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Charged with driving without a valid licence?

This brochure explains what to do when you are pleading guilty to charges of driving while unlicensed, suspended, cancelled or disqualified.

I have been charged with driving without a licence. What should I do?

If you are pleading not guilty see:

* the driving offences section at www.lawaccess.nsw.gov.au

* the Legal Aid NSW brochure called Going to court

If you are not sure if you should plead guilty or not guilty—get legal advice. We tell where you can get legal advice under Where can I get legal help? on page 7 of this brochure.

How should I prepare for court?

Get character references

Written references from people who can talk about your good character may help your case. They should be addressed to the magistrate, and the people writing them should say they know about the charges you are in court for.

For more information see the Legal Aid NSW brochure called Character References.

Get a driver licence

If you have been charged with driving unlicensed, it is a good idea to get a driver licence before the court date. You can find information about how to do this at www.rms.nsw.gov.au

Sort out your fines

If your licence has been suspended because you haven’t paid your fines—arrange to pay them. If you need help to manage your fines debt, contact Revenue NSW on 1300 655 805 or www.revenue.nsw.gov.au

You can arrange a payment plan, or you may be able to get a Work and Development Order (WDO) which allows you to clear up to $1,000 a month off your fines
through approved activities or treatment programs. For more information visit www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/wdo

Write down what you want to say to the court

Write a letter to the magistrate, or make notes of what you will say in court. The court will consider what you say when it decides what penalty to give you.

You should cover these things:

  • Why you chose to drive
  • If you were stopped at a Random Breath Test, or because you were driving erratically or dangerously
  • How long you had been driving (or intended to drive for) when you were stopped.
  • If you need your licence for work or personal reasons (for example, if other people rely on you):
    • if you need a licence for work—get a letter from your employer to say what will happen to your job if you are disqualified from driving for a long time
    • if you have other reasons for needing a driver licence—(for example, a disabled child or health problems) have evidence to show this (like a doctor’s certificate or report)
    • if you don’t have other transport you can use (like public transport or a friend or family member to drive you)—explain this to the court.
  • Why the court should accept that you won’t commit another similar offence. For example, if you have been charged with:
    • driving while unlicensed—what steps you have taken or will take to get a licence.
    • driving suspended due to non-payment of fines— what steps you have taken or will take to pay, or start paying off the fines.
    • what your weekly income and expenses are (this will help the court work out any fine it gives you).

What should I do at court

  • You can ask the court to adjourn your case (this means asking for your case to be put on hold) if you need to:
    • apply for your licence (if you are an unlicensed driver)
    • make arrangements to pay any outstanding fines with Revenue NSW (if your licence has been suspended for non-payment of fines), or
    • get legal advice.
  • If you have a licence, take it to court with you.
  • When you get to court, find the court officer and tell them that you are representing yourself and pleading guilty. You can usually find them inside or just outside your courtroom.
  • If you want legal advice, find the Legal Aid NSW duty lawyer at court or ask the court to adjourn your case so you can get legal aid advice.
  • The police will have a fact sheet which says why you were charged and what happened when you were charged. Make sure you read it. If you disagree with what the police say happened, you should get legal advice before you plead guilty.
  • The police prosecutor should also show you a copy of your criminal record (if you have one) and a copy of your driving record. Read these documents carefully to make sure they really are yours. If you think there is wrong information on your criminal or driving record tell the magistrate when it is your turn to speak.
  • Listen to what other people say to the magistrate while you wait for your name to be called. It can be helpful to sit in the courtroom and listen to other people presenting guilty pleas to give you a better idea of how to present yours.
  • Speak to the magistrate when your name is called. Say you are pleading guilty and either hand your letter to the magistrate or read from the notes you’ve made. Give the court any written references and documents that you have to support your case.

What could happen to me?

You will be disqualified from driving for some time—unless the court decides not to record a conviction against you.

The penalties* for common driving offences are set out below:


Minimum disqualification

Default * disqualification

Maximum fine

Maximum gaol sentence

Driving unlicensed s.53(1)(a) **

Court decides

Court decides


No gaol

Driving never licensed-first offence. s.53(3)

Court decides

Court decides


No gaol

Driving never licensed-second offence. s.53(3)

3 months

12 months


6 months

Driving while disqualified, cancelled or suspended-first offence. S.54(1),(3) or (4)

(except if suspended for non-payment of fines)

3 months

6 months


6 months

Driving while disqualified, cancelled or suspended-second offence***

(except if suspended for non-payment of fines)

6 months

12 months


12 months

Driving while cancelled or suspended for non-payment of fines. s54(5)-first offence

1 month

3 months


No gaol

Driving while cancelled or suspended for non-payment of fines. s54(5)-second offence

3 months

12 months


6 months

* If the court does not impose a specific period, then the default disqualification period will apply

** The section numbers refer to the Road Transport Act 2013

*** A 'second offence' is when you are convicted within 5 years after you were convicted of either the same or an 'equivalent' offence-s.9(2)

What should I do after the court's decision?

Even if the court doesn’t record a conviction against you and disqualify you from driving, any period of disqualification or suspension you already had from an earlier offence will stay in place.

Don't drive while disqualified

Do not drive without a licence or while your licence is suspended or disqualified. As well as the penalties listed in the table above, police can take away your vehicle for 6 months if you drive while disqualified three or more times in a 5 year period.

Since October 2017, some people can apply to the Local Court to ask for their disqualification periods to be removed from their driver licence. To find out if you can do this see the Legal Aid NSW brochure called Are you disqualified from driving?

If you can apply, you will need to show that you haven’t committed any driving offences for either 4 years or 2 years—depending on what offences your licence was disqualified for. If you have ever been convicted of some serious driving offences, you won’t be able to apply. You should get legal advice before you apply.

Re-apply for your licence

When your disqualification period is over, you must reapply for your licence. You will not get it back automatically. If you drive before you do this you could be charged with ‘driving while cancelled’. Contact Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) on 13 22 13 or visit www.rms.nsw.gov.au to find out how to get a new licence.

Pay your fine

If the court gives you a fine and you think you will have trouble paying it in the 28 days you have to pay it, speak to court staff before you leave about making a ‘time to pay’ arrangement.

If you don’t pay the fine in the time you are told to pay it, Revenue NSW can take other action against you. See how you can arrange to pay your fines under How should I
prepare for court?

Can I appeal the court's decision?

You can appeal to the District Court if you are not happy with the magistrate’s decision, but you should get legal advice before you do this. You have 28 days from the date of the magistrate’s decision to lodge your appeal. You will also have to pay a fee. If you are on a Centrelink benefit or experiencing financial hardship—ask if the fee can be waived.

For more information about how to appeal, see the Legal Aid NSW brochure called Appealing to the District Court

Also, if you had good reason for not being in court when the magistrate made the decision, you can apply to have the decision reviewed. For more information about this see the Legal Aid NSW brochure called Reviewing Local Court decisions.

Where can I get legal help?

LawAccess NSW

A telephone helpline that gives free legal information , referrals to other services and legal advice in some cases. Call 1300 888 529 or visit www.lawaccess.nsw.gov.au

Legal Aid NSW

You can get free legal advice, and in some cases, representation in court from Legal Aid NSW. To find your closest office call 1300 888 529 or look under ‘Get legal help’ at www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au

Legal Aid NSW will only represent you in some cases. We look at:

  • what you earn and what assets you own, and if there is a real possibility that you could go to gaol, or
  • if there are ‘exceptional circumstances’. (You can find out what this means by looking at 1.13 of our Guidelines—see Policy Online at www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au)
Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS)

If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander you can also contact the ALS for free legal advice. To find your closest ALS office call 1800 765 767 or visit  www.alsnswact.org.au

This publication is a general guide to the law. You should not rely on it as legal advice, and we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about your situation.

The information is correct at the time of printing. However it may change. For more information contact LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529.

Roads and Maritime Services: 13 22 13

© Legal Aid NSW 2017

Order brochures online at www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/publications or email  publications@legalaid.nsw.gov.au

This brochure is also available in Arabic, Dari/Farsi and Simplified Chinese.

For more information about Legal Aid NSW services:

Visit us at www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au

If you are hearing/speech impaired, you can communicate with us by calling the National Relay Service (NRS) on 133 677.

If you need an interpreter, call TIS and ask to be put through to LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529.

A print copy of this brochure may be ordered online.

October 2017