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  • Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Driving Whilst Suspended Offences Driving Whilst Suspended Offences and Penalties in New South Wales (NSW)

    Driving Whilst Suspended Offences and Penalties in New South Wales (NSW)

    A licence suspension takes away the ease that comes with an individual moving around with their vehicle. Consequently, this can pose a challenge when carrying out daily activities such as going to work or even getting groceries from the store. In these situations, an individual might be tempted to operate a motor vehicle.

    However, it is important to understand that in New South Wales operating a motor vehicle while under suspension can lead to a person facing several penalties, irrespective of the distance they drove the vehicle.

    The laws and penalties regarding driving whilst suspended fall under driving without an appropriate licence as seen in the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW). Driving without an appropriate licence also includes driving whilst disqualified or after a licence cancellation.

    This article will be delving into the different aspects of driving without an appropriate licence, especially driving whilst suspended. It will also consider the penalties and possible defences.

    If an individual is convicted in a New South Wales (NSW) court for a driving whilst suspended offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a national criminal background check in NSW.

    What the Legislation Says Regarding Driving Whilst Suspended/Disqualified/Cancelled

    Section 54 of the Road Traffic Act 2013 (NSW) covers some of the offences relating to the use of a driving licence. These offences are:

    #1. Driving Whilst Suspended

    Based on Section 54(3) of the Road Traffic Act 2013 (NSW), driving while suspended is an offence punishable by a maximum of 30 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment. While a repeat offender under this section may be liable to 50 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment. However, the court cannot convict a person for the crime of driving whilst suspended if the prosecution is unable to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that:

    • The licence of the accused is under a licence suspension.
    • The accused knew about the licence suspension.
    • The defendant drove a motor vehicle of a particular class on the roads of NSW without any legally justifiable reason.

    #2. Driving Whilst Disqualified

    Section 54(1) of the Road Traffic Act 2013 (NSW) states that it is a crime for any individual to operate a motor vehicle after disqualification from obtaining or possessing a driving licence. This crime attracts a maximum of 30 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment or both. While, a subsequent offence carries a maximum of 50 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment or both.

    Nonetheless, in a proceeding for driving whilst disqualified the court cannot find a person guilty unless the prosecution can convincingly prove that:

    • A court within or outside Australia disqualified the defendant from obtaining or possessing a driving licence.
    • The accused knew of their disqualification.
    • The defendant drove a motor vehicle on the roads of NSW without a justifiable reason.

    #3. Driving after a licence Refusal or Cancellation

    Under Section 54(4) of the Road Traffic Act 2013 (NSW), it is an offence for a person to drive a motor vehicle after a licence refusal or cancellation. This offence comes with a maximum of 30 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment or both. While, in the case of a subsequent offence, this attracts a maximum of 50 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment or both.

    However, if the court is to convict an accused for driving after a licence refusal or cancellation the prosecution will need to establish the following:

    • The defendant knew that the authorities had cancelled their licence or refused their request for a licence.
    • The defendant drove a motor vehicle of a particular class on the roads of NSW without a legal reason.

    What Often Leads to a licence Suspension

    Several offences can lead to a licence suspension.

    Some of these offences include:

    • A person causing serious bodily harm or death to others as a result of operating a motor vehicle.
    • A full licence holder going over the speed limit of 45km/h
    • A learner or provisional licence holder going over the speed limit of 30km/h
    • Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    • Participating in street racing.
    • A learner licence holder driving a motor vehicle without supervision.

    It is important to note that there are cases where a police officer can issue a licence suspension on the spot. In such situations, the suspension will be in effect until the matter is taken to court. In a proceeding, the court will take into account the time an individual has already spent under suspension when giving its sentence.

    Court that Handles the Cases of Driving Whilst Suspended and Other Driving Without Proper Authorisation Offences in NSW

    In New South Wales, the Magistrate Court conducts most of the trials on driving while suspended and other driving without proper authorisation offences.

    Possible Defences

    The circumstances surrounding the commission of driving while suspended and other driving while unauthorised offences can determine the type defence available to the accused. Some of the defences a defendant can use are:


    #1. Duress or Coercion

    A defendant can use the defence of duress or coercion if they committed the crime due to receiving a threat from another person. Consequently, this defence shows that the defendant did not commit the crime willingly.


    #2. The Accused Did not Drive on the road

    It is necessary for the accused to operate a vehicle on a road before the court can convict them of driving without proper authorisation. As such, if the accused can provide convincing evidence that they did not operate a motor vehicle on the road they may not be guilty of a crime.


    #3. The Defendant Drove under the Assumption that they Possessed a Valid Driving licence

    A defendant can claim that they committed the crime of driving without proper authorisation because they were unaware that they do not possess a valid licence. However, the court will have to consider the reasonableness of this claim.


    #4. Necessity

    The defence of necessity applies in a situation where breaking the law is necessary for preventing a terrible occurrence. For instance, a person without a valid licence may drive a seriously injured person to a hospital to save their life.


    #5. Possessing a Restricted licence

    If an accused can show the court that they possess a restricted licence, the court may find it difficult to convict them for driving unauthorised. A restricted licence allows a person under a licence suspension/disqualification/cancellation to operate a vehicle as long as they abide by some special conditions.

    Bottom Line

    The penalties of driving while unauthorised can negatively affect a person for the rest of their life. This is because being convicted of a crime not only results in fines and imprisonment but also involves having a criminal record. A person with a criminal record may find it difficult to apply for certain jobs or even travel to some countries outside Australia.

    Will a driving whilst suspended offence in Queensland show up on a criminal history check?

    If an individual is found guilty of a driving unlicensed offence in a New South Wales (NSW) court, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the result of their Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check.

    Individuals can obtain a criminal record check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

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