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What are the penalties when charged with a driving offence?

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Driving offences vary in seriousness. Sometimes the primary issue is whether or not a person will lose their licence. On other occasions they may be concerned about losing their car.  Then there are times when jail is a genuine possibility.  A specialist criminal lawyer will assist you in answering these types of questions and many others like them, such as, do I have a defence? What are my prospects of successfully running that defence? What is the process?

Penalties for driving offences

There are many different types of driving offences, including:

·       Speeding

·       Careless driving

·       Dangerous driving

·       Reckless conduct endangering serious injury or life

·       Drink driving

·       Drug driving

·       Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI)

·       Driving while suspended or disqualified

·       Unlicensed driving

Penalties vary depending on the offence with which you have been charged. For some offences the maximum penalty is a fine. For others, it is jail. Some driving offences have a mandatory loss of licence. Others do not, but for those offences the court has a choice whether or not to take away a person’s licence.

Other matters which may impact upon your penalty or whether or not you lose your licence include:

·       whether you are a first-time offender or a repeat offender;

·       whether you placed pedestrians or other road users in danger;

·       whether you performed a deliberate maneuver or made an error;

·       how fast you were driving

·       your blood alcohol concentration –

 

Drink Driving, Drug Driving and DUI

Quite often a person who is caught drink driving or drug driving will receive a traffic infringement notice and will lose their licence without being required to attend court.  Even if required to attend court a first-time drink driving or drug driving offender will face the same penalties - a mandatory loss of licence and a fine.

The mandatory minimum period of licence loss for a first-time offender is set according to their blood alcohol concentration.  For example, if your blood alcohol concentration was between .10 and .109 you will lose your licence for at least 10 months; if it was between .11 and .119 you will lose it for at least 11 months; and so on.

If you are a repeat offender the mandatory minimum licence cancellation period is doubled and rather than facing a maximum penalty of a fine, you will be facing a maximum penalty of jail.

It is also important to note that when your licence is cancelled for drink driving or drug driving it is a difficult process to have your licence reinstated. You will be required to do courses and you will need to make an application to VicRoads or the court. Further still, when your licence is first reinstated it will have conditions attached to it, such as a requirement that you have an interlock device installed in your vehicle.  

Careless, Driving, Dangerous Driving and Reckless Driving

Careless driving is a low-level driving offence. The maximum penalty is a fine.  The court has a choice whether or not to take away your licence. It is also important to note, particularly for people who have incurred numerous demerit points, that when one pleads or is found guilty of this offence, they will automatically lose three demerit points.

The maximum penalty for dangerous driving is two years’ imprisonment. The court must cancel your licence for a mandatory minimum period of six months, or, twelve months, if you exceed the speed limit by 45km/h or more.

In respect of endangerment offences, sometimes referred to as reckless driving offences, the maximum penalty depends on whether your conduct places a person/s in danger of serious injury or it endangers their life.  The maximum penalty for reckless conduct endangering serious injury is five years imprisonment, whereas the maximum penalty for reckless conduct endangering life is ten years imprisonment.

Reckless conduct charges are taken very seriously by the court. It is rare for a person to receive a penalty less severe than a community corrections order (which will often include a significant amount of unpaid community work). Many are sentenced to immediate imprisonment.  Curiously, reckless conduct offences do not have a mandatory loss of licence.  Nevertheless, people routinely lose their licences for significant periods when convicted of reckless conduct offences. 

Driving while suspended, disqualified or unlicensed

The maximum penalty for driving while suspended or driving while disqualified is two years imprisonment.  However, it would be rare for a first offender to receive such a severe penalty.  The penalty that is ordinarily imposed is a fine. Accordingly, the primary issue for a person charged with driving while suspended or driving while disqualified is, whether or not they will lose their licence. That is because the court has a choice whether or not to take away their licence.  

A repeat offender is more likely to lose their licence, but a court still has a choice for such offenders.  They can also expect to receive a more severe penalty, ranging from a more significant fine or unpaid community work to immediate imprisonment. Again, however, the court has a discretion as to what penalty to impose.

The maximum penalty for unlicensed driving is six months imprisonment. However, unless you are repeat offender, you will ordinarily receive a fine.  Again, the court has a choice whether to take away your licence (if you obtain one before going to court) or preventing you from doing so for a period of time (if you are still unlicensed when your case is heard).

Do you need a lawyer?

Whether you need a lawyer or not will depend on a number of factors, such as:

·       The offence with which you have been charged;

·       Whether you intend on pleading guilty to the offence or contesting it;

·       Whether you are a first offender or a repeat offender

·       The impact a lawyer can have on the penalty you will receive.

In respect of speeding and drink driving offences, licence loss is mandatory and the minimum period is set by legislation having regard to your speed or your blood alcohol concentration. Furthermore, it is almost always the case that first offenders will receive a fine.  In such a setting, when you plead guilty to speeding or drink driving a lawyer is unlikely to have a significant impact on the outcome of your case. As a consequence, many people charged with speeding or drink driving offences will (quite understandably) form the view that having a lawyer represent them at court is not a necessity.  Others will see value in having a lawyer to help them in understanding the process, putting their case to a court and assisting them in understanding what is required to get their licences back. However, whether or not you need a lawyer will always be a matter for you.

Those pleading guilty to an offence where the court has the power to take away their licence but does not have to - such as, careless driving, driving while suspended, driving while disqualified or unlicensed driving - will benefit from the assistance of a lawyer.

While first offenders for these offences will almost always receive a fine, what will happen to their licence is not as clear. In such a setting, a lawyer can assist a person in keeping their licence or in convincing the court to take it away for a shorter period than they otherwise would. It follows that repeat offenders will be also be assisted by a lawyer, not only with their licence but also with the type of the penalty they receive.

More serious driving offences, such as dangerous driving and reckless conduct offences require the assistance of a lawyer.

If you have been charged with a driving offence and you believe a lawyer will be of assistance to you, it is important that you engage a lawyer who is an expert in criminal law and has experience with traffic offences.

Hiring the right lawyer

An expert in criminal law who has experience with traffic offences will help you in understanding the process; whether you have a defence available to you; the strength of that defence; the potential costs of defending your case; and the likely range of penalties if you plead or are found guilty.

The team at Stary Norton Halphen are experienced criminal lawyers in Melbourne who regularly deal with all types of driving offences. They have a comprehensive understanding of the law and how the courts’ work, and will work hard to achieve the best possible outcome that is possible having regard to the circumstances of your case.

Contact Stary Norton Halphen to get specialist, professional legal advice for all criminal law matters.

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