The difference between “driving while unauthorized” and “driving while disqualified” can be confusing.

Both are serious offences and Alberta has enforcement programs in place to catch people who disregard the law.

Calgary Driving While Unauthorized Lawyer

Driving while disqualified is an indictable criminal offence that frequently involves jail time. Driving while unauthorized can also lead to jail time for repeat offenders but generally results in hefty fines and further mandatory license suspensions.

Before you admit guilt and pay the ticket, consider your legal options as you may be able to limit the consequences. 

Speak to Cory Wilson at Wilson Criminal Defence in Calgary to better understand your options if you are charged with driving while unauthorized.

Is driving while unauthorized a criminal charge? 

Driving while unauthorized is actually a broad term that includes driving while your license is suspended for reasons such as:

  • Accumulating too many demerit points on your license
  • Being charged with impaired driving and incurring a suspension

The offence of driving while unauthorized is laid out under the Traffic Safety Act of Alberta rather than the Canadian Criminal Code. 

However, it is still considered a serious offence.

How does “unauthorized” differ from “disqualified”?

Under the Traffic Safety Act, a person is an “unauthorized driver” if:

(a)    that person’s operator’s licence is suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(b)    that person is disqualified from driving a motor vehicle in Alberta,

(c)    that person’s licence or permit to operate a motor vehicle in a jurisdiction outside Alberta is suspended or cancelled, or

(d)    that person’s privilege to secure a licence or permit to operate a motor vehicle in a jurisdiction outside Alberta is suspended or cancelled.

Nobody in Alberta is permitted to drive a motor vehicle on a highway at any time as an unauthorized driver.

Driving while disqualified or operating a vehicle while prohibited to do so is covered in the Criminal Code. 

These charges relate to drivers who are stopped and found to be driving while prohibited according to a court order (usually issued after conviction for another criminal offence).

Common misconceptions about driving while unauthorized

It is relatively common for people to be charged with driving while disqualified due to innocent mistakes.

Their license was suspended, they sat out the period of the suspension without driving and then when the suspension period ended, they start driving again.

That can be a big mistake.

If your license is suspended, the suspension continues until you reinstate your licence. That requires you to take active steps to reinstate it with an Alberta Registry Agent office.

You will need to show proof that you have met the reinstatement requirements. The registry agent will then issue your driver’s licence upon payment of the reinstatement fee. The end of your suspension will be confirmed in writing.

So, if your license is suspended for impaired driving for 12 months, you cannot simply start driving again after that period has expired. 

Another misconception about driving while unauthorized is that the vehicle you are in charge of must be moving. Even if it is not moving but you are sitting in the drivers’ seat on a suspended license, you can be charged with driving while unauthorized.

“Operation” of a motor vehicle means being in “care or control” of it, not necessarily driving it.

Such technicalities make it essential to engage experienced legal representation from a driving while unauthorized lawyer in Calgary.

What are the penalties for driving while unauthorized?

If you are convicted of driving while unauthorized for the first time, the standard penalties are:

  • A fine of up to $2000 
  • An automatic additional driving suspension of six months
  • Seizure and impoundment of the vehicle for 30 days (towing and impound fees are the responsibility of the vehicle owner)

According to the Traffic Safety Act, the suspension is mandatory (without exception), even if it is not made clear in court. It will be served concurrently after the existing suspension expires.

If you are convicted of driving while unauthorized within one year of the first offence, you could face between 14 days and six months in jail as well as a six-month driving suspension and fines.

In addition to these immediate penalties, other longer-term consequences include increased insurance premiums.

Note that if you are convicted of a criminal offence like impaired driving, you will receive a penalty under the Criminal Code of Canada PLUS a license suspension from the Province of Alberta. 

These may not be of equal duration. For instance, you may receive a three-month court-ordered suspension and a provincial licence suspension for one year.

After the three-month court suspension, you will still have a nine-month driving suspension remaining and will not be authorized to drive until you wait for that nine months and take steps to reinstate your licence.

Defences for driving while unauthorized

To secure a conviction for driving while unauthorized, the prosecution needs to demonstrate that:

  • You were operating a motor vehicle; and
  • You were unauthorized to do so 

While this sounds like a simple task, the prosecution frequently encounters problems. A robust defence can be built on the actions of police officers or calling into question either or both of the elements outlined above.

The most common defences include:

  • You were not unauthorized to drive at the time
  • Your constitutional rights were violated by law enforcement
  • Technical errors on your ticket e.g. the date was incorrect or your name was spelt incorrectly
  • Driving while unauthorized was unavoidable in the circumstances
  • You received the wrong information from a government official leading you to believe that you could drive

Call us to arrange a confidential consultation

To start working on your defence, arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with Wilson Criminal Defence. Call 403-978-6052 or email us here.

Cory Wilson is a criminal defence lawyer based in Calgary. If you have been charged with a criminal offence or are a suspect in a criminal investigation, call today for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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Tel: 403-978-6052