Visa holders driving for years on Australian roads without holding a local licence


Foreigners continue to drive in Australia for years without a local licence, even after committing multiple offences that would force ordinary citizens off the road. 

Holders of temporary working or student visas in most states can drive on their overseas licences indefinitely, or until they become permanent residents. 

The loophole means non English-speaking foreigners can drive on Australian roads without undergoing any local testing or even being able to read road signs.

The family of a father-of-three killed in a collision with a student visa holder driving on his Nigerian licence near Newcastle last year is now pushing for changes to the law. 

Trent Heffernan was killed in a collision with a Nigerian student driving on his foreign licence. His family is now pushing for changes to laws which allow visa holders to drive indefinitely without obtaining a local licence. Mr Heffernan is pictured with daughter Matilda

Trent Heffernan was killed in a collision with a Nigerian student driving on his foreign licence. His family is now pushing for changes to laws which allow visa holders to drive indefinitely without obtaining a local licence. Mr Heffernan is pictured with daughter Matilda

Innocent Oliver Idokoh allegedly drifted onto the wrong side of the road and hit Trent  Heffernan's car near Newcastle. Idokoh (on crutches) was charged with dangerous driving occasioning death, negligent driving causing death and not keeping left of a dividing line

Innocent Oliver Idokoh allegedly drifted onto the wrong side of the road and hit Trent  Heffernan’s car near Newcastle. Idokoh (on crutches) was charged with dangerous driving occasioning death, negligent driving causing death and not keeping left of a dividing line

Brazilian student visa holder Arthur Rohsig was caught with eight passengers in his car while driving drunk with a flat tyre on his foreign licence. He had racked up 35 demerit points in nine months but avoided a driving ban until he was pulled over in Sydney’s eastern suburbs

Brazilian student visa holder Arthur Rohsig was caught with eight passengers in his car while driving drunk with a flat tyre on his foreign licence. He had racked up 35 demerit points in nine months but avoided a driving ban until he was pulled over in Sydney’s eastern suburbs

Trent Heffernan was behind the wheel of his Toyota Corolla on Wakefield Road at Ryhope, west of Lake Macquarie, when he collided with another vehicle on November 29. 

Mr Heffernan, who was trapped in his car and died at the scene, was on his way home to celebrate his 42nd birthday with his family at Millfield near Cessnock. 

He left behind widow Kirsty, sons Beau and Will and daughter Matilda.  

The driver of the second vehicle, student visa holder Innocent Oliver Idokoh, 38, had allegedly drifted onto the wrong side of the road and hit Mr Heffernan’s Toyota. 

Idokoh, who suffered a leg injury, has been charged with dangerous driving occasioning death, negligent driving causing death and not keeping left of a dividing line. 

Mr Heffernan’s sister Peita Heffernan has started a petition seeking to ensure foreign drivers obtain a NSW licence rather than rely on a permit from their country of origin.

Trent Heffernan was behind the wheel of his Toyota Corolla on Wakefield Road at Ryhope, west of Lake Macquarie, when he collided with another vehicle on November 29 (pictured)

Trent Heffernan was behind the wheel of his Toyota Corolla on Wakefield Road at Ryhope, west of Lake Macquarie, when he collided with another vehicle on November 29 (pictured)

Mr Heffernan, who was trapped in his car and died at the scene, was on his way home to celebrate his 42nd birthday with his family at Millfield near Cessnock. He is pictured with wife Kirsty, sons Beau (back) and Will and daughter Matilda

Mr Heffernan, who was trapped in his car and died at the scene, was on his way home to celebrate his 42nd birthday with his family at Millfield near Cessnock. He is pictured with wife Kirsty, sons Beau (back) and Will and daughter Matilda

‘There is no way to track these International licences for validity or the holder’s driving history,’ Ms Heffernan states in her petition.

‘We are allowing these people to drive on our roads without any testing.

‘Our own students or new licence holders are expected to undertake hours of learning and tests before they can be determined as safe to drive on our roads.

‘If a person is of a non English-speaking background how can they be expected to read and understand our road signs?’

Ms Heffernan told Daily Mail Australia that foreign drivers, particularly students, needed to understand local driving rules. 

‘You can’t get angry, you just have to find a solution,’ she said. ‘It can’t be that hard.

‘My point is they’ve come here to learn so we should harness that desire and give them another opportunity to learn something else.

‘We’re not only letting Australians down, we’re letting those people down as well.’

Peita Heffernan said foreign drivers, particularly students, needed to understand local driving rules. ‘If a person is of a non English-speaking background how can they be expected to read and understand our road signs?’

Mr Heffernan's sister Peita Heffernan has started a petition seeking to ensure foreign drivers obtain a NSW licence rather than rely on a permit from their country of origin. Ms Heffernan is pictured with her brother

Mr Heffernan’s sister Peita Heffernan has started a petition seeking to ensure foreign drivers obtain a NSW licence rather than rely on a permit from their country of origin. Ms Heffernan is pictured with her brother

NSW Roads and Transport Minister Andrew Constance, who met Ms Heffernan recently, told Daily Mail Australia the rules governing international driver’s licences had to change. 

‘I want to pay my respects to Trent Heffernan’s family,’ Mr Constance said. ‘They are going through the worst kind of pain, grief and suffering having lost their beloved father, husband, brother and son. 

‘I know they are advocating strongly for change to the way we record international drivers in our state. 

NSW Roads and Transport Minister Andrew Constance wants to limit the time visa holders can drive on foreign licences

NSW Roads and Transport Minister Andrew Constance wants to limit the time visa holders can drive on foreign licences

‘Out of respect for the family, and as Trent’s legacy, this must happen and we must make it happen quickly.’ 

Authorities have difficulty keeping track of demerit points issued to visitors driving on foreign licences, which in some cases have accrued for years without any action being taken. 

The issue has long been a major concern for police and is acknowledged by governments but despite a number of disturbing high-profile incidents has still not been resolved. 

An international licence holder stopped for speeding near Wyong on the NSW Central Coast on January 15 was later found to have accrued 74 demerit points in the past three years. 

After police made submissions to Service NSW the driver’s foreign licence was suspended – for just nine months. 

Almost four years ago a student visa holder was caught with eight passengers in his car while driving drunk with a flat tyre on his Brazilian licence.

Arthur Rohsig had racked up 35 demerit points in nine months but avoided a driving ban until he was pulled over in Sydney’s eastern suburbs in April 2017.

The then 24-year-old, who described himself online as a ‘sick c*** living the dream’, laughed at police when caught driving more than three times the legal limit.

Arthur Rohsig (pictured) described himself online as a 'sick c*** living the dream' and laughed at police when caught driving more than three times the legal limit

Arthur Rohsig (pictured) described himself online as a ‘sick c*** living the dream’ and laughed at police when caught driving more than three times the legal limit

When Rohsig (pictured) came before a furious magistrate Jacqueline Milledge at Waverley Local Court she said any driver living in NSW for a 'length of time' should have a local licence

When Rohsig (pictured) came before a furious magistrate Jacqueline Milledge at Waverley Local Court she said any driver living in NSW for a ‘length of time’ should have a local licence

When Rohsig came before a furious magistrate Jacqueline Milledge at Waverley Local Court she said any driver living in NSW for a ‘length of time’ should have a local licence.

‘Any system [that] allows this to happen should hang its head in shame,’ she said.

‘We are swamped by young people on student visas and they don’t apply for NSW licences and they can drive… without any regard to losing their driving privileges.

‘To allow someone like you to flout the law… without keeping you in check is ridiculous. It is the absolute arrogance of the way you have been driving in your host country.’

Ms Milledge jailed Rohsig for six months for driving with a blood alcohol reading of 0.172 while carrying more than four unrestrained passengers in his vehicle.

Rohsig appealed and two months District Court judge Paul Conlon reduced the penalty to a 18-month good behaviour bond.

Magistrate Jacqueline Milledge jailed Rohsig (pictured) for six months for driving with a blood alcohol reading of 0.172 while carrying more than four unrestrained passengers in his vehicle

Magistrate Jacqueline Milledge jailed Rohsig (pictured) for six months for driving with a blood alcohol reading of 0.172 while carrying more than four unrestrained passengers in his vehicle

NSW Deputy Secretary for Safety, Environment and Regulation Tara McCarthy acknowledged the system needed to change in a response to questions from Daily Mail Australia. 

‘Transport for NSW recognises the need for policy reform regarding the current arrangements that permit an overseas licence holder who is a temporary visa holder to drive on their overseas licence indefinitely or until the licence holder becomes a permanent resident,’ Mrs McCarthy said.

‘As a priority Transport for NSW is currently examining the introduction of a time limit in which an overseas driver must convert their licence to a local licence.

An international licence holder stopped for speeding near Wyong on the NSW Central Coast on January 15 was later found to have accrued 74 demerit points in the past three years

An international licence holder stopped for speeding near Wyong on the NSW Central Coast on January 15 was later found to have accrued 74 demerit points in the past three years

‘In addition, NSW road transport legislation was amended in October 2020 to provide police with powers to immediately suspend the driving privileges of an overseas driver at the road side.’ 

One of the few conditions placed on drivers using an international licence is that they carry an English translation of their permit if it is not already in English. 

In Victoria and the Northern Territory a time limit of six months and three months respectively has been introduced for overseas drivers to convert their permit to a local licence.  

Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, whereby countries agree to allow international visitors holding valid overseas driver licences to drive on their roads without further testing or assessment. 

The same agreement allows Australian licence holders to drive overseas on their Australian licences without further assessment.

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