Clarity Law

Specialist Traffic Law Firm Queensland
Monday, 20 January 2020 16:43

Essential Guide to Unlicensed Driving

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Driving unlicensed is one of most common reasons that people are required to attend a Queensland court. There is a wide variety of unlicensed driving charges and consequently a wide variety of potential penalties. This guide seeks to give you an understanding of a charge of unlicensed driving and the penalty the court may impose. This guide is in relation to Queensland law only.


What is unlicensed driving

In essence unlicensed driving is where a person has driven on the road and at the time they did not hold a licence.

The law states that a person can be charged with unlicensed driving where;

                A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a road unless the person holds a driver licence authorising the person to drive the vehicle        on the road.

So then how does a person end up having no authority to drive? There are generally 6 main ways people can lose their authorisation to drive on the road and they are;

  1. They either never held a driver’s licence or their drivers licence expired and was not renewed;
  2. Their licence was suspended by the State Penalties Enforcement Registry (“SPER”) for a failure to pay a debt owed to the state. This might be an unpaid speeding ticket or something as simple as an unpaid parking ticket or unpaid toll;
  3. Their licence was suspended as they exceed their demerit points;
  4. Their licence was disqualified by a court for a previous offence;
  5. Their licence was suspended because they had a medical condition that made them unsafe to drive on the road;
  6. The person was required to have an interlock installed due to a previous drink driving offence or offences and at the time of driving the vehicle did not have an approved interlock installed.


Will I need to go to court?

For a simple offence of driving on an expired licence the police can issue a ticket as long as the driver did not previous unlicensed driving charge in the last 5 years. For all other offences, subject to some minor conditions, the police are required to issue a notice to appear in court. The court will be the Magistrates court closet to where the unlicensed driving occurred.


How does an unlicensed driving charge come about?

We have represented almost 1,000 people with unlicensed driving charges and the most common ways the charges can come about are;

  1. A person incurred a debt to the government for example a toll or speeding ticket. For some reason that fine has gone unpaid or they have missed a payment under an instalment plan. In that case SPER has the power to suspend a person’s drivers licence. They are required under the legislation to send out a letter to last known residential address registered with Queensland Transport saying this will occurred unless the person contacts them and makes payment or organises a payment plan. It is important to note that SPER only needs to send the letter out suspending the licence they do not have to check that person received the letter
  1. A person exceeded their demerit points and then did not elect a good driving behaviour period within the time limits or did and then exceed two or more demerit points on the good driving behaviour period and did not or could not apply for a special hardship licence. We have a whole page devoted to special hardship licences and that can be access here.
  1. A person was disqualified by a court order and has driven during that disqualification or less seriously the disqualification period has ended and they have driven before applying for their licence back.
  1. A person who had a high range drink driving charge or two low or mid range drink within the last 5 years and was required to install an interlock device in their car and failed to do so.


What will happen in court?

Generally most court matters follow this procedure;

  1. The court will generally start at 9:00am
  2. From just after 8:30am there will be a police prosecutor in the court room giving people their QP9 (what is a QP9 see our article here) and asking people if they are pleading guilty, not guilty or seeking an adjournment
  3. Once the court starts your name will be called at some point
  4. The court will then ask you if you are pleading guilty, not guilty or seeking an adjournment.
  5. If you are seeking an adjournment then the court is quite willing to grant an adjournment on the first occasion the matter is heard in court. If you seek further adjournments the court will need to be convinced you have a valid reason.
  6. If you are pleading guilty then the guilty plea can usually be conducted there and then. The police prosecutor will provide the court with a verbal overview of what occurred and then tender your criminal and traffic history (if you have any). You can then address the court on what occurred and the penalty to be imposed. The types of things that the court might be interested in hearing from you in regards to the penalty included.
    1. Why the offence occurred
    2. What you do for living
    3. How much money you make a week
    4. The impact a disqualification will have on your family and personal life
    5. The impact a disqualification will have on your employment or education
    6. Addressing any similar charges you have previously committed


What penalties can the court impose

Table below sets out the disqualification ranges available to the court. In addition the court can impose fines and in serious cases, especially disqualified driving charges, a term of imprisonment.



Disqualification Period

Forgot to renew licence or never had a licence

Up to Magistrate, can be no disqualification in appropriate circumstances

Had SPER debt but didn’t pay

1- 6 months

Was demerit point suspended

6 months

Was disqualified by court

2-5 years

If person has previous unlicensed driving charge in last 5 years and was driving because forgot to renew licence or get a licence back

1-6 months

Was not authorised to drive by Queensland Transport for medical reasons

Up to Magistrate, can be no disqualification in appropriate circumstances


Are there any defences?

Defences are available in certain circumstances. Possible defences include;

  1. Disqualified Driving
    1. The driver was not driving a motor vehicle
    2. The driver was not on a road
    3. The disqualification period had ended
    4. It was someone else driving
  1. Unlicensed driving due to demerit points or SPER suspension
    1. The driver was not driving a motor vehicle
    2. The driver was not on a road
    3. It can be proven that SPER or Queensland Transport did not send out a notice saying that the licence was to be disqualified
    4. It was someone lese driving the motor vehicle

In addition there might be available (in limit situations) a defence of driving for an extraordinary emergency. The Criminal Code at section 25 states;

Subject to the express provisions of this Code relating to acts done upon compulsion or provocation or in self-defence, a person is not criminally responsible for an act or omission done or made under such circumstances of sudden or extraordinary emergency that an ordinary person possessing ordinary power of self-control could not reasonably be expected to act otherwise.

For example if a person needed to be driven to hospital, it was a life threatening situation and no other options were available. In other case’s the court have been willing to accept where a person was driving to get medication for a sick child. As with any potential defence this area of law is particularly complicated and you will need to seek legal advice if you think you have a defence.

What is not a defence is to claim you did not receive the notification that your licence was going to be suspended. The court needs only be satisfied that the notice was sent to the last known address of the driver. On average we would have 3-4 people a week ring up saying they have been charged with unlicensed driving because the notice never arrived or was sent to an old address. Queensland Transport wont send a notice of suspension to a PO Box.


Can I get a work licence or other permit to drive during a disqualification?

No, there is no ability to apply for a work licence, special hardship licence or any permit to drive. If you lose your licence you will not be able to drive for any reason.


Is there any way to negotiate with the prosecutor to have the charge withdrawn?

In many situations it may be possible to negotiate with the police prosecutor to try and have the charge withdrawn or reduced to a charge that does not carry a mandator period of disqualification. Negotiations tend to work best for charges such as unlicensed driving due to a SPER suspension or demerit points. We have a article on negotiating with a prosecutor that can be found here

We are constantly negotiating with prosecutors on behalf of clients and we know what the Prosecutor needs to be told to try and be successful.


Should I engage a lawyer to apply for handle my charge?

While we obviously have a vested interest in people using a lawyer for their charge we are of the strong opinion that if your licence is critical to continuing to earn your livelihood then you use an experienced traffic lawyer.

Some advantages to using a lawyer includes;

  1. It will increase the chance of a successful negotiation with the prosecutor
  2. Lawyers know what the Magistrates wants to hear
  3. They can help minimise your disqualification period
  4. They will make the whole process easier and less stressful
  5. You will have at court someone on your side fighting for the best result for you


If I’m going to engage a Lawyer why should I engage Clarity Law?

At Clarity Law we are experts in Queensland traffic law. We are in the court every single day helping people with traffic charges. We have handled almost 1,000 unlicensed driving charges. You simply can’t find a lawyer with more experience in the courts.

We also have upfront fixed fees with no hidden charges. Our prices are on our website unlike most law firms. The prices are listed at www.drivinglaw.com.au/prices.html

We are also a no pressure firm which means feel free to ring, we can give initial advice and help but you aren’t pressured to engage us but of course we are more than happy if you do.

We also cover every court in South East Queensland from Coolangatta all the way to Gympie and out to Toowoomba.

Our offices are located at.


Sunshine Coast

Level 3, 14-18 Duporth Avenue

Maroochydore 4558


Bluedog Business Centre

Level 1, 16 McDougall Street



Corporate Centre One

Level 15, 2 Corporate Court



M1 Business Centre

Level 2, 3972 Pacific Highway



Ipswich Corporate Office

16 East Street



North Brisbane Serviced Offices

3/22-24 Strathwyn Street



How do I get more information?

We are open seven days a week from 7am to 7pm.

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Telephone:         1300 925 255

Website:              www.drivinglaw.com.au/services/unlicensed-driving.html

Contact Form:    www.drivinglaw.com.au/contact.html


Disclaimer: This article is for general information and is not legal advice.  The law or the practice of the court may have changed since this article was published.  Always obtain legal advice if you need to appear in court.

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Last modified on Thursday, 27 August 2020 18:30
Steven Brough

Steven Brough is the Founder of Clarity Law.  He is one of the most experienced traffic lawyers in Queensland having appeared in court many thousands of time throughout Queensland since 2010.  He has authored over 100 articles about every aspect of traffic law in Queensland.

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