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What is the penalty for driving without a licence?

There are generally two types of offences related to driving without a licence.
CarsGuide

25 Mar 2019 • 11 min read

In Australia, you must hold a valid driver's licence for the vehicle that you are operating. Driving without a valid driver's licence or allowing another person known to be unlicensed to drive your vehicle on the road can result in fines of up to $38,000, and jail terms of two years.

Hundreds of Australians die on our roads each year. Dads and mums, grandmas, uncles and children that will never return home to their families. Ensuring that drivers are licensed is a road-safety initiative that attempts to help keep these tragic figures as low as possible.

There are generally two types of offences related to driving without a licence – unlicensed driving and disqualified driving. Both carry fines and sometimes imprisonment, depending on the type of offence and the circumstances.

What is unlicensed driving?

Unlicensed driving involves an instance where you are caught by the police driving on the road and:

You have never held a licence or your licence has expired.

You don't hold the correct licence - for example, operating a car but only holding a motorcycle licence.

You are medically unfit to hold a licence.

Your licence is temporarily suspended; or:

You have voluntarily surrendered your licence.

Unlicensed driving is considered a simple offence and the infringement is usually heard in the Magistrates Court.

What does disqualification mean?

Disqualified driving is considered much more serious than unlicensed driving, and thus the penalties are graver. The courts can disqualify you from holding a driver's licence for a set period of time if you are convicted of:

A dangerous driving offence.

A drug or drink-driving offence.

A criminal act involving the use of a motor vehicle.

If caught driving while disqualified, you will be prevented from holding a licence for a further two to five years, receive a maximum fine or be sent to jail for up to 18 months.

Driving with a suspended licence

A suspended licence is a form of unlicensed driving. Your licence can be suspended for a period of time if:

You have not paid fines for motor-vehicle offences imposed by the court.

You have been convicted of driving more than 40km/h over the speed limit.

You have reached the maximum number of demerit points.

Your licence can also be under immediate suspension if you are charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and are awaiting trial.

If caught driving with a suspended licence you usually have to appear in court, where you can be disqualified from driving for six months, pay a hefty fine or be imprisoned for up to 12 months.

​You need to carry your driver's licence with you when driving. Otherwise, you could cop a fine. ​You need to carry your driver's licence with you when driving. Otherwise, you could cop a fine.

Infringements, fines, and jail – the rules in your State

In Australia, the laws regarding road rules and drivers' licences are made by individual States and Territories, and policed as such.

Penalties and consequences depend on the type of offence and the circumstances in which that offence occurred.

Victoria

Driving without a valid licence: If your licence has lapsed or you are disqualified from holding a licence you could face a fine of up to $9,500 or six months in jail. The same penalty applies for allowing an unlicensed driver to drive your car.

If you have previously held a Victorian licence or interstate licence and it was not cancelled for road-related reasons, then the penalties are less severe, with fines up to $1470 and up to one month in jail.

Driving with a disqualified or suspended licence: If you are unlicensed and would have had an alcohol-interlock order imposed had you applied for a licence, you could be fined up to $38,000 or two years in jail. The same applies to suspended licences.

Fully qualified drivers over the age of 26 don't have to carry their licences on them. Learner drivers do, and failing to produce it on demand is a $155 fine.

Queensland

Driving without a valid licence: If your licence has expired and you forgot to renew it or you have never had a licence, or you do not hold a licence for the class of vehicle you were driving, you will receive an infringement notice (one penalty unit = $113.85) or must face court for unlicensed driving. Fines range from $2,200 to $5,500 ($4,500 - $6,800 for repeat offences) and up to 12 months in prison.

Driving with a disqualified or suspended licence: If you are caught driving disqualified, the court will increase the period of disqualification by an additional two to five years, with a jail term of up to 18 months and a maximum fine of 60 penalty units.

Driving on a suspended licence will see you disqualified for one to six months. You may also face a prison term of up to 12 months.

Driving on a withdrawn licence: Infringements for the three-month residency rule are $261, and $522 if you have been deemed medically unfit to drive.

You don't have to carry your licence with you in Queensland but must produce it within 48 hours if asked by a police officer. Only provisional licence holders need carry their licence. Failure to produce that is a $150 fine.

NSW

Driving without a valid licence: If you are caught without a valid licence, the maximum penalty ranges from $2,200 - $5,500 with six to 12 months prison. If you have never held a licence before, the first offence will get you a $796 fine with a maximum $2,200-$3,300 court-imposed fine for subsequent offences and a six-month prison term.  You will also be disqualified for 12 months, which rises to three years if you offend more than once.

Driving with a disqualified or suspended licence: If you are caught driving a car on a disqualified, suspended or cancelled licence, the maximum penalty is $3,300 for the first offence and six months in jail. Subsequent offences are $5,500, with 12 months in jail. You may be automatically disqualified for a further six to 12 months. If the suspension was for a non-payment of a fine, then the disqualification period is three months.

For subsequent offences, the disqualification period is two years. Multiple offences will see the disqualification period stretched to five years.

All drivers in NSW must carry their licence if they are driving. Failing to do so is a $110 fine.

ACT

Driving unlicensed: Maximum penalty for the offence is a $3,000 fine with an infringement notice of $534 for a first offence. The same applies if you have never held a driver's licence. For a repeat offender, the maximum penalty is $7,500 with six months in jail.

Driving with a disqualified or suspended licence: The maximum for driving while disqualified is $7,500 with six months in jail and an additional 12 months' disqualification. If you reoffend, the maximum penalty is $15,000 and 12 months in jail and an additional 12-24 months of disqualification.

If you are caught driving on a suspended licence, the maximum penalty is a $3000 fine with an infringement notice of $534 for a first offence and an additional one to three months on a suspended licence. If you reoffend, the maximum penalty is $15,000, 12 months in jail and an additional 12-24 months on a suspended licence.

Driving with a cancelled licence or licence application refusal: The maximum penalty is a $7,500 fine, six months in prison or both. You will also receive an automatic disqualification for 12 months.

South Australia

Driving unlicensed: If you are caught driving unlicensed after committing a serious offence (drink driving), the fine is $5,000 or 12 months jail with a minimum disqualification period of three years. If you have never held a driver's licence, the maximum penalty is $2,500. If you reoffend, you face a $5,000 fine and 12 months in jail as well as a minimum disqualification from driving of three years.

Driving with a disqualified or suspended licence: The penalty for driving on a disqualified or suspended licence is six months jail for the first offence and two years in jail for subsequent offences.

You don't have to carry your licence with your South Australia but must produce it within 48 hours if asked by a police officer.

Western Australia

Driving without a valid licence: The maximum penalty for driving unlicensed is $300 for the first offence and $600 for subsequent offences with up to 18 months in jail. If you drive unlicensed or allow an unlicensed driver to driver your car, it can be impounded, with the owner paying all costs.

Driving with a disqualified or suspended licence: The penalty for a first-time offence is $400-$2000 with a prison term of up to 12 months. Subsequent indiscretions with garner fines of between $1,000 and $4,000 and a prison term of up to 18 months. You can also be disqualified for a further three years.

If the suspension is for not paying fines, the penalty can range from $200 - $1,500 with a jail term up to 12 months.

You don't have to carry your licence in WA, but must present it at a police station within a reasonable amount of time

Northern Territory

Driving without a valid licence: If it has been less than two months from the licence-expiry date, you will receive an infringement of $200. Otherwise the maximum penalty in $2980 or 12 months in jail. A court may also disqualify you from driving for a period that it determines.

Driving with a disqualified or suspended licence: If you are disqualified from driving in the Northern Territory, the maximum penalty is 12 months in jail. If you were disqualified from driving in another State or Territory, a maximum fine of $2,980 or 12 months in jail may apply.

If you are caught driving on a suspended licence, the maximum penalty is $2,980 or 12 months in jail. If your licence had been suspended for losing too many demerit points or defaulting on a fine, the police officer may choose to give you a caution.

You must carry your licence at all times in the NT, even when accompanying a learner driver.

Tasmania

Driving unlicensed: If you are caught driving unlicensed and it is your first offence, the maximum penalty is 20 penalty points (1 penalty = $140). Subsequent offences are 40 penalty points and three months in jail.

Driving with a disqualified or suspended licence: If you are caught driving while disqualified there is a maximum $5,600 fine and a further period of licence disqualification for a maximum of three years. Subsequent offences attract a maximum $11,200 fine, up to 12 months in jail and a further period of licence disqualification of five years.

Driving on a suspended licence is a maximum of $4,200 and a jail sentence of three months. Further offences are a fine up to $8,400 and six months in jail.

Drivers must have their licence on them or face a $50 fine. Discretion is given to people like farmers, who travel short distances between fields.

The three-month rule

If you move interstate or from overseas, you have three months to have your licence changed over. Penalties apply if you don't.

Car accidents with an unlicensed driver

If you get into an accident with an unlicensed driver, the insurance company of the vehicle being driven by an unlicensed driver will refuse to pay their liability or property damage. This means the unlicensed driver will have to pay the costs. If you have comprehensive-insurance cover, your insurance company will usually pay you out and claim the damages from the other driver.

It is worth noting that the unlicensed driver is not necessarily at fault because they are unlicensed. If you rear-end the car of an unlicensed driver, it will be you at fault. The unlicensed driver will, however, still face a penalty for driving unlicensed.

Reporting unlicensed driving

You can report suspected unlicensed drivers at your local police station.

Do you think the penalties in your State or Territory are too harsh for driving without a licence? Or not harsh enough? Tell us in the comments below.