Despite reforms aiming to reduce reoffending rates, a recent report has found that reducing penalties for unauthorised driving offences has not impacted the volume of reoffending.
The umbrella term of unauthorised driving offences refers to offences such as driving while never having been licensed, or driving with a licence that is cancelled, suspended, or disqualified.
18,598 offenders charged with an unauthorised driving offence appeared before the Local Court in the 2019/20 financial year.
This is a higher rate than those charged with common assault, drink driving and possession of prohibited drug over the same period.
Reforms introduced in 2017 meant that the penalties imposed by the Local Court for unauthorised driving offences were substantially reduced.
Prior to the reforms, the penalties applicable were deemed ‘overly burdensome’ in comparison to the seriousness of the offence, and disproportionately impacted vulnerable members of the community.
This includes First Nations people, and individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds and regional areas.
This was largely attributed to the manner in which sanctions on driving have a greater impact on people residing in non-urban areas.
It was also identified how barriers in place to attaining a licence, such as lack of identity documents and low rates of literacy which evidently complicate the licence application process place concerned individuals at greater risk of unauthorised driving, via making getting one more difficult.
The reforms abolished mandatory penalties for unauthorised driving offences and replaced them with automatic and minimum licence disqualifications.
The length of the new automatic periods was also significantly shorter than the previous mandatory disqualification periods for most offences targeted by the reforms.
It ultimately aimed to reduce reoffending rates by returning offenders to lawful driving sooner.
The licence disqualification lengths imposed have since declined by 9.6 months (53%), whereas resulting prison sentences have declined by 1.7 months (28%).
Furthermore, the likelihood of receiving a prison sentence declined by 1.7 percentage points (37%).
However, there was no impact on the probability of actually receiving a licence disqualification.
Despite this, there has been no evident impact on the rate of reoffending or court volume of offences related to unauthorised driving.
However, it is also noted that there is no evidence suggesting a rise in the probability of a subsequent offence or in the number of offenders appearing in court for unauthorised driving.
Therefore, the most evident impact of the reforms, as identified by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, is how they have, in many cases, halved the penalties for unauthorised driving offences.
Driving While Unlicensed
Driving without a licence falls in Section 53 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) which prescribes that it is an offence to, unless somehow exempted, drive a motor vehicle on any road without being licensed for that purpose or to permit any person not so licensed to drive a motor vehicle on any road.
A maximum penalty of a $2,200 fine is applicable.
Section 53(3) addresses where a person who has never been licensed drives a drive a motor vehicle on any road without being licensed for that purpose.
It imposes a maximum penalty of a $2,200 fine in the case of a first offence, or a $3,300 and/or 6 months imprisonment in the case of a second or subsequent offence.
A person will be considered to have ‘never been licenced’ if they have not held a driver licence of any kind in Australia in the past 5 years.
Driving While Disqualified, Suspended or Cancelled
Driving whilst disqualified is committed where a person drives on a public road after a court has disqualified their licence, and is criminalised under section 53(1).
Driving whilst suspended is committed where a person drives on a public road after their licence is suspended by Transport for NSW or the police, and is criminalised under section 53(3).
Driving whilst cancelled is committed when a person drives on a public road after Transport for NSW has cancelled their driver’s licence, and is criminalised under section 53(4).
These offences carry a maximum penalty of a $3,300 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment, in the case of a first offence.
They also carry an automatic disqualification period of 6 months, which may be shortened to a minimum disqualification period of 3 months by the court.
However, in the case of a second or subsequent offence, a maximum penalty of a $5,500 fine and/or 12 months imprisonment is applicable.
Such offences carry an automatic disqualification period of 12 months, which may be lowered to a minimum disqualification period of 6 months by the court.
However, where a licence is cancelled or suspended as a result of unpaid fines, the maximum penalty applicable if decreased to a $3,300 fine in the case of a first offence, and $5,500 in the case of a second or subsequent offence.
The automatic disqualification period applicable to a first offence is 3 months, with a minimum of 1 month, whereas for a second or subsequent offence the automatic disqualification period is 12 months, which may be altered to a minimum of 3 months.
By Poppy Morandin
Image credit: haireena