In New South Wales, you may commit one of a number of offences if you drive a motor vehicle on a road without holding a valid drivers licence to do so. These offences are contained in sections 53 and 54 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW). Different offences (and penalties) apply if you:
- drive a motor vehicle on a road without holding a valid NSW drivers licence to do so, or you employ or permit another person to do so (section 53(1));
- drive a motor vehicle on a road and you have never been licensed to do so (section 53(3)); or
- drive a motor vehicle on a road whilst you are disqualified from driving, or your licence is suspended or cancelled (section 54).
Driving unlicensed in NSW
You commit an offence in NSW if you drive a motor vehicle on any road without holding a valid drivers licence to do so, or you employ or permit another person to do so. This includes not holding the appropriate class of drivers licence to operate a motor vehicle (for example, not holding the appropriate licence to drive heavy vehicles). There are a number of exemptions to this general rule. The most important exemptions (subject to certain conditions) are:
if you hold a drivers licence in another state or territory, you do not need to hold a NSW drivers licence for the first three months you reside in NSW; and
if you come to NSW from overseas and you have an international licence, you do not need to hold a NSW drivers licence unless you have held a permanent visa to enter Australia for more than 3 months (Regulation 99 of the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2008 (NSW)).
Driving unlicensed without ever holding a licence in NSW
You commit a separate offence if you drive a motor vehicle in NSW and have never been licensed to do so. You will be treated as never having held a drivers licence if you have not held a licence in Australia in the 5 years immediately before you committed the offence. The exemptions referred to above also apply to when you have never held a licence.
Driving while you are disqualified or your licence is suspended or cancelled
Different offences apply if you drive a motor vehicle while your licence is disqualified, or if your licence is suspended or cancelled. There are also two separate offences where you drive a motor vehicle and your licence has been suspended or cancelled for non-payment of a fine, or for other reasons. These offences generally apply regardless of the state or territory in which your licence was suspended or cancelled. However, you will only be treated as committing an offence in NSW for a suspended or cancelled licence for non-payment of a fine if that licence was suspended or cancelled in NSW.
Dealing with overlap between unlicensed driving offences
It is clear that each of the different unlicensed driving offences overlap with one another. For example, if you commit an offence under section 53(3), you will also have committed an offence under section 53(1). To deal with this overlap, there are specific rules that state you cannot be convicted of an offence simultaneously for the same occasioning of driving
Penalties for driving while unlicensed
NSW Roads and Maritime Services have an information page where you can check what penalties may apply to you if you are caught driving without a licence. If you drive a car whilst your licence is disqualified, cancelled or suspended, you may be subject to an automatic disqualification period of 12 months from holding a drivers licence (unless your licence is cancelled or suspended for non-payment of a fine, in which case the period is 3 months). For subsequent offences, there is an automatic disqualification period of 2 years. Furthermore, if you commit more than one offence of unlicensed driving and you have never held a licence, you will be disqualified for a mandatory period of 3 years. However, these periods may be longer depending on the court’s decision.
It is also important to note that you may face a charge of imprisonment if you commit an offence under section 53(3) more than once, or if you drive while your licence is disqualified, suspended or cancelled. If you commit multiple offences of unlicensed driving (other than where your licence is cancelled or suspended for non-payment of a fine), you may also be considered a “habitual traffic offender” and disqualified from driving for 5 years.