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This article was written by Dr Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade working in higher education, Nicola joined Armstrong Legal in 2020.

Number Plates (NSW)


New South Wales first introduced vehicle registration plates in 1910. Today, every vehicle owner in NSW must display currently registered and decipherable number plates in accordance with the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2017. This article outlines the rules and regulations that relate to the maintenance and display of number plates in NSW.

Number plates enable the police to track stolen vehicles, and identify the owner of vehicles involved in traffic offences and those caught on red light and speed cameras. These aims can only be achieved if the number plate on every vehicle is current, visible and decipherable.

Placement And Condition Of Number Plates

The law in NSW dictates that a number plate must be displayed and positioned in certain ways on a vehicle to ensure that it is visible from all directions and from at least 20 metres away. The plates must be permanently fixed to the vehicle upright and parallel to the axles of the vehicle, and no more than 1.3 metres above the road level.

The registered owner of the vehicle is responsible for ensuring that the number plate remains in a good, legible condition at all times. The method of installation must not interfere with the legibility of the plate combination or otherwise deface the number plate. Any plate cover needs to be un-tinted, non-reflective, and completely flat so that it does not obstruct the operation of speed and traffic infringement devices. Any frame needs to be clear of the area around the plate characters. Number plates must be visible even at night, so it is also a legal requirement that a number plate light be fitted to the rear of the vehicle. This light must automatically turn on when the vehicles headlights, taillights or parking lights are engaged.

It is acceptable for a registered trailer to block the vehicle’s plates if the licence plate for the trailer is visible. When an item such as a tow bar, bike rack or mobility device rack obstructs the view of the rear plate, the number plate must be moved to a new position where it is visible, or the registered owner can install an auxiliary plate on the rear of the vehicle.

The registered owner of a car will be fined and lose demerit points for infringements of these road rules.

Replacing Number Plates In NSW

A NSW number plate will typically last for around ten years. Any plate older than this is likely to be hard to read and should be replaced. The registered owner of a car should regularly check that a plate is in a legible condition, particularly if the car is an older model. Highway patrol officers and vehicle inspectors check the condition of number plates and can issue infringement notices if the plates are not in good condition.

Stolen And Cloned Number Plates

If number plates are stolen or a driver has reason to believe that the number plate has been cloned, they must report the crime immediately to the police and then to a NSW service centre.

Special Number Plates In NSW

While standard number plate combinations are generated automatically, it is possible to order a special number plate combination, also known as a custom or vanity plate. This is an accepted way for drivers to personalise what is otherwise a purely functional vehicle accessory in a way that is meaningful to the driver or car owner.

These custom plates are strictly regulated and there are prohibitions against combinations that are deemed offensive, because of profanity, drug reference, or if they have the potential to incite unrest or dangerous driving. For instance, the NSW Roads and Maritime Services have banned plates that read 5ATAN, PI55ED and I5PEED. Standard and special number plates remain the property of Transport for NSW and must be surrendered upon request.

Cost Of Special Number Plates In NSW

The price of a special number plate depends on the complexity of the design and whether it is being purchased from Transport for NSW or from a third party dealer. Personalised plates start at $105 and custom plates from $454. A coveted plate combination might sell for thousands of dollars.

However, it is not as easy to transfer ownership of a number plate combination in NSW as it is in other states and territories in Australia. An owner of heritage plates or Personalised Plus plates can transfer ownership by paying a fee and filling out a form. Other custom plates can only be transferred to employees, family members, or to a deceased estate. Alternatively, the owner of a custom plate can sell the plates attached to a vehicle. Once the new owner has bought the car, they can transfer the number plate to another one of their vehicles.

Please contact Armstrong Legal on 1300 038 223 if you have any questions about selling or buying a number plate in NSW, or believe you have been incorrectly issued an infringement notice.

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