By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.


We thought this one would be a no-brainer: If you’re planning to defy the current COVID-19 regulations and attempt to cross state borders, arriving at the border checkpoint in your car with your number plates blackened out while also driving on the wrong side of the road probably isn’t the best way to go about it.

For one thing, everything about the above is against the law.

For another thing – and we could be wrong about this – but if you’re driving around with your number plates strangely covered up and travelling on the wrong side of the road, there’s a good chance you’re going to get noticed.

Alas, this is no scene from a movie – there are just some genuinely senseless drivers amongst us, and for one South Australian man, this was probably the most expensive decision of his life.

South Australia Police reports that around 7.15pm on 24 July 2020, officers at the Oodla Wirra border checkpoint in the Mid North of South Australia noticed a blue Toyota sedan travelling at speed on the wrong side of the Barrier Highway.

The vehicle’s number plates were blackened out and the driver did not stop at the checkpoint, simply driving straight through it.

Officers followed the vehicle and a short time later located it abandoned in bushes near a dirt road.

The alleged driver of the vehicle was a 30-year-old man from Elizabeth Downs.

The man eventually emerged from the bushes and was arrested.

According to police, the man was a non-essential traveller who was on his way back to South Australia from New South Wales and would have to undergo the required 14-day quarantine at Elizabeth Park accommodation.

He was also in breach of bail conditions for another offence and driving unlicensed.

The man was charged with obscure number plate, driving at a dangerous speed, driving unlicensed and breach of bail, in addition to failing to comply with quarantine under the Emergency Management Act.

According to police, the man was also submitted to a drug test, which allegedly delivered a positive result for methamphetamine.

The man was refused bail and given a court attendance notice, while his Toyota was impounded for 28 days.

The Rules You Should Know About Displaying Your Vehicle’s Number Plates

While it may come across as somewhat trivial to be fined for obscuring your number plates, in all states and territories, there are strict rules in place around the visibility of your number plates and these must be adhered to.

In NSW, the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) advises that all vehicles registered in the state must have official number plates matching the details shown on the vehicle’s Certificate of Registration and they must not be obscured, defaced or otherwise not legible in any way.

In fact, it is an offence for drivers and registered operators of vehicles if number plates are obscured, defaced or unable to be read properly, or are not fitted properly.

In part, this is because police and citizens need to be able to accurately report details in situations where a vehicle is involved in criminal behaviour.

As such, number plates need to be clear and visible at all times – even having a number plate that is dirty is considered an offence.

Additionally, if number plates have a plate cover, they must be clear, clean, untinted and flat over the entire surface.

They also must have no reflective or other characteristics that would prevent the successful operation of traffic offence detection devices.

The RMS instructs that number plates should be permanently fitted to vehicles in an upright position and parallel to the vehicle’s axles, while not being more than 1.3 metres above ground level.

Furthermore, the numbers on number plates must be clearly visible from any point that is up to 20 metres from the number plate, and within an arc of 45 degrees from the surface of the number plate above or to either side of the vehicle.

For vehicles, one number plate must be fitted to the front of the vehicle and another to its rear. If they differ in size, the larger number plate must be fitted to its rear.

For motorcycles or trailers, one number plate must be fitted to its rear.

As the case of the South Australian man reveals, police officers have the authority to issue infringement notices if a number plate is obscured, defaced, blackened out or has been tampered with in some form. 

In NSW, the law on number plate visibility is set out in clause 25 of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017.

Clause 25 makes clear that number plates must be in an upright position that is substantially parallel to the vehicle’s axles, and not more than 1.3 metres above ground level.

Click here for a complete outline on the penalties for having an obscured number plate in NSW.

In NSW, you can be issued with an on-the-spot of $448 fine for driving a vehicle with an obscured, defaced, unclean or unclear number plate.

The offence also incurs three demerit points.

You can either pay the fine, closing the case, or if you wish to avoid demerit points you can have the matter dealt with in court, at which point the maximum penalty you could also face is a fine of $2,200, unless you are sentenced with a section 10 non-conviction penalty.

Published on 14/08/2020

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Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia are Leading Criminal Defence Lawyers, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Courts.

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