There has been a healthy debate on social media about whether you need to hand your driver licence over to police after you are pulled over.
Some argue that you only need to show your licence to police, while others believe that you must physically hand it over to them.
Unfortunately, there is no authoritative legal statement one way or the other, which is quite unsatisfactory given that the maximum penalty for failing to produce a driver licence as required is $2,200.
However, the question can be considered in light of the legislative requirement to “produce” and case-law regarding the meaning of that word.
The starting point in NSW is section 175 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) which states:
“(1) An authorised officer may, in the execution of the officer’s functions under the road transport legislation, require the driver or rider of a vehicle or horse to do any or all of the following:
(a) produce the driver’s relevant Australian driver licence (in the case of the driver of a motor vehicle)…”
This begs the question, what is the definition of “produce”?
As the road transport legislation fails to define that term, we must turn to case-law for clarification.
Despite its age, the leading authority on the meaning of ‘produce’ in the context of a traffic stop is Tremelling v Martin (1971) Crim LR 596 (QBD).
Facts of the case
In that case, Mr Martin was pulled over by police and asked to produce his licence and insurance documents to a police station within five days.
When he went to the police station to do so, he was met with a clerk who saw the documents briefly, but then had to go and answer a phone call.
While the clerk was still on the phone, Martin decided to pick up his documents and leave, believing that they had been sighted.
He was later charged with failing to produce his driver licence and certificate of insurance after being required to do so.
The matter ended up in court, where it was held that in situations where police ask you to produce your licence or insurance documents, you must give them a reasonable time to examine the documents.
This rule applies regardless of whether you are asked to hand over your licence by the side of the road or at a police station.
The court found that in Martin’s case, he had failed to give the police sufficient time to examine the documents in question.
What is a ‘reasonable time’?
There is no definition of ‘reasonable time for examination’ or any specific case-law stating whether or not a licence must be physically handed-over to police, but the time-period must be sufficient for police to verify the authenticity of the licence.
So do I have to hand it over or not?
In the absence of a specific requirement to surrender or otherwise pass possession of a licence to police, there is a very strong argument that showing it for a sufficient period of time without physically handing it over would suffice.
That assertion is supported by the definition of the word ‘produce’ in the Oxford dictionary; which is “bring forward for inspection, consideration or use”.
So if you are pulled over, you are required to show police your licence but are within your rights to say something like ‘I am producing my licence for a reasonable time to enable you to examine it, but I do not wish to surrender it to you’.
Having said that, there are certain offences where police are able to suspend you from driving and require you to surrender your licence immediately, including speeding by over 45km/h and driving with a mid or high range prescribed concentration of alcohol. For those offences, police are required to serve you with a notice of suspension.