The New South Wales Department of Justice website announces that the new scheme is expected to commence by late October. The penalties for driver licence disqualification are to be changed in a bid to reduce unauthorised driving and re-offending. Drive while disqualified currently carries up to 18 months gaol and an automatic 12 months disqualification as a first offence, and up to 2 years gaol and an automatic 2 year disqualification as a second or subsequent offence within a 5 year period.
The Habitual Offender Declaration Scheme is also to be abolished. Under that scheme, if a person is convicted of three relevant offences (including Drive while disqualified) within a five year period, the person is automatically disqualified for 5 years, in addition to the disqualification already imposed by the court. The current laws can result in a person being disqualified from driving for decades or even life.
Research by the Bureau of Crime and Statistic Research has shown that lengthy disqualification periods have little or no deterrent effect. One recent study suggests that longer disqualification periods may actually increase the risk of re-offending. The reforms are aimed at encouraging safer driving, by providing disqualified drivers with a light at the end of the tunnel if they can demonstrate that they have not engaged in unauthorised driving for a certain period of time. The current penalties are also to be revised. Currently, the penalties are similar to offences such as High range drink driving.
Under the reforms, certain disqualified drivers who have complied with their disqualification period for a minimum of two years will be able to apply to the Local Court to have their disqualification lifted early. Drivers who have had their disqualifications lifted early will need to apply to the Roads and Maritime Services and complete standard road safety and knowledge tests before they begin driving again. Drivers who have ever had their licences disqualified for driving offences occasioning death or grievous bodily harm with not be eligible to apply.
Lengthy disqualification periods can have a devastating impact on disadvantaged people, including and those living in rural and remote areas. These communities often have limited access to public transport, making it more difficult for disqualified drivers to travel to work, medical appointments and other commitments. The reforms are also expected to benefit regional and rural communities and provide an incentive for suitable disqualified drivers to return to lawful driving.
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