We’ve all seen someone on the road who has decided that they’ll just use a piece of cardboard or plastic with their registration on it, in place of their actual number plate.

    • You have to use number plates issued by the relevant authorities
    • Using unauthorised plates could see you fined – and for hundreds of dollars!
    • Demerit points may apply, too

    That might seem like a decent idea if you lose a plate, for whatever reason… maybe it came off when you were off-roading in the mud, or perhaps someone stole it for a laugh or for more nefarious reasons.

    Or maybe your plates just look so worn out from years of exposure to road grime, rocks, bugs, washing, weather, chemicals, and other wear-and-tear that they are illegible.

    Did you know that in some states, there is a 10-year warranty on number plates for faulty materials or workmanship? So, if you think you’re eligible, ask your registration authority for replacement plates. 

    Whatever the cause, you can get in trouble for using a simulacrum of a number plate, even if you use a third party made number plate that looks as good as the real thing to avoid paying the high charges in some states for personalised plates.

    This applies to both the vehicle’s standard or full-size number plates, or accessory plates that you might otherwise use on a bike rack or carrier.

    So, what are the rules, and how much trouble could you get in? Let’s go through it, state-by-state (and the territories, too).

    NSW: In New South Wales it is an offence to “Use vehicle with unauthorised number plate”. That offence could net you three demerit points and a $464 fine. 

    Victoria: It is an offence in Victoria, too, with a fine of $165 and one demerit if you are found to “Use of vehicle where number plate not affixed or displayed in accordance with regulations”.

    Queensland: “It is important to note that any number plate issued to a vehicle, that includes personalised or customised plates, remains the property of the State of Queensland and must be surrendered to the Department of Transport and Main Roads, if required,” the state’s transport website states.

    Further, it is noted that for those who have older plates that require replacement, there are steps owners should take:

    • If you are getting replacement plates that are not customised or personalised, you will get them immediately. You will get a new number plate combination. You must attach number plates within 24 hours of receiving them. We encourage you to attach the new plates to your vehicle before you drive away.
    • If you are applying for the same plate number (these are known as customised plates) or personalised plates, your new plates will be ordered and mailed to you. You need to keep the old plate on the rear of your vehicle until you receive your new plates. For a vehicle with 2 plates, keep the plate that is in the best condition on the rear of your vehicle. You must hand in the old plate when the new plates arrive.

    Transport and Main Roads Queensland states the fine for having a ‘non-genuine’ plate on your vehicle is $320.

    Tasmania: In Tassie, the Traffic Offences list states there’s a potential $195 fine for: “Use vehicle not complying with number plate/cover regulations (other than affix and display)”. Another potential violation is: “Use vehicle without number plates issued for the vehicle affixed and displayed as required”, also a $195 fine.

    Northern Territory: The NT’s Traffic Regulations, Part 2, Division 8, states: “(3) A person must not: (a) unlawfully print, manufacture or be in possession of a label or plate that resembles a registration label or number plate and that is calculated or likely to deceive.” And in the Motor Vehicles Act, it lays out that vehicles must be fitted with the specified number plates as supplied by the authority of that territory.

    When it comes to fines, there’s nothing pertaining precisely to the abovementioned offence, but Traffic Infringement 17, Number Plates, has two different fines under it: Number plate not clearly visible ($30); and Number plate missing ($40).

    Western Australia: WA’s Road Traffic (Vehicles) Regulations 2014 outlines: “WA number plates must not be used for decorative purposes or kept for sentimental reasons. If the plates are no longer in use, they must be returned to the DoT. Failure to do so, may lead to a penalty”. 

    The document further states that: “ A responsible person for, or a person in charge of, a vehicle must ensure that each number plate issued for the vehicle by the CEO or a corresponding authority is rigidly fixed to the vehicle, kept rigidly fixed to the vehicle and displayed in accordance with the applicable provisions…”, with the penalty for a first offence being $200, and subsequent offences, $400.

    And also, if you’re in trouble for that, you might be in trouble for creating an imitation plate. It is an offence to manufacture, sell or supply imitation plates, under the regulations, with identical fines applicable ($200 first offence, $400 subsequent offences).

    South Australia: The state’s Motor Vehicles Regulations 2010 has a bit of a lengthy entry on the legalities of number plates, most of which is mirrored in other states, too. We won’t dwell on the legalities of the positioning and appearance of plates too much, but here’s what SA’s laws state:

    1- The bottom edge of the plate is not less than 30 centimetres above the level of the ground and in such a position that every figure and letter of the registered number is upright; and

    • (a) in the case of a plate placed on the front of the vehicle—the whole of the plate is visible from the front; and
    • (b) in the case of a plate placed on the rear of a vehicle—the whole of the plate is visible from the rear;

    2- Every letter and figure on a number plate must be clearly visible in daylight to a person standing on the same plane as the vehicle at any point not less than 3 metres or more than 18 metres from the plate looking at the plate along an imaginary line approximately at right angles to the plate; and

    • (a) legible from left to right on a plane level with the ground; and
    • (b) clean and legible at all times;
    • (c) a number plate must be rectangular

    SA has pretty strong potential penalties for those found to be doing the wrong thing with their number plates, with Section 47 of the Motor Vehicle Act putting the law in plain English:

    “Drive/Stand motor vehicle on road without prescribed number plates”. Fine – $807 plus a $99 Victims of Crime Levy (total $906).

    ACT: Our nation’s capital has a pretty strict take on the illegitimate number plates situation, under the Road Transport (Vehicle Registrations) Act 1999.

    “The driver of a registrable vehicle commits an offence if the vehicle is used on a road or road related area and has installed or displayed on, or attached to, it–

    • (a) a number plate that was not properly issued, or was properly issued for another vehicle; or
    • (b) a number plate or anything else properly issued that has been fraudulently changed or changed in a way calculated to deceive or anything resembling a number plate or anything else properly issued that is calculated to deceive.

    The maximum imposable fine for that is a court-ordered 20 penalty units, which equates to a fine of $3200.

    Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.

    Matt Campbell
    Matt Campbell is a Senior Contributor at CarExpert.
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