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  • Driving While Suspended Offences and Penalties in Victoria (VIC)

    As in most states in Australia, motorists in Victoria can lose their driving privileges for various reasons. This licence suspension or disqualification may be due to a speeding fine, an accumulation of demerit points, a drunk driving crime, etc.

    Whatever the case, the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) makes it an offence to drive in the State with a suspended or disqualified licence. Driving while suspended or disqualified is a serious offence and carries severe penalties.

    This article will look at the offence of driving while suspended, its penalties, and possible defences.

    If an individual is convicted in a Victorian 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 Victoria.

    The Offence of Driving Whilst Suspended

    According to Section 30 of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic), driving a vehicle on a highway with a suspended licence is a crime. In addition, the section makes it an offence to drive after being disqualified from having a licence by way of a court order.

    Both crimes are separate offences and carry different implications. Driving while disqualified occurs when an individual drives after the Court has cancelled their licence. This cancellation is typically a punishment for a prior traffic offence.

    Throughout the licence disqualification period, it is against the law to drive. And after the disqualification period ends, the disqualified driver will need to reapply for another driver's licence.

    On the other hand, a person with a suspended licence still holds a licence; the licence is not cancelled. However, they will be unable to drive for a certain period (i.e., the suspension period).

    This suspension could be as a result of:

    • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
    • Refusal to take a drug test
    • Driving dangerously or above the speed limit

    Note that the Victorian Police has the right to issue an immediate licence suspension in any of the above circumstances. If that happens, the driver in question will have to instantly hand over their licence or learner's permit to the police officer.

    In driving whilst suspended/disqualified cases, the prosecution must prove certain elements to convince the Court of the accused's guilt. First, they must show beyond a reasonable doubt that:

    • The accused drove a motor vehicle. Section 3 of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) defines driving as being in control of a vehicle. It also defines a motor vehicle as anything created to be propelled by a motor that is part of the vehicle and is used or built to be used on a highway. This definition, however, excludes trains and motorised wheelchairs.
    • The driving was on a public road or highway. As per Section 3 of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic), a road or highway means any area used or developed for driving or riding motor vehicles and is open to the public.
    • The accused drove whilst suspended or disqualified from holding a driver’s licence.

    Both crimes - driving whilst suspended or disqualified are strict liability offences. This statement means that the prosecution does not need to prove that the accused intended to commit the offence. All they need to show is that the accused was driving with a disqualified or suspended licence. The act alone is sufficient proof of the accused's guilt.

    Penalties for Driving Whilst Suspended or Disqualified

    As per Section 30 of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic), anyone charged with driving whilst suspended or disqualified faces the following maximum penalties:

    • 2 years imprisonment; or
    • 240 penalty units (i.e., a fine of not more than $39,652.80); or
    • Both.

    In addition to any of these punishments, the Court may also impose a custodial sentence. It'll typically give this sanction if the offender has a history of driving whilst their licence was disqualified or suspended.

    It is also essential to note that the police have the discretion to impound the accused person’s vehicle at the time of the offence. Alternatively, they may apply to the Court for a further impoundment or forfeiture of the vehicle. However, the Court can only attend to such an application on the day of the accused’s court hearing of the driving whilst suspended/disqualified charge.

    So, although this charge does not carry a compulsory licence suspension or cancellation, the Court may decide to interfere with the accused’s licence if they deem it necessary.

    Defences to a Driving Whilst Suspended or Disqualified Charge

    The penalty for driving whilst suspended is severe in Victoria. Therefore, it is crucial for anyone facing such charges to know the defences available to them.

    • #1. Honest Mistake

    This defence applies to circumstances where the accused was honestly unaware that their driver's licence had been suspended. The same applies where the defendant did not know that they had been disqualified from holding a valid driver's licence. In essence, they sincerely believed that they were entitled to drive.

    However, the accused must show that their ignorance was reasonable. To fulfil this obligation, the defendant may provide evidence showing that they did not receive a notice of the suspension or disqualification.

    If the Court accepts this defence, it will dismiss the charges and acquit the accused. However, it may impose an additional period of disqualification on the defendant. It could make the accused serve the complete suspension without giving them credit for the time they were suspended but continued to drive.

    • #2. Validity of the suspension or disqualification

    A person facing driving whilst suspended charges may also challenge the validity of the suspension or disqualification. The suspension/disqualification may not have been handed down correctly in rare cases. In such circumstances, the Court may reverse the suspension/disqualification.

    Other Defences

    It is also a defence that the accused was not driving on a public road or any related area. Another valid defence is that the defendant was not driving or that the apparatus they were operating was not a motor vehicle as defined by the law.

    Bottom Line

    The primary purpose of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) is to ensure safe, fair, and efficient road use in Victoria. Therefore, it has put measures in place to meet this goal. One of such measures is the penalties it provides for breaking any of its laws or stipulations.

    It is advisable for anyone facing any charges under this act to take the charges seriously. The first step, in these circumstances, is to consult an experienced lawyer.

    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 WA court, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their criminal history check.

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

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