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  • Home Resources & Technical Articles Driving & Traffic Offences Driving Unlicensed Offences Driving Unlicensed Offences and Penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

    Driving Unlicensed Offences and Penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

    Australian Capital Territory (ACT) legislation gives no room for a person to drive a vehicle without first obtaining a licence or permit. Failure to acquire a licence or permit can result in a person facing steep penalties such as fines or imprisonment.

    However, the court using its discretion, can give a severer or lesser punishment, depending on some factors considered during the proceeding.

    In the Australian Capital Territory, the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT) explains the actions that constitute a licence offence and the penalties that it attracts.

    This article will consider the laws regarding driving unauthorised or unlicenced, its penalties and the defences that an accused can claim when facing an allegation.

    If an individual is convicted in an ACT court for a driving unlicensed offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check in the ACT.

    What the ACT Legislation Says Regarding Driving Unlicensed

    Regarding laws on licensing, there are different offences that a person can commit in the Australian Capital Territory.

    These offences are:

    #1. Driving Unlicensed

    Section 31 of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT) states that no individual must drive a vehicle on the road or somewhere similar to a road unless:

    • The individual possesses an Australian driver's licence that authorises them to operate a motor vehicle.
    • Regulations exempt them from holding an Australian driver's licence.

    Committing the crime of driving unlicensed attracts 20 penalty units. However, according to Section 31(2) of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT), a person may face 50 penalty units or six months imprisonment or both if the prosecution can prove that:

    • The person who committed the crime of driving unlicensed has never before held an Australian driver's licence.
    • Regulations do not exempt them from possessing an Australian driving licence.

    It is important to note that if a person has not held an Australian licence within 5 years prior to committing an offence, the court will consider them as someone who has never held a licence.

    Also, under Section 31(3) of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT), a repeat offender for the crime of driving without ever holding a licence becomes automatically disqualified from obtaining a licence for a minimum of 3 years. This disqualification is in addition to whatever punishment the court imposes on the repeat offender.

    #2. Driving after licence Suspension

    Based on Section 31(A) of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT), driving after licence suspension is punishable by a maximum of 20 penalty units.

    Nonetheless, before a court can find a person guilty of an offence under this section, the prosecution must be able to prove that:

    • The licence of the accused has been suspended.
    • Being aware of their licence suspension, the accused drove a vehicle in the Australian Capital Territory.

    #3. Driving after Disqualification from Holding or Obtaining a licence

    Section 32 of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT) states that a person becomes guilty of an offence if they operate a motor vehicle during a licence disqualification. For the court to convict a person, the prosecution will need to establish that:

    • An Australian court or a court in another jurisdiction disqualified the accused from holding or obtaining a driver's licence.
    • Being aware of their disqualification, the accused drove a motor vehicle on a road or a road-related space within the time of disqualification.

    An offender under this section could face a maximum of 50 penalty units or six months imprisonment or both. However, a repeat offender may receive a maximum of 100 penalty units or one-year imprisonment or both.

    #4. Driving after Refusal of Application for a licence or Cancellation of licence

    Under Section 32(3) of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT), it is an offence for any individual to drive a vehicle after a refusal of their request for an Australian licence or a cancellation of licence.

    This crime attracts a maximum of 50 penalty units or six months imprisonment or both for a first-time offender. While for a repeat offender, this offence comes with a maximum of 100 penalty units or one-year imprisonment or both.

    Nonetheless, the court cannot pronounce a person guilty until the prosecution has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that:

    • The accused's licence was cancelled, or they applied for a driver's licence within Australia, and the authority in charge of issuing a driver's licence refused their request.
    • After cancellation or refusal of their licence, the defendant drove a vehicle on a road or road-related space.

    Defences to the Accusation of Driving Without Authorisation or a Valid licence

    When facing an allegation for offences regarding driving without authorisation, there are some defences that a defendant can claim. Claiming any of these defences can sometimes help the defendant to avoid penalties.

    Some of these defences include:


    #1. The Accused Holds An Interstate or Foreign licence

    If a person possesses an interstate or a foreign licence, they can raise this defence. In the Australian Capital Territory, an interstate or a foreign licence has the same validity as a licence obtained from the Australian Capital Territory.

    However, if a person stays in the Australian Capital for about three months, they will have to apply for an ACT driver licence. This is because residing in the ACT for three months or more makes a person a resident.


    #2. The Defendant Never Drove on a Road or Somewhere Similar

    For a person to be guilty of driving without authorisation, they must have driven a vehicle on the road or somewhere similar. If the defendant never drove on a road or a space similar to a road, they can claim this defence.


    #3. Honest and Reasonable Mistake

    A defendant could raise this defence if they made an honest mistake of thinking they still had a valid driving licence. However, for this case to stand, the accused will have to convince the court of the reasonableness of their claim.


    #4. Duress

    The defence of duress is a complete defence. This defence is applicable in a situation where the accused committed the crime of driving without authorisation due to being compelled. Nevertheless, the defendant would have to prove that there was no other option other than to commit the crime.


    #5. Necessity

    An accused can claim the defence of necessity if committing the crime of driving unauthorised was necessary to avoid a terrible event. For instance, a person who needs to get away from a dangerous situation may drive a car without a licence if there is no other option for escape.

    The Court That Hears the Cases for Driving Unlicensed in the ACT

    The Magistrate court in the ACT handles most of the trials for driving without authorisation or licence.

    Bottom Line

    The Australian Capital Territory does not take the laws regarding driver licensing lightly. Breaking any of these laws can place someone in a difficult position where they either pay a fine or face imprisonment. If any individual finds themselves in such a position, seeking legal assistance can go a long way in ensuring proper representation of interest in court.

    Will a driving unlicensed offence in the ACT show up on a criminal history check?

    If an individual is found guilty of a driving unlicensed offence in an ACT court, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their police record check.

    Individuals can obtain a nationally coordinated criminal history check via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

    Sources

    Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT) - https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/a/1999-78

    Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Act 1999 (ACT) (Austlii References) - http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/act/consol_act/rtla1999340/

    Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2000 (ACT) - https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/sl/2000-14/default.asp

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