angels Law came into effect. While the introduction of three new offences may deter individuals from driving under the influence of a substance, combined or alone, it will never bring back the lives of loved ones lost due to intoxicated driving.
How does the new legislation work?
Similar to a RBT, the new legislation will see drivers pulled over and tested for both drink and drug driving. Those who test positive for alcohol and drugs will be placed under suspicion of the combined offence immediately and will then have to undergo further testing at a police station. If further results (and confirmation by a laboratory) confirm the presence of drugs in your system, as well as a high prescribed concentration of alcohol, you will be fined and charged under the combined offence.
For first time offenders, the new offence will apply if you are found driving with a mid or high range Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA) in your system.
Repeat or subsequent offenders, within a five-year period, can be charged under the new law, regardless of the level of PCA or drugs detected in their body. Drugs deemed illicit under the act include marijuana, speed, ecstasy and cocaine.
What penalties apply?
Penalties will vary depending on offence type. See below for offence type and respective penalties:
For First Offenders:
|Mid Range PCA + Positive Illicit Substance||High Range PCA + Positive Illicit Substance|
|Minimum Disqualification of Licence||12 Months||2 Years|
|Maximum Disqualification of Licence||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Automatic Disqualification of Licence||2 Years||4 Years|
|Minimum Alcohol Ignition Interlock Period||1 Year||2 Years|
|Maximum Imprisonment Term||1.5 Years||2 Years|
For Second or Subsequent Offenders:
|Low Range PCA + Positive Illicit Substance||Mid Range PCA + Positive Illicit Substance||High Range PCA + Positive Illicit Substance|
|Minimum Disqualification of Licence||1.5 Years||2 Years||3 Years|
|Maximum Disqualification of Licence||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Automatic Disqualification of Licence||2 Years||4 Years||6 Years|
|Minimum Alcohol Ignition Interlock Period||1 Year||2 Years||4 Years|
|Maximum Imprisonment Term||1.5 Years||2 Years||2 Years|
Where to from here?
Under the Four Angels Law, the new penalties for combined drink and drug driving are certainly serious enough to make drivers think twice. However, while some may be deterred by the prospect of losing their licence, vehicle impoundment or seizure and imprisonment, the real motivator should be to keep other road users safe.
The Abdallah and Sakr children were innocent road users that fell victim to risky driving behaviours and decisions. While Davidson will have to forever live with the guilt of taking another’s life and serve 21 years in prison and 7 years on parole for his actions, no sentence will bring back the lives of those four children.
While pushing for drivers to remain accountable for their actions behind the wheel with penalties might be a necessary step in saving lives, it’s also necessary to ask:
If people are already aware of the dangers of intoxicated driving, is it really driving attitudes that need to be addressed? Or is it the underlying problem of substance addiction?
We may never agree on one answer, but in the case that it’s the latter, it might not be a legal response alone that’s required… but also a rehabilitative and educational one.
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