Unlicensed Driving


If the police catch you driving in Queensland without a valid driver’s licence, they will charge you with the offence of unlicensed driving.

A conviction for unlicensed driving can result in you losing your licence for a more extended period and, in some cases, can result in several months imprisonment.

The penalty will depend on the reason why you were unlicensed and other circumstances of the offence.

Types of Unlicensed Driving Offences

Unlicensed driving offences generally fall into three categories:

  1. The driver does not hold a valid licence
  2. The licence has been suspended
  3. The licence has been disqualified.

These categories are significant. For example, the maximum penalty for driving on a suspended licence is much less than driving on a disqualified licence.

These categories can be broken down even further into individual types of offences. These are based on the reason why someone was driving a motor vehicle without a licence.

The most common reasons why you might not hold a valid licence are:

  • You never obtained a driver licence
  • You drove on an expired licence
  • Your licence was suspended due to unpaid fines
  • Your licence was suspended because of an accumulation of demerit points
  • Your licence was suspended due to a high-speed offence (driving 40km/hr or more above the speed limit)
  • A court already disqualified your licence (for example, after a prior drink driving or dangerous driving offence)

Unlicensed Driving Penalties

There is a wide range of penalties that a court can impose for unlicensed driving offences in Queensland.

A court will impose a fine in almost all cases involving unlicensed drivers. The fine will depend on the number of penalty units that the law says can apply to the offence.

A court can also disqualify a driver from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence. A licence disqualification is not always necessary, but in most cases it is unavoidable – there is an automatic disqualification period. For example, your licence will be disqualified for a mandatory period of 2-5 years if you are guilty of disqualified driving (driving when a court has already disqualified your licence).

In more serious cases, a court will also sentence an unlicensed driver to a period of imprisonment. This usually happens when a person already has previous history of driving without a licence. In that situation, their risk of going to prison increases with each subsequent offence.


What the Court Will Consider

There are many different things that a court will consider when determining the appropriate punishment for unlicensed drivers.

The first thing that a court will consider is the offence type , which helps determine any maximum or minimum penalties that can be imposed.

The court will also look at the circumstances of the case. For example, the offence will be treated more seriously if there was alcohol involved or if you were driving while under the influence of drugs.

Next, the court will look at the offender’s previous traffic or criminal history. If a person has previously committed traffic or criminal offences, they are at risk of a more severe sentence. This could include an automatic increase in the minimum period of licence disqualification.

A court will also consider the person’s individual circumstances. This could include, for example:

  • Why they were driving without a licence
  • The impact that a loss of licence will have on the person, including their family, employment etc
  • If they are otherwise of “good character”

A lawyer will be able to review your traffic offences to work out how to address each of the above points when making sentencing submissions.


Can I Apply for a Restricted Licence?

Suppose you are caught driving while unlicensed and subsequently disqualified by a court. In that case, there is no special licence available that will allow you to keep driving. If you take the risk and drive after being disqualified, you will be charged with disqualified driving.

However, if you are currently facing a licence suspension due to a high-speed offence or demerit points, you may be able to apply for a Special Hardship Licence. This licence is only available when facing a licence suspension – it does not apply if you are facing a court-ordered disqualification.


Can I Apply to get my Licence Back Early?

In most cases, you will have to complete the period of disqualification imposed by the court.

However, if you have been disqualified for more than two years, you can apply to a court to remove the licence disqualification after you have completed at least two years of the disqualification. So if you were disqualified for a period of four years, you would need to wait two years and then you could apply to have the remaining two years removed.

You should seek legal advice if you think that you may be eligible for this type of application.


How Do the Police Catch Unlicensed Drivers?

Most Queensland police vehicles are fitted with Automated Number Plate Recognition cameras.

As the name suggests, these cameras automatically scan licence plates of other vehicles while the police are driving. The system will notify the police officers if it identifies a licence plate registered to an unlicensed driver.

At that point, the police will intercept the flagged vehicle and will check íf the driver has a valid driver licence or not. If the driver does not have a valid licence, they will be charged with unlicensed driving.


Can I Get an Interstate Licence if I lose my Licence in Queensland?

No. Traffic laws throughout Australia say that you cannot apply for a licence in one State or Territory if you are suspended or disqualified in another.

This means that you cannot, for example, apply for a Victorian licence if you have been disqualified in Queensland.

It also means that you cannot drive in Queensland if your Non-Queensland driver licence has been suspended or disqualified.


What If I Didn’t Know my Licence was Suspended?

We often represent clients who did not know that they were driving while unlicensed. Unfortunately for them, they only find out about the suspension or disqualification once it is too late.

There are many reasons why a person may not be aware of their current licence status. However, in our experience, the main reason is that simply they did not receive the suspension notice in the mail.

A notice outlining a licence suspension is sent to an address recorded in a database by the Department of Transport and Main Roads (also known as Queensland Transport). This means that mail can be sent to old or incorrect addresses, with the intended recipient never receiving notices about their licence. This is why it can come as such a big shock for drivers to be told that they are not legally allowed to drive until their licence is valid again.

In other cases, someone may have genuinely been confused about the period of their existing court-ordered disqualification. This can lead them to be charged yet again with disqualified driving.

In most cases, the unfortunate fact is that you will not have a defence just because you did not know about your licence suspension or disqualification.

To make matters worse, the punishment for unlicensed driving usually includes a lengthy disqualification period and significant fines. In these instances, people get hit with a double whammy of bad news when they find out they are suspended or disqualified. They will then face a further court-ordered disqualification.


Can an Unlicensed Driver Drive in an Emergency?

If you find yourself needing to drive during an emergency, but you don’t have a licence, you should call Triple-0 immediately. They will be able to send emergency services to assist you.

However, if you have no other option but to drive, you may have a defence available.

An example of this may be if you are camping in an area with no phone reception, but someone gets seriously injured and needs to be taken to a hospital immediately. In that case, you may be able to argue that you had a lawful excuse for driving.

Be aware that you can still be charged with unlicensed driving even if you were driving because of an emergency. It will then be up to you to convince a court that you have a defence.


Should I Hire a Traffic Lawyer?

You will always be better off if you hire an experienced traffic lawyer to represent you in court.

We know what needs to be done to ensure you get the best outcome possible. In many situations, this could be the difference between going to jail or not.

Also, we will guide you through the whole process from start to finish. You won’t need to worry about what needs to be done or what to say in court.

The truth is that you risk harsher penalties if you represent yourself.


What Will a Traffic Lawyer do to Prepare my Case?

An experienced traffic lawyer will start by obtaining the official police report, which sets out the police’s version of the charges. This is important to avoid any unnecessary surprises on the day of court.

Next, your traffic lawyer should obtain information from you. He or she will use this information to know how the offence was committed, what impact it will have on you, and other important information about your circumstances. They will then use this information to prepare the most persuasive arguments for court.

In addition, your lawyer should give you advice about steps you can take to improve the outcome. This could include getting character references or attending driving courses.

Finally, your traffic lawyer should keep you updated throughout the entire process and should be available to answer any questions you have.


Why I Should Hire Harper Finch Lawyers

At Harper Finch Lawyers, we understand that a licence suspension or disqualification will have a serious impact on your life. It can prevent you from driving for work, driving your children to school or meeting up with family and friends.

Therefore, we are dedicated to helping our clients get the best results and get through the court process with as little stress as possible.

We are expert traffic lawyers with years of experience with unlicensed and disqualified driving offences.

Contact us today for an obligation-free discussion on how we can help you get back to driving and living your life normally again.