I am often asked “how serious can it be to drive when you’re suspended or disqualified from driving?”
The answer is: “quite serious”.
Most people believe that the penalty for driving whilst disqualified would be a fine or a further disqualification. You will be surprised to learn that the penalty for driving whilst disqualified is a term of imprisonment.
There is no difference in penalty if you’ve been disqualified from driving by a court or by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.
The motor vehicles legislation (Motor Vehicles Act 1959) provides the following penalties for driving whist disqualified:
- For a first offence a maximum of six months imprisonment;
- For a second and subsequent offence a maximum of two years imprisonment.
It’s not uncommon that a court imposes a term of imprisonment for first offences of driving whilst disqualified especially in circumstances were the driving was “contumacious”.
What does contumacious mean?
The term contumacious is explained in the case of Police v Cadd as “committing the offence with an attitude of total disregard of the disqualification in disobedience to the authority which imposed it”.
"...the court’s position is that the punishment of a term of imprisonment is appropriate for driving whist disqualified when the act of driving is committed with an attitude of total disregard for the disqualification."
To put it in simple terms, the court’s position is that the punishment of a term of imprisonment is appropriate for driving whist disqualified when the act of driving is committed with an attitude of total disregard for the disqualification. A common example is where a person disqualified from driving, drives to and from work as a matter of convenience, fully knowing that they are disqualified from driving.
Is there a defense for driving whilst disqualified?
A defense of “honest and reasonable mistake of fact” is available to the offence of driving whilst disqualified. This type of defense is available in circumstances where the disqualified driver was not aware of their disqualification.
If you’ve been disqualified from driving, the appropriate thing to do is to serve the disqualification period without driving – at all! Once you believe your disqualification period is over, you should contact Services SA to confirm that your licence has been reinstated before you start driving again.
If you’ve been charged with driving whilst disqualified, it’s important that you obtain legal advice from a lawyer experienced in criminal law, to look at any options available to you.