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Before an individual can freely drive on the roads of the Northern Territory, they must obtain either a learner's permit or a driver's licence. Operating a vehicle on the roads of the NT without getting a learner's permit or a driver's licence can attract penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment terms.
The laws surrounding using a driver's licence or learner's permit are present in the Traffic Act 1987 (NT). Specifically, this Act explains the actions that constitute the offence of driving while unlicensed and its penalties.
This write-up will discuss the laws concerning the use of a driving licence, its penalties, and the possible defences.
If an individual is convicted in a Northern Territory 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 NT.
Regarding the use of a licence, there are primarily two offences as seen in the Traffic Act 1987 (NT). The two offences are:
#1. Driving While Disqualified
Being guilty of the crime of drink-driving in the NT or drug-driving often results in licence disqualification for a particular period. During this period, a person must not try to obtain a licence or operate a motor vehicle on a public street or place.
Carrying out any of these acts can lead to a 12-months imprisonment term or an extension in disqualification, as seen in Section 31 of the Traffic Act 1987 (NT).
However, this section of the law states that a person disqualified from holding a driver licence might have received permission from the court to apply for an AIL (Alcohol Ignition Lock) order.
In such a case, it is an offence for the individual to use any other licence apart from the AIL order or operate a motor vehicle on a public road or space without possessing an AIL order. Committing any of these offences can attract a maximum of 12 months imprisonment or an extension in the period of disqualification.
#2. Driving While unlicensed
Based on Section 32 of the Traffic Act 1987 (NT), it is an offence for an individual to drive a vehicle on a public street or place unless:
An offender under this section may face a maximum of 12 months imprisonment.
It is important to note that a person automatically becomes a resident after three months of residing in the Northern Territory.
As such, any individual possessing a licence or permit belonging to another territory or country will have to apply for a licence in the Northern Territory.
This is because after a person becomes a resident, their licence or permit, which they got from another territory, ends up being invalid.
There are several defences that a person accused of driving while unlicensed can use during a proceeding. Some of these defences are complete, while some are incomplete. A complete defence leads to the acquittal of the accused, while an incomplete defence often results in a sentence reduction.
The defences a defendant can claim are:
#1. The Defendant Has an Interstate licence or Permit
A defendant can claim this defence when facing charges for driving unlicensed if they have an interstate licence or permit. However, this might require that they prove the validity of the licence they possess.
#2. Unaware of Suspension
An accused can raise the defence if they were not aware of the suspension of their licence. This defence can help a defendant get a less severe punishment than what they deserve. In most cases, they may receive a warning not to drive their vehicle until the suspension period is over.
#3. The Defendant Did Not Drive
If a person never committed the crime of driving while unlicensed, they can use this defence. Specifically, this defence applies when the prosecution charges the wrong person for the crime of driving while unlicensed. However, for this defence to be effective, the defendant must have a way of convincing the court of their innocence.
#4. The Defendant Did Not Drive on a Public Street or Place
For a person to commit an offence of driving while unlicensed, they must have driven a motor vehicle on a public street or place. If the defendant did not drive the vehicle in a public street or place, they could use this defence.
#5. Mistake of Fact
This defence is suitable in a situation where the defendant made a mistake by thinking that they still have a valid licence or permit. When raising this defence in a proceeding, the accused will have to show that any reasonable person could have made the same mistake.
The defence of coercion applies when a person committed the crime of driving while unlicensed as a result of a threat they received. However, for this defence to stand, the accused will have to prove that they believed the threat to be genuine and that they had no alternative.
Raising this defence provides the means for the accused to show the court they committed the crime of driving while unlicensed to prevent something terrible from taking place. For instance, a person might drive a vehicle without having a licence if their safety and the safety of others depends on it. Nonetheless, claiming the defence of necessity requires that the defendant convinces the court that their response to the situation was appropriate.
The defence of involuntary intoxication allows the defendant to claim that they were not in the right frame of mind when they committed the crime of driving while unlicensed. For instance, a person might have taken a particular medication without knowing that it is capable of causing intoxication.
In the Northern Territory, the Local Court conducts most of the trials that have to do with driving while unlicensed.
When a person Understands the laws regarding driving while unlicensed, it can help them avoid breaking these regulations. However, some situations could lead to a person committing the crime of driving unlicensed. When these situations arise, the best option for a person is to seek the advice of a legal practitioner.
If an individual is found guilty of a driving unlicensed offence in a NT 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.
Traffic Act 1987 (NT) - https://legislation.nt.gov.au/en/Legislation/TRAFFIC-ACT-1987
Traffic Act 1987 (NT) (Austlii References) - http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nt/consol_act/ta198777/
NT Law Handbook (Austlii Communities), (Road Rules and Traffic Offences) - http://austlii.community/foswiki/NTLawHbk/RoadRulesAndTrafficOffences#Driving_unlicensed
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