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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.

Passenger Rules (NSW)


In order to drive a vehicle in New South Wales, a driver needs to be familiar with a range of road rules that govern not only their own conduct but also the behaviour of any passengers in their vehicles. Drivers in New South Wales are required to pass theoretical and practical driving tests to demonstrate their knowledge of the road rules, but that does not guarantee an exhaustive knowledge of the more esoteric rules. While a driver will undoubtedly be aware of the necessity for passengers to wear seat belts, there are other rules that are not as well known. Drivers in NSW need to be aware of these passenger rules because a breach does carry penalties for both passenger and driver.

Passengers for Younger Drivers

A driver on a provisional licence in NSW faces additional passenger rules. P1 drivers who are under the age of 25 can only drive with one passenger under the age of 21 at night (between 11 pm and 5 am). There is an exception for immediate family members. A contravention of this road rule can incur 3 demerit points and a fine of $572.

How Passengers Must Travel In A Vehicle

A passenger cannot travel in any part of a vehicle that is not designed for the purpose of carriage. For instance, a passenger, no matter how small, cannot ride in the boot or footwell of a car. These spaces are not designed to protect a passenger in case of a traffic accident. An infringement of this rule can attract a fine of 20 penalty units.

Passengers Must Stay Within The Car

It is not unusual, particularly in vehicles without air conditioning, for a driver or passenger to rest their arm (or another body part) outside the window. While it may seem like a fairly harmless act, it is actually a contravention of the NSW Road Rules for a driver or passenger to hang any part of their body outside a window of the vehicle. This includes acts as seemingly innocuous as waving at a passerby if the passenger’s hand passes the window frame. If the police observe a passenger contravening this rule, the driver is subject to a fine and three demerit points, and if the passenger is over 16, they may also be subject to the same financial penalty.

This road rule does not apply to a passenger on a motorbike, someone in an emergency or police vehicle, or someone who is engaged in the collection of goods or delivery if the vehicle is travelling at a speed under 25 kilometres an hour.

Passenger Rules

While a passenger must be in an assigned seat and keep their limbs within the vehicle, some other actions are surprisingly not against the road rules.

For instance, someone sitting in the front passenger seat is free to rest their feet on the dashboard of a moving vehicle. This is generally not advisable, as during an accident the passenger is liable to suffer a much more serious injury than if they sit with their feet in the designated footwell. In particular, a passenger who sits with their feet on the dash can be seriously injured if an airbag deploys during an accident.

It is also not specifically illegal for a passenger to recline their seat during a drive. However, having the seat reclined while the car is in motion is not permitted if the position of the seat interferes with the placement of the seat belt. In addition, a reclined seat must not obscure the driver’s vision as the road rules require a driver to have a clear view behind, ahead and on either side to see the road and traffic conditions. For these reasons, it is recommended that a passenger, and especially a driver, only recline their seat when the car is parked. The penalty for obscuring the vision of the driver could be up to three penalty units and three demerit points for the driver (and potentially a fine for the passenger as well).

A driver can be fined and lose 3 demerit points for allowing a contravention of regulation 299 of the Road Rules, which states that a passenger cannot use a visual display unit or television receiver while a vehicle is in operation if it has the potential to distract the driver or other drivers on the road. For instance, there have been recent cases of drivers receiving infringement notices for allowing their passengers to facetime and use a laptop while in the front passenger seat.

This rule does not apply to a police or emergency vehicle data terminal, or bus destination signs. It also does not refer to a visual aid display unit that is securely mounted to the vehicle or integrated into the vehicle design. Visual aid displays include CCTV cameras, dispatch systems, rearview screens, navigational equipment, and vehicle monitoring devices.

Armstrong Legal can help with any questions about road rules in NSW or provide legal advice or representation to challenge a driving infringement or appeal a licence suspension. Please contact our traffic law solicitors on 1300 038 223.

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