Losing your vehicle: Impounding and confiscation
Confiscation and destruction of vehicles
In some cases when you’re convicted of traffic offences the courts have the option of confiscating your vehicle (that is, permanently seizing it), while in certain other cases they must confiscate it.
When the courts have the option of confiscating your vehicle
The judge can confiscate your vehicle if you’re convicted of any of the following offences and you used the vehicle when you committed the offence:
- reckless or dangerous driving
- street-racing or wheel-spins
- careless or inconsiderate driving causing injury or death
- failing to stop or stay stopped for the police, or failing to give them your details when stopped
- driving over the breath- or blood-alcohol limits, or another drink/drug driving offence.
In some cases, your vehicle can also be confiscated for offences other than traffic offences. This can happen if you’re convicted of any offence for which you can be jailed for more than 12 months and your vehicle was used to commit (or help commit) the offence or to help you get away or avoid arrest (whether or not you were the driver).
In any case where the judge has the option of confiscating your vehicle, they must take into account any “undue hardship” this would cause you in your job or business, or any undue hardship it would cause to anyone else who regularly uses or is driven in the vehicle, like your partner or children. To avoid losing your vehicle, you’ll probably have to prove something beyond the usual inconvenience that the loss of the vehicle would cause.
When the courts must confiscate your vehicle
The judge must confiscate your vehicle if within four years you commit two driving offences from the following list (whether the same one twice or two different offences):
- driving while disqualified or in breach of a limited licence
- breaching your alcohol interlock licence or zero alcohol licence
- reckless or dangerous driving; or aggravated careless driving causing injury or death
- manslaughter involving a vehicle
- failing to stop at an accident where someone has been injured or killed
- street-racing or wheel-spinning
- driving while over the 400 microgram breath-alcohol limit or the 80 milligram blood-alcohol limit; or driving under the influence of alcohol so that you’re incapable of proper control
- a drug-driving offence
- failing or refusing to have a blood test
- careless driving causing injury or death when affected by alcohol or drugs.
The judge who convicts you of the second offence will only confiscate your vehicle if you were using it at the time of the second offence, not if you were driving someone else’s vehicle.
The judge won’t confiscate your vehicle if you can prove this would cause you “extreme hardship”, or cause “undue” hardship to someone else (like your boss or a family member).
Destruction of vehicles used by repeat street-racing/wheel-spin offenders
The courts must confiscate your vehicle and order it to be destroyed if you’re convicted of a third street-racing or wheel-spin offence and the three offences were all committed within four years. However, the judge won’t confiscate your vehicle if you can prove this would cause you “extreme hardship”, or cause “undue” hardship to someone else (like your boss or a family member).
What if the vehicle I was driving belonged to someone else?
Sentencing Act 2002, ss 129B, 129E
If you repeatedly use someone else’s vehicle (your parents’ car, for example) to commit traffic offences, their vehicle could be confiscated even though they weren’t driving the vehicle. In these cases, the law treats them as a “substitute” for you.
The first time you commit an offence for which a vehicle could be confiscated, the courts will send the owner a written warning. If you’re convicted of another of those offences within the next four years, and you used a vehicle owned by that other person, that vehicle can be confiscated from them.
If a judge makes a confiscation order against a “substitute” person after a second offence, the person has 20 working days to appeal the order on various grounds, including, for example:
- that the vehicle had been stolen from them
- that they weren’t the owner at the relevant time
- that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the driver committing the offence, or
- that they didn’t know that the driver would commit the offence and they couldn’t reasonably have known.
What if I sell my vehicle to avoid it being confiscated?
Sentencing Act 2002, s 131; Land Transport Act 1998, s 98A
If you sell your vehicle before you’re convicted to avoid the courts confiscating it, the judge can ban you from buying any new vehicle for 12 months. If you bought a new vehicle before you were convicted, the judge can also order that to be confiscated.
The police also have the power to order you not to sell your vehicle if they’ve charged you with an offence that could result in confiscation. They’ll give you a special notice banning you from selling the vehicle before the courts decide your case.
What happens after my vehicle is confiscated?
If your vehicle is confiscated, it will be sold at a police auction. The money from the sale will be used to pay storage costs, sale costs, and any fines or reparation (compensation) that you were sentenced to pay. You’ll then receive any money left over.
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