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Driver licence disqualification reforms

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    Summary of reforms

    The penalties for driver licence disqualification have changed to ensure they better protect community safety by reducing unauthorised driving and repeat offending.

    Key changes

    • Police have greater powers to impose on-the-spot vehicle sanctions to keep repeat offenders and dangerous drivers off our roads.
    • Certain disqualified drivers who have complied with their disqualification period for at least two years can apply to the Local Court to have their disqualification lifted early.
    • No disqualified driver ever convicted of driving offences involving death or grievous bodily harm will be eligible to have their disqualification periods lifted early.
    • Penalties for unauthorised driving are more proportionate to other NSW driving offences.

    Related information

    Rationale

    Lengthy disqualification periods, which can sometimes last for more than ten years, do not deter unauthorised driving and have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged people, including Aboriginal people and those in regional and rural areas. 

    These reforms will reduce reoffending by providing new ways for people to return to lawful and regulated driving.

    Stronger powers for police to deliver swift and certain justice will protect community safety by keeping repeat offenders and dangerous drivers off our roads. 

    Expected benefits

    The driver licence disqualification reforms are expected to: 

    • Get tough on disqualified drivers who cannot be trusted to do the right thing by empowering police to confiscate registration plates or cars of repeat offenders, on-the-spot, where drivers continue to drive while unauthorised.
    • Reduce reoffending and support the return of disqualified drivers to lawful and regulated driving.
    • Benefit regional and rural communities where there is limited access to public transport and lengthy disqualification periods often limit access to work, education and health care.

    How the scheme works in practice

    Expanded sanctions for police to respond to dangerous driving and repeat offending

    The powers of police officers have been expanded to enable the on-the-spot confiscation of number plates or vehicles of those who continue to drive while unlicensed or disqualified. This allows police to take swift action in appropriate cases.

    The reforms enable vehicle sanctions to apply where a disqualified driver is caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 30km/hour. 

    Police can also impose longer on-the-spot vehicle sanctions for repeat offenders who have two or more prior convictions for certain driving offences within the past five year period. These offences include driving while unlicensed or disqualified and applying for a licence without mentioning their disqualification. 

    These sanctions will continue to apply only to a disqualified driver who is also the registered operator of the vehicle.

    Lifting lengthy disqualification periods

    Certain disqualified drivers can apply to the Local Court to have their disqualification lifted early if they have complied with their disqualification period for a minimum of two or four years (depending on the circumstances of their case).

    To protect community safety, no disqualified driver ever convicted of driving offences involving death or grievous bodily harm will be eligible to have their disqualification period lifted early.

    The Local Court must consider community safety in determining whether lifting a disqualification period is appropriate. Drivers who have had their disqualifications lifted will still need to apply to Roads and Maritime Services and complete standard road safety and knowledge tests to get their licence back.

    This will encourage disqualified drivers to remain compliant so that they can return to lawful driving. 

    Revised penalties

    Maximum penalties for unauthorised driving offences are now more proportionate to other driving offences. Before the reforms, penalties for repeat unauthorised driving offences in NSW were similar to the State’s maximum penalties for very serious offences such as high range drink driving. 

    Minimum and automatic disqualification periods also now apply to unauthorised driving offences, as per other traffic offences. For example, if an offender is convicted of driving while their licence is disqualified, cancelled or suspended, the automatic disqualification for the first offence is six months. This can be varied by the court, depending on the individual case, but can be no less than the set minimum disqualification period of three months.

    The automatic disqualifications and minimum periods vary by offence and increase for second and subsequent offences. Multiple disqualifications for unauthorised driving offences run concurrently, unless otherwise ordered by the court (as with other driving offences, such as drink driving).

    Abolishment of the Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) Scheme

    Before the reforms, a person was automatically declared a HTO when convicted of three relevant serious driving offences in a five-year period, and was banned from holding a driving licence for five years. This ban applied in addition to the penalties received for the original driving offences and ran consecutively, leading to lengthy disqualifications and even lifetime bans. 

    The HTO Scheme has been abolished. Data from the Bureau of Crime Statistic and Research (BOSCAR)’s report, The deterrent effect of higher fines on recidivism: Driving offences, published in the Crime and Justice Bulletin in 2007, showed that longer disqualification periods have little to no deterrent effect. 

    The study suggested that longer licence disqualification periods may actually increase the risk of reoffending in some cases. 

    Under the reforms, existing HTO declarations remain valid, however a HTO can still apply to the Local Court to have their existing disqualification quashed. The HTO will also be able to apply to have their disqualification lifted, if they have complied with their disqualification for a minimum of two or four years (depending on the case) and have no convictions for driving offences involving death or grievous bodily harm. 

    Applying to have your disqualification lifted 

    If you have complied with your disqualification period for a minimum of two or four years (depending on your case) and have no convictions for driving offences involving death or grievous bodily harm, then you may be eligible to have your disqualification lifted. 

    For more information on eligibility and how to apply; 

    Returning to lawful and regulated driving

    • The Local Court will decide if your disqualification can be lifted and when the order will come into effect.
    • If you are successful in having your disqualification lifted, you will need to reapply to Roads and Maritime Services and complete standard road safety and knowledge tests to get your licence back.
    • If you have fine debt that you aren’t dealing with, you may also have licence or vehicle sanctions in place which will prevent you from getting your licence back. For more information go to Revenue NSW or call 1300 655 805 to discuss options to clear your debt.
    • If you are caught driving without a licence after your disqualification is lifted, you may be charged with an unauthorised driving offence.

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