Many readers to this website would have a drivers licence and not think too much more about it. The only time we tend to think about our drivers licence is when we may lose it. As one Local Magistrate says, “a drivers licence is a privilege and not a right”.
Part of having a drivers licence in NSW is understanding the Demerit Points Scheme. This scheme allocates penalty points (demerits) for a range of driving offences. The objective of demerit points is to provide a strong incentive to licence holders to drive within the law.
How it works
There is often a misconception that a driver has a certain number of points and loses them. It is actually correct to say that a driver who has not committed any offences has zero points. Different offences in our law carry a different number of demerit points, with an example being an offence of negligent driving which carries three (3) demerit points. When an offence that carries demerit points is committed, the Roads & Traffic Authority (RTA) records the offence and the points on the licence holders driving record. This occurs after a person has paid a penalty infringement notice, or after a person has been to court and either entered a plea of guilty or been found guilty of an offence. Even if a Magistrate exercises a discretion to dismiss a driving offence against a person after having found the offence was committed, the law in NSW enables the RTA to count demerit points. The only situation when demerit points are not counted is if an offence is not proved.
If a certain number of demerit points in a given time frame are accumulated by a driver, the RTA will suspend the drivers licence or refuse their application for renewal of their licence. The number of points involved in a licence suspension depends on the class of licence that a person holds. Following are the main licence classes and the applicable number of points:
- Full unrestricted licence holder – 12 demerit points in a 3 year period
- Provisional P2 licence – 7 points
- Provisional P1 licence – 4 points
- Unrestricted licence with
good behaviour conditions – 2 points within the terms of the good behaviour period (12 months)
The law requires the RTA to send a notice of suspension to licence holders in the above classes when they have incurred the appropriate number of demerit points.
Periods of Suspension
Reaching or exceeding the demerit points limit results in licence suspension. The period of suspension depends on the number of points accumulated and the type of licence held. For unrestricted licence holders the suspension periods are as follows:
- 12 – 15 points: 3 months
- 16 – 19 points 4 months
- 20 or more points 5 months
For provisional licence holders the suspension is 3 months.
Options for Drivers
It is important to be aware of your demerit points because rights of appeal are limited. Unrestricted licence holders have no right of appeal to a local court following a decision of the RTA to suspend a drivers licence for loss of demerit points. The only option for unrestricted licence holders who receive a notice of suspension is to apply for a twelve (12) month good behaviour period instead of serving the suspension. This option is not available to provisional licence holders or drivers already serving a good behaviour period. There is then a considerable onus on the driver in a good behaviour period as if they accumulate two or more demerit points while serving a good behaviour period, they will then be suspended double for the original suspension time. As an example, an unrestricted licence holder who incurred thirteen (13) demerit points within a three (3) year period and then opted to go on a good behaviour licence and committed a speeding offence of exceeding the speed limit by 20 kph, would then have to serve a suspension of six (6) months.
A provisional drivers licence holder is entitled to appeal to a local court following a decision of the RTA to suspend their licence for loss of demerit points. Pursuing such an appeal does not involve a review of the drivers guilt for any of the offences. The appeal generally focuses on the circumstances of the offences, the drivers traffic record and character and their need for a licence. An appeal can generally have three outcomes as follows:
- The appeal is allowed (meaning the driver keeps their licence);
- The appeal is disallowed (meaning the licence is suspended as proposed by the RTA); or
- The suspension period is reduced.
A common theme we hear at Bale Boshev Lawyers from clients who are facing loss of licence is that they need their licence either for work or family commitments. A cynical Magistrate would say that they should think about that before they commit offences. The moral of the story is to always be vigilant and keep a record of your demerit points. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation that you have received an infringement notice or been charged with an offence by police then please contact our office for advice before you pay the infringement notice or attend court. Likewise if you have received a notice of suspension from the RTA, please contact one of our Newcastle Lawyers to discuss your potential appeal rights.