Number plate display caution for interstate trucks in NSW

Registered interstate vehicles can be deemed ‘unregistered’, face huge fine

Number plate display caution for interstate trucks in NSW
An RMS heavy vehicle inspection


A legislative quirk means interstate drivers in NSW face a huge fine for driving ‘unregistered’ if number plates aren’t displayed perfectly, even though the vehicle is validly registered in the home state, reports the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad).

An analysis by lawyer Sarah Marinovic for NatRoad explains that, due to differences in how each state and territory oversees the registration and use of vehicles on its roads, interstate drivers can receive harsher penalties than a local driver would for the same conduct.

In NSW, the law says that any vehicle on a state road must be registered in NSW, with a "vehicles temporarily in NSW" exemption permitting interstate registrations, so long as requirements are followed.

If the visiting vehicle doesn’t meet those requirements, in this case around number plate display, then the exemption is withdrawn and the vehicle is treated as being unregistered in NSW.

"On the face of it, having to display your number plates correctly doesn’t seem like an unreasonable requirement," Marinovic writes.

"However, many people are surprised by just how detailed the rules about displaying number plates are.

"The requirements include things like how high the number plates are, and the distance and specific angles that they must be visible from.

"It is relatively easy to unknowingly display your number plates incorrectly.

"Most drivers caught in this trap are entirely unaware that there is an issue with their number plates. The first time they realise there is a problem is when they receive the fine.

"Sometimes they will receive multiple fines at once."

Marinovic highlights the discrepancy in offences: a driver with a NSW-registered vehicle would receive a fine of $686 and three demerit points for ‘using a vehicle with incorrectly displayed number plates’, whereas an interstate driver would be classified as ‘driving an unregistered vehicle’ and be penalised $1,449 and four demerit points.

The QTA flagged a similar issue last year after operator complaints

"The obvious question is why don’t the authorities simply charge the interstate driver with the same offence that they would a NSW driver?" Marinovic continues.

"The problem is that they can’t.

"The offence of ‘using a vehicle with incorrectly displayed number plates’ only applies to vehicles registered in NSW."

Because there isn’t an equivalent offence for vehicles registered in another state, it leaves authorities with little option but the registration offence.

Marinovic contends "a fairly simple amendment to the legislation" would be to expand the offence for incorrectly displayed number plates to also apply to vehicles registered interstate.

"If the authorities are serious about creating a uniform and streamlined transport legislation, this is an issue that they should consider.

"In the meantime, the best protection for drivers and operators is to familiarise themselves with the requirements for displaying number plates and check all of their vehicles."

UPDATE: RMS tells ATN penalties are only enforced where it is clear the number plate is obviously deliberately obscured.

"NSW has committed to a review of rules governing the display of number plates for interstate vehicles," a spokesperson says.

"Customers can request a review where they believe they have been wrongly fined for an unregistered vehicle due to an obscured number plate."


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