BOCSAR report claims a win for more lenient driver licence law

A NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) report claims more lenient punishments for driver licence infringements have had no adverse impact on road deaths or injuries.

In October 2017 the NSW Government introduced the driver licence reform package with the aims of reducing local court volumes of drive while disqualified matters, minimise repeat disqualified driving, reduce imprisonment days for unauthorised driving offences and increase road safety by returning people to lawful driving.

The reforms changed penalties for offences involving driving whilst disqualified and driving without a licence.

Police have the power to confiscate number plates or vehicles on the spot for repeat unauthorised drivers and those who commit certain serious driving offences.

A study of monthly road crashes between November 2012 and January 2018 indicated that the softer penalties had no immediate negative impact on road deaths or injuries involving unauthorised drivers or those involving authorised drivers.

Executive Director of BOCSAR Dr Don Weatherburn said that the results were reassuring but not surprising. 

“Numerous studies have shown that the risk of apprehension is a far more powerful deterrent than the severity of the punishment if caught,” he said.

“Most offenders would spend more time wondering about their chances of getting caught driving without a licence than what the penalty is. 

“Police are now very good at detecting those that drive without a licence without even stopping them, they can just put a plate number in their onboard computer, so the risk of getting caught is top in mind rather than what the penalty is.

“It would be better for the government to spend money on increasing police numbers than keeping an offender longer in jail for a licence infringement, it is better value for money.”

BOCSAR found the reforms reduced average licence disqualification periods by 56 per cent and average prison sentences by 24 per cent. The reforms also resulted in a 19 per cent reduction in the monthly number of persons in prison whose most serious offence was unauthorised driving.

No significant change was observed in the proportion of people receiving a licence disqualification from the court or in the proportion receiving a custodial sentence.

Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey said the BOSCAR report is welcome evidence the reforms are keeping dangerous drivers off the road.

“I’m encouraged to see these reforms in combination with improved roads and better policing are helping to keep drivers safe,” Mrs Pavey said.

“The court now treats unauthorised drivers the same way as other driving offenders, by having the discretion to vary the automatic disqualification period provided it’s above the minimum disqualification specified.”

Attorney General Mark Speakman said the changes also assist those who are economically and socially disadvantaged such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and rural communities.

“The new laws are helping Indigenous and geographically isolated people return to lawful driving sooner, improving their access to employment and essential services,” Mr Speakman said.