NRMA gets result on number plate gate

By Wade O'Leary on 23 June 2015
Caravan driving off road
Crusader Caravan

UPDATE: The manufacturer of a caravan that left a Member with a large fine and a demerit points penalty for an incorrectly-positioned numberplate has released a modification kit free of charge for all affected customers.

It was a month ago when we first looked into the case of NRMA Member, Steve Laws, who was fined $415 and docked three demerit points for an incorrectly-positioned numberplate on his caravan.

After his story was viewed over 200,000 times, we exposed nationwide inconsistencies in caravan numberplate placement regulations then spoke to retailers and industry bodies about how the rules worked – and revealed how widely they were misunderstood (read more here).

Crusader Caravans spokesman Max Mayo said owners could have the modification kits, which relocate numberplates to the maximum legal height of 1.3 metres, fitted free of charge at their nearest dealership or contact the company to get the kit posted out for a simple fitment process.

But he expressed reservations about the rule that triggered the whole series of events.

"It's one of those regulations that I sincerely don't know why it's there," he said.

"Like many other areas of the industry, there are a lot of grey areas: many of these regulations were initially written for trucks and cars, for which the applications are fairly simple.

"It's just when you get into things like caravans, it gets more difficult."

Mr Mayo said that Crusader Caravans manufactured since November 2014 had the numberplates positioned in accordance with Australian Design Rule 61/02 (Vehicle Marking), sub-section but that the company didn't realise the seriousness of the earlier design flaw.

"The funny thing is that we get audited year after year and there's never been a whisper about it," he said.

"Apart from for speed cameras, it's probably already in the perfect position to be observed.

"But at the end of the day, we've got to obey the rules."

Caravan Industry Association of Australia (CIAA) chief executive Stuart Lamont said the latest outcome was the result of an audit undertaken after the initial story was published, but echoed Mr Mayo's suggestion that the rule was motivated at least partially by revenue raising and that there were more serious priorities for the industry.

“There are a number of (other) very serious non-compliance issues on the market that need to be talked about,” he said.

“We’re working closely with the national regulator to stamp out non-compliance across a range of area: we’ve been talking to state government bodies about this but they’ve been going down the path of education rather than enforcement, which has failed.”

Mr Lamont said breaches in imported products regarding weight assessments, couplings, gas and electrical installations and so-called “suicide doors” plus various personal products imported through a self-declaration process could be regarded as more pressing matters for regulators to address.

“The broader issue here is how the product got through the registration process which you would expect would pull this issue up prior to the vehicle getting into the hands of the consumer,” he said.

"In this case, the policeman is quite right – most cops don’t understand the rule or couldn’t be bothered to enforce it.

“The construction of a caravan is subject to many regulations, yet the enforcement by government remains difficult and is applied inconsistently."

Our investigation has also revealed how many motorists have been issued infringement notices for incorrectly positioned plates, with the Office of State Revenue confirming 423 tickets have been written up since the regulation was last updated in February 2014.

And while anyone wishing to contest their fine would have to attend court in the jurisdiction where it was issued – in Mr Laws’s case, forcing him to travel nearly 700km from Taree to Forbes – we can confirm that a Section 10 plea can be transferred to the defendant’s local court.

Section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act of 1999 enables a court to order the dismissal of charges regarding any case without recording a conviction in the event of a guilty plea, which also relieves the defendant of any fines or demerit points issued.

However, in this case the application would likely require the support of the caravan manufacturer in affirming that the licence mount was incorrectly located at the point of manufacture or sale.

It should also be kept in mind that Section 10s are very rarely issued more than once, so if you are charged with a more serious motoring offence that you might also be entitled to contest then a Section 10 will probably not be a realistic option.

And what does Mr Laws think, now that the issue has finally been resolved?

Well, ironically enough, he's selling his caravan ... but it's not because of the numberplate saga.

"I've actually already got it fixed - I got a mate of mine who's an electrical engineer to come around and we worked out a solution," he said.

"I've just had enough of this type of travelling: the main reason I did it was to get out of Sydney and now I'm up the coast - winter still hasn't gotten here - there's no real need.

"It's also a lot of responsibility, towing a vehicle weighing two-and-a-half to three tonnes ... it's easier just to stay at a hotel or a motel if I feel like going somewhere.

"But it's great that we've managed to make people aware of this problem and to get a result - mission accomplished!"