By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Ahh, another day, another vague road rule that no one’s really heard about and that almost just seems like another attempt to raise some revenue *sigh*.
In this episode of Aussie Drivers Forced to Pay Petty Fines, it turns out that having a dirty licence plate on your motor vehicle can leave you both cleaning up a massive fine and losing demerit points.
Yes, you read that correctly.
But in case you’re feeling somewhat in denial about this, just ask this driver of a Toyota Prado who in March this year was smacked with a whopping fine because he didn’t clean his number plate.
While most of the driver’s car appeared to be relatively clean, the build-up of dirt on his number plate deemed his number plate to be “obscured” and thus him breaking the law of using a Class A vehicle with his number plate not visible to the police.
Alas, the 4WD driver is now $448 and three demerit points poorer having being picked up by NSW Police for the unusual wrongdoing.
NSW Police Warn to Reach for the Hose More Often
Indeed, most of us are probably guilty of leaving it a bit too long between washing our cars, but since the incident on 21 March 2019, NSW Police have issued a warning to road users to get off their lazy butts and get scrubbing often (or continue being lazy and at least drive through the car wash).
A cautioning from NSW Police on the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command’s Facebook page read, “Not washing your car properly – $448 and 3 points. Don’t wash your car and neglect your number plate. Remover [sic] the cover.”
“You Get Fined for Everything These Days”: Reactions from Social Media Users
It comes as no surprise that the people of NSW weren’t exactly excited about learning of this little-known fine.
Expectedly, one comment from an online user read, “you get fined for everything these days.”
“448 though? Seriously,” another person wrote.
“Who has enough water to wash the car?!?! We are in the middle of the biggest drought in living memory! We don’t wash cars or number plates. That is a luxury we can’t afford,” another social media user added.
A couple of people were quick to point out, however, that having your licence plate displayed clearly is not a new law.
“It’s always been mandatory that number plates be visible,” one person wrote.
“I’m sorry but that’s common sense as to having your licence plate to be visible,” another commented.
So, What’s the Deal with Having a Dirty Licence Plate Anyway?
According to the Roads and Maritime Services, all vehicles registered in NSW must have official number plates and these must be permanently fitted to vehicles in an upright position and parallel to the vehicle’s axles. It must not be fitted more than 1.3m above ground level.
Number plates must also not be obscured, defaced or otherwise not legible.
People walking past or driving past, along with the police, need to be able to read licence plates.
Both police and citizens also need to be able to accurately report details if a vehicle is involved in criminal behaviour and so number plates on vehicles need to be clear and visible.
Further to this, number plates in general need to be able to be easily traced to its owner for the safety of the community.
Police officers can issue infringement notices if a number plate is obscured or has been tampered with.
The Law on Obscured Number Plates in NSW
Under section 60 Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017 (NSW) there is a maximum penalty of $2,200 that a Magistrate can impose in court if anyone is guilty of breaching clause 25 Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017 (NSW). Clause 25 requires a vehicle number plate to be permanently affixed to the vehicle in such a way that:
- The number-plate is upright and substantially parallel to the vehicle’s axles and is no more than 1.3m above ground level; and
- The number-plate isn’t obscured, illegible or defaced; and
- The numbers on the number-plate are clear and visible from at least 20 metres away and within an arc of 45 degrees away from the surface of the number-plate above or to either side of the vehicle; and
- Any cover on the number-plate is clean, clear, untinted and flat over its whole surface, and has no reflective characteristics that would prevent the successful operation of a device approved for use under a law relating to the detection of traffic offences; and
- A number-plate is affixed to the front and rear of the motor vehicle.
However, if a police officer issues you with a penalty notice, also known as an on-the-spot fine for this offence, you will not be required to appear in court.
The on-the-spot fine for using a vehicle with an obscured, defaced, unclean or unclear number-plate in NSW is $448 with 3 demerit points. Paying this fine will put an end to the case and you will not be subject to a maximum $2,200 fine.
However, if you wish to avoid demerit points due to fear that it will result in a demerit point suspension by paying the fine, you may court-elect the fine notice (an option on the back) which will then require you to appear in the local court.
When appearing in the local court, you have the option to then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the Magistrate.
How the States Match Up: The Laws Around Australia for Having a Dirty Licence Plate
The stats are in!
We did the research for you on the penalties by state for sporting a dirty number plate:
NSW: $448 fine; three demerit points
VIC: Fine up to $161
QLD: Fine up to $104
SA: Fine up to $534
WA: Fine up to $100
NT: Fine up to $70
TAS: Fine up to $163
Sadly, it seems most of Australia has it a lot easier than Sydney-siders when it comes to this obscure road rule.
The solution is simple: Move state or just clean your car.
Happy washing, readers!
Our Sydney leading traffic lawyers specialise in traffic charges. We offer a free first appointment with fixed fees for most traffic cases. Call our 24/7 hotline on (02) 8606 2218. We have 8 offices across NSW.