Number Plates (Qld) | Armstrong Legal

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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 (Qld)


Number plates were first introduced in Queensland in 1921. It is now a legal requirement for the registered owner of a vehicle to ensure that current and securely attached number plates are visible on the vehicle. In Queensland, the rules relating to number plates are contained in the Transport Operations (Road Use Management – Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2010. This article explains the laws relating to the maintenance and design of number plates in Queensland.

Visibility of Number Plates

The purpose of number plates is to enable police to identify vehicles that are involved in traffic incidents, speed camera or red light infractions, and to help police trace stolen vehicles. For this purpose to be fulfilled, it is critical that the number plate is visible.

Queensland law states that the number plates must be displayed in specific places on the vehicle, where they can be viewed without issue. The registration characters must be legible from 20m away in a 45- degree arc.

When the driver is issued two number plates, one plate must be attached to the front and one to the rear of the vehicle, no more than 1.3m above road level. When there is only one plate (such as for a motorbike) it needs to be attached to the rear of the vehicle.

It is the registered owner’s responsibility to ensure that the number plate is in good condition and is clearly legible from all relevant angles. It is only permissible to drill holes in the plate to attach it to the vehicle, so any method of installation must not deface the number plate or interfere with the legibility of the plate characters. For instance, it is not permitted to damage the plate in order to install a reverse camera. Any number plate cover must be flat, non-reflective, untinted, clear and clean. A cover with a frame must not encroach on the area around the vehicle registration.

An owner can be fined hundreds of dollars if they do not replace an illegible or damaged number plate, or if the registration details are not clear because of a plate frame or cover. However, no demerit points will be deducted in Queensland for this type of infringement.

If an item such as a tow bar is blocking the view of the rear number plate, it must be removed or the plate must be moved to a visible position. A registered trailer can block the plate as long as the trailer’s plates are visible from the rear. Alternatively, a driver can display an accessory number plate.

When Should An Owner Replace A Number Plate?

Under normal conditions, a number plate has a 10-year replacement warranty against faulty workmanship or material. After this period a number plate is likely to show wear and tear that will make the numbers and letters harder to read. The owner needs to regularly check the condition of the plates, especially if the plates are an older issue. It is standard for police and vehicle inspectors to check the condition and legibility of number plates.

Customised Number Plates In Queensland

In the century since number plates were first introduced, the simple identifier has become an opportunity for drivers to express their individuality with “vanity” plates. A person can purchase a number plate combination that is meaningful to them, usually referred to as customised or personalised plates. A driver can create a new letter and number combination, or make a small change to their current number plate. These plates are an effective way to make a vehicle unique, with different colours and styles.

All number plates, including customised and personalised plates, remain the property of the state government and if necessary, must be surrendered to the Department of Transport and Main Roads.  However, a driver who purchases a customized plate has sole possession of the new combination unless it is transferred or surrendered. The driver can even register the combination if they move to another state or territory in Australia. It is also legal to sell a personalised number plate in Queensland to another person or company, as long as both parties sign a transfer form.

Cost of Personalised Number Plates Queensland

The cost of a personalised plate depends on the chosen design and whether the driver is purchasing directly from the transport authority or through a third-party dealer. For direct sales, the proceeds of the sales contribute to state government initiatives, such as road safety campaigns and works. Prices range from under $500 for three-letter and three number combination plates to $3,500 for complicated seven-letter combinations. At an auction, desirable custom plates have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Stolen Number Plates In Queensland

If number plates are stolen, the vehicle’s registered operator must inform the Department of Transport and Main Roads before 14 days have passed. At the same time, the theft should be reported to the Queensland Police Service.

There have been instances of standard number plates being illegally copied in order to avoid tickets and infringements. If a driver suspects that their plates have been copied, they need to contact the police and obtain a report. The transport authority will then replace plates that have been copied free of charge.

Replacing Number Plates In Queensland

An owner can replace an illegible number plate at a service centre. In rural Queensland, vehicle owners can visit a local police station that provides registration services, a Magistrates Court or QGAP office to replace their plate. The driver will need to drive their vehicle to the location before removing the old plates as driving without plates is an offence. Standard replacement plates will be issued immediately and they need to be attached within 24 hours. Customised plates will be mailed to the driver.

The driver intending to replace their number plates must bring the application and evidence of identity and registration details of the vehicle. If the vehicle is registered to more than one person, either person can arrange to replace them. However, for customised plates, if the registration is in more than one name, both people must provide identification and sign the application.

If you have any questions about the laws relating to the number plates in Queensland or need legal representation on this or any other driving, licence or registration matter, please contact out experienced traffic law solicitors on 1300 038 223.

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