Offence provisions

Unlicensed driving is an offence under Section 53 of the Road Transport Act 2013.


What is unlicensed driving?

Unlicensed driving occurs when a person drives a motor vehicle in NSW without a license. This can include a person who was driving:

  • Without having held any licence in the past five years (section 53(3)).
  • Without holding the appropriate licence (section 53(1)).

Driving without the appropriate licence under section 53(1) can refer to many different circumstances including where:

  • The licence expired within the past five years.
  • The driver holds a licence from another state or country.
  • The driver holds a licence but drove a vehicle not permitted under the licence, such as a semi-trailer or a taxi.

“Unlicensed driving” can sometimes refer to driving with a suspended, disqualified, or cancelled licence.


Penalty notice

If you are charged with unlicenced driving, you may receive penalty notice. The penalty notice will set out the fine owed and the demerit points incurred, which will depend on the exact circumstances of the offence and the type of licence you did or did not hold.

Paying the fine in the penalty notice means accepting that you committed the offence, however as this is not a criminal offence, it will not go on your criminal record.

If you believe that the penalty notice is incorrect you may choose to request a review of the fine or go to court and challenge the notice.

You will not receive a penalty notice if you this is your second offence for driving unlicenced under section 53(3).


What are the penalties for unlicensed driving in NSW?

If you are charged with unlicensed driving under section 53(1), the penalty notice fine ranges from between $500 to $1400 depending on the circumstances. If the matter goes to court the maximum penalty is $2,200. This maximum penalty applies regardless of whether it is your first or second offence. Your license will not be disqualified, and you cannot go to prison for this offence.

If you are charged with unlicensed driving under section 53(3), the maximum penalties are set out in the table below.

PenaltyFirst offenceSubsequent offence
Penalty notice fine$890N/A
Maximum court-imposed fine$2,200 $3,300
Maximum term of imprisonment N/A6 months
Automatic disqualificationN/A12 months
Minimum disqualificationN/A3 months


Consequences of conviction

If you are convicted of unlicensed driving, you will have this noted on your criminal record and have your licence disqualified.

If your licence is disqualified, any licence you currently hold will be cancelled, and you will not be able to apply for a new licence until the end of the disqualification period.

The automatic disqualification period will apply unless the court makes a specific order for any length of time above the minimum period.

These consequences can be avoided if the court applies Section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999.


Traffic Offender Intervention Program

The court may give you a more lenient sentence if you participate in the Traffic Offender Intervention Program. This program covers traffic laws and rules, and the potential consequences of breaching the laws. When the course is finished, a certificate will be sent to the court and it can be considered in determining the sentence.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can the police impound cars or confiscate number plates?

Yes. Police can impound vehicles and confiscate number plates from drivers who drive while unlicensed. This can be for a period between three and six months.

How severe is an unlicensed driving charge?

Unlicensed driving comes with the possibility of a prison sentence. Driving without a licence is taken seriously by the court, particularly in cases where you may not have the same knowledge or driving skills as other road users. This might be because you have not had any driving experience, you’re unfamiliar with NSW road rules, or you’re out of practice because your licence has expired.

What defence are there to unlicensed driving?

You may be able to argue the defence of honest and reasonable mistake. This means that at the time of the alleged offence, you were unaware that you were unlicensed. This may be most compelling in circumstances where your licence has only recently expired.

Should I challenge the penalty notice and go to court?

Before electing to go to court, it is important to get legal advice and consider legal representation. This is because the fines that can be imposed by a court are more serious than a penalty notice fine. If you go to court, you run the risk that you could receive a higher fine than what you originally received.

An experienced criminal or traffic lawyer can assist you in putting your best case before the magistrate. Your lawyer will explain to the magistrate why you should not have been fined, or why you should receive a lesser fine.

How can we help?

We are experienced in successfully defending unlicensed driving charges.

Book a free consultation or call us on 1300 668 484 for 24/7 legal advice.