The NSW Government is proposing significant reforms to the law. These will allow, for the first time, certain disqualified drivers being able to apply to the court to have their disqualification period reduced after 2 years.
Driving whilst disqualified is certainly not a trivial matter. Firstly, a disqualified driver does not have third party insurance, which places the community at a huge risk if the disqualified driver is involved in a motor vehicle accident. Secondly, a disqualification period is imposed by a court and therefore by driving whilst disqualified a person is directly disobeying a court order.
Currently in NSW, the laws for this offence are very tough. If you are caught driving whilst your licence is disqualified and it is your first offence, you face a maximum fine of $3,300, a maximum of 18 months’ imprisonment and a mandatory disqualification period of 12 months. However, if you have been caught before, or it is your second “major offence” within 5 years, the penalties are much more severe. You will face a maximum fine of $5,500, a maximum of two years imprisonment and a mandatory disqualification period of two years.
The issue with these laws is that they often expose people who live in rural areas who do not have easy access to public transport, as well as people with a low socioeconomic background, and leads them on a very fast downward spiral.
Research conducted by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has confirmed that longer disqualification periods have little to no deterrent effect. However, under the current legislation each time a person reoffends they will automatically receive a minimum of two years off the road. For repeat offenders, disqualification periods can therefore accumulate very quickly. For many it can soon seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, as there is currently no option to have a court ordered disqualification period reduced once it has been imposed.
Furthermore, a person only needs to be caught driving whilst disqualified 3 or 4 times before they will likely find themselves serving a full time jail sentence. This is a very sad fate, given the majority of these repeat offenders are caught driving to and from work so that they can continue to earn an income to support their families.
Fortunately, the Law Reform Commission have recognised these issues and have proposed significant changes to our laws. The changes are expected to take effect from October 2017, and are as follows:
- Certain disqualified drivers who have complied with their disqualification period for at least two years will be able to apply to the Local Court to have their disqualification lifted early. However, this opportunity will not apply to a disqualified driver who has ever been convicted of driving offences involving death or grievous bodily harm;
- Police will have greater powers to impose on-the-spot vehicle sanctions to keep repeat offenders and dangerous drivers off our roads;
- Penalties for unauthorised driving will be more proportionate to other NSW driving offences.
These reforms will provide a more balanced sentencing scheme for disqualified drivers. Increased police powers to sanction vehicles will hopefully deter people from continuing to drive, and therefore prevent them ending up in custody. Further, the new changes will recognise those drivers who do turn their life around and cease to reoffend, by providing the opportunity to have disqualification periods quashed. This will mean that eligible offenders will be able to get back on their feet and return to lawful and regulated driving.
Streeton Lawyers looks forward to utilising these changes to help our clients obtain the best possible outcome for their case.