There are a number of traffic offences for which you can lose your driver licence. For some offences it is mandatory for the court to disqualify you from driving for a period of time. Common offences of this type include:
- Drink driving or, as it is correctly known, driving with excess breath/blood alcohol (at least 6 months disqualification if it is a first or second offence, at least 1 year disqualification for a third or subsequent offence)
- Reckless/dangerous driving (at least 6 months disqualification)
- Careless driving causing injury or death (at least 6 months disqualification)
The NZ Transport Agency can also suspend your driver licence for three months if you accumulate 100 or more demerit points over a two year period.
Losing a driver licence can be hugely disruptive to personal and work life. Short of successfully defending the charge, there are a number of options to reduce the hardship caused by a period of disqualification or suspension:
Limited licence (also known as a work licence)
A limited licence is a restricted driver licence issued by the court which allows a person to continue to drive during the period of their disqualification or suspension. Limited licences are called that because they do not allow full resumption of driving. They are normally subject to certain conditions in respect of driving days, hours, geographical areas and routes that must be observed.
To obtain a limited licence a written application supported by affidavit evidence (often from an employer as well as the applicant) must be made to the court. The court will only grant a limited licence if it is satisfied that, if it were not granted, there would be extreme hardship to the applicant or undue hardship to another person. Common reasons advanced in this regard are loss of a job or inability to care for children or elderly relatives without the ability to drive.
Certain circumstances prohibit you from applying for a limited licence, for example where the limited licence is sought for driving a motor vehicle in a passenger service (unless the suspension is due to an accumulation of demerit points). You cannot apply for a limited licence if you have been disqualified from driving and have a previous conviction for one of the following offences in the last 5 years:
- Reckless or dangerous driving
- Careless driving causing injury or death
- Failing to stop after an accident
- Drink driving or driving under the influence of drugs
- Applying for or obtaining a drivers licence while disqualified from doing so
Special reasons relating to the offence
If you are convicted of a traffic offence for which a minimum disqualification period applies, an application to the court may be made to reduce the period of the disqualification or dispense with it entirely on the basis that there are “special reasons” in relation to the offence. This is only rarely ordered.
Special reasons are reasons, not amounting to a legal defence, but which show that the offender’s culpability is low. The impact of the disqualification on the offender is not relevant here as the special reasons must relate to the offence itself and not the offender. Special reasons might include unlawful driving in circumstances where the driving was necessary to deal with an emergency or imminent danger, for example driving a relative to hospital where calling an ambulance was not a reasonable alternative. We have also successfully persuaded the court to substantially reduce the usual disqualification period where, despite some carelessness contributing to an accident, our client was not substantially blameworthy as their vision was obscured by a truck whose driver had ushered them forward.
If you, a family member or an employee have lost or are at risk of losing a driver licence and would like to discuss your options, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our expert Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team for advice.
This article was written by Mikayla Hughes and Graeme Riach.