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The Difference Between PCA And DUI Charges

The difference between PCA and DUI charges

What is the difference between a PCA (‘Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol’) and DUI (‘Driving Under the Influence’) charge?

PCA and DUI charges both concern a person who has operated a vehicle on a road related area while under the influence of alcohol. Whilst colloquially the terms PCA and DUI are used as interchangeable terms, they are at law quite different.

A PCA charge will follow when a person is detected operating a motor vehicle on a road and who is found, after formal breath analysis by Police or a hospital blood test, to have a blood/alcohol[1] level or breath/alcohol[2] level which exceeds permissible levels.

Are there different PCA charges?

There are a number of different offences in relation to PCA matters depending on the blood/alcohol level and licence classification. On conviction, each carries a different level of penalty and periods of disqualification. Classifications of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of alcohol in 210 litres of breath or 100 millilitres of blood are as follows:

  • Special Range – between 0.02 and 0.049.
  • Novice Range – over zero for novice drivers
  • Low range – 0.05 to less than 0.08 grams
  • Mid-range – 0.08 to less than 0.15.
  • High range – 0.15 or higher.

Penalties Associated with PCA charges

The community views PCA offences very seriously and as such there are hefty penalties which apply if a person is convicted. All offences carry automatic periods of disqualification with some discretion to reduce the period where circumstances justify it. There are penalties in addition to disqualification including imprisonment and fines.

It is now mandatory that a person convicted of a High Range offence must serve a period of disqualification in which they are not permitted to hold a licence or drive. In addition, they will be required to participate in what is known as the Interlock Program. Among other restrictions an Interlock device is installed to the ignition of your motor vehicle. This device is a breathalyser that is installed in an individual’s vehicle and requires the driver to blow into a mouthpiece before the vehicle can be driven. The car will not start unless a clear breath sample is given. The cost of the interlock device is borne by the convicted driver.

In some circumstances where an offender’s reading is low and they otherwise have a very good driving history with no prior offences, the Court may consider dismissing the charge on the condition that the offender enters into a bond to be of good behaviour.

Most Courts have access to intervention programs to which they can refer offenders. These programs, usually known as the Traffic Offenders Intervention Program, are designed to educate young and inexperienced drivers as to their responsibilities on the road and the dangerous effects of alcohol on a person’s ability to properly manage their motor vehicle. Participation in the Traffic Offenders Intervention Program will often result in a more favourable outcome on sentencing for offenders.

What happens when a person refuses to supply a breath sample?

If a person is requested by police to provide a breath sample but refuses to do so the penalty provisions are the same as high range PCA offence penalties which are severe, up to $1,100.  A criminal conviction will be recorded and if a collision has occurred it is common for a custodial sentence to be imposed. There is no immediate licence disqualification, but the Court may elect to do so. On the 1st February 2015, mandatory Interlock orders came into effect.

In circumstances where a person is unable, through some physical complaint, to provide a sample they will be offered the opportunity to supply a blood sample for the purposes of analysis. Refusal to do so will also result in being charged with the same offence of refusing a breath sample.

What are DUI charges?

In circumstances where a person is suspected of having used or attempted to use a motor vehicle on a road or road related area whilst intoxicated and Police were not able to obtain a breath or blood sample, it is open to them to charge the person with DUI.

This may occur when the Police are not in a position to carry out a formal breath test but have evidence of intoxication.

DUI charges also include illegal drugs and prescription medication and have similar penalties.


A conviction for a PCA and DUI charge can have disastrous effects on a person’s life, not least their ongoing right to hold a licence and drive. For many this would undoubtedly have an effect on employment and family responsibilities.

It is extremely important to obtain the very best legal representation so that your interests are protected.

Call our Criminal & Traffic Law team for the best results on 02 4929 3995 or email

*The material provided in our information sheets is for general knowledge only and is not a substitute for independent legal advice. For further information about the issues affecting you, please contact one of our experienced and professional lawyers for expert advice.

[1] Blood/alcohol levels refer to the amount of alcohol present in the bloodstream.

[2] Breath/alcohol means a test carried out by a breath analysing instrument.


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