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Australian P-Plate laws explained
Updated 15 Apr 2021
Earning a provisional license is a significant achievement.
It’s a teenager’s gateway to freedom: the ability to do what you want, when you want to, and to go wherever you like on your own. But in Australia, P-plate laws aren’t clear-cut.
There’s no standard across all the territories and states, and deciphering the laws for where you live can be a challenge.
Let’s attempt to wade through the P-plate laws in each state and territory of Australia.
A few regulations apply across Australia:
- Drivers with a provisional license are not permitted to have any alcohol or drugs in their system while operating a car.
- Provisional drivers may not use a mobile phone or device of any kind when behind the wheel.
- Of course, seat belt use is mandatory, as is displaying a P-plate whilst you’re a provisionary driver.
All other regulations are set by the territory or state of residence. That can be confusing because most areas are similar but not exactly the same. Read on for regulations in each Australian zone.
Note: Whilst every registered vehicle is required by law to have Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance, additional levels of insurance are not a requirement.
However, CTP insurance only covers compensation claims made against you if you injure or kill someone in a car accident where you're at fault, but it doesn't cover the damage to their property.
So, when a learner driver is in control of your vehicle, it's strongly recommended that at a minimum, you make sure your car is covered by Third Party Property insurance.
Third Party Property insurance will cover you for any damage caused to another person's property during an accident where the learner driver is at fault. Without this level of cover, third parties, or their insurance companies, will approach you to cover the cost of fixing or replacing the other party's property.
Depending on the damage, the cost of this could be tens of thousands of dollars.
Going a step further and purchasing a comprehensive level of car insurance will mean both your and other peoples property is covered in the event of an accident, no matter whether you or a third party is at fault.
Australian Capital Territory
The ACT is the least restrictive zone for P-platers. There’s only one level of provisional license and it’s straightforward to understand.
Apart from the nationwide regulations, ACT P-plate holders, who must be at least 17 years old and have held a learner license for a minimum of 6 months, can only receive four demerits for infractions while a full license allows for 12 demerits.
Provisional licenses in the ACT are issued for three years, and there aren’t any speed restrictions imposed (aside from those signed). P-platers can also drive any type of car they wish.
For the 12 months, Provisional license holders are not allowed to tow another vehicle, unless it is a trailer with a GVM of 750kg or less.
In addition, provisional drivers over the age of 26 only need to display the P-plate for six months.
Queensland’s P-plate laws aren’t overly difficult either. There are two stages of provisional drivers, P1 and P2.
A P1 provisional license allows for only one passenger under the age of 21 who is not an immediate family member between 11 pm and 5 am. After 12 months, a P1 license can be upgraded to a P2 license, lifting that restriction. If you're under 25, you'll need to stay on your P2 license for 2 years.
P1 licence holders are not allowed to use hands-free mobile kits, wireless handsets or loudspeaker functions with their mobile phones. P2 holders, however, can.
High-powered vehicle restrictions apply to P1 and P2 licenses in QLD. A high-powered vehicle is a car that has been manufactured on or after January 1st 2010 and has a power-to-weight ratio of more than 130kW/t (kilowatts per ton). If the car was made before that date, it's considered high-powered if it has 8 or more cylinders, has a turbocharged or supercharged engine that isn't diesel, has an engine power output of more than 210kW, or is a rotary engine with a capacity of 1146cc.
P-plate laws are more stringent in Victoria, and also fall under the two-stage provisional license system. P1, or red P plates, last for a year whilst P2, or green P plates will need to be retained for three years.
P1 drivers must be 18 years old and cannot carry more than one passenger between the ages of 16 and 21 during the first year unless it’s a family member. Towing is not allowed under the first stage.
After the 12-month P1 period, drivers graduate to P2 and passenger restrictions are lifted.
All P-platers in Victoria, both P1 and P2, are limited in their car selection. They cannot drive certain performance vehicles including those with V8 engines and others listed in the Victoria regulations.
The car list is subject to change, so make yourself aware of restrictions before getting behind the wheel.
Like ACT, only 4 demerits are allowed before a license suspension.
P-platers in the NT aren’t restricted in their class of cars at all. While they can drive a performance car if they wish, they cannot exceed 100 km/h, even if the sign-posted limit is higher.
The two-stage provisional license is NOT in effect here, but you'll have your provisional license for two years. Provisional drivers are subject to a points action trigger of 5 demerit points in one year.
The two-stage provisional license is in effect in South Australia. The following P1 licence conditions will result in losing your license:
- Driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
- Exceeding the speed limit by 10km/h
- Accumulate four or more demerit points during the provisional license period
- Cannot drive over 100 km/h, even if the speed limit exceeds 100km/h
The following laws also apply and will result in fines, demerit points or loss of license:
- You can only drive the class of vehicle stated on your licence
- You must carry a provisional licence at all times when driving
- You cannot drive a high powered vehicle under the age of 25
- Must not drive over 100km/h even if the speed limit is 110km/h
- You cannot drive between 12am and 5am (applicable to P1 drivers under the age of 25)
- If you're under the age of 25, no more than one passenger aged 16-20 (excluding immediate family members)
- You can't use any mobile function while driving, including Bluetooth, loud speaker mode or hands-free
After 12 months, drivers can graduate to P2, providing they pass the Hazard Perception Test. Below are the following P2 provisional licence laws and conditions:
- You can only drive the class of the vehicle stated on your licence
- You must carry your provisional licence at all times whilst driving
- You cannot drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
- You can't drive a high power vehicle unless you're over the age of 25 and have a full licence
- Cannot drive over 100 km/h, even if the speed limit exceeds 100km/h
- If you commit a speeding offence of 10km/h or more you will breach your license conditions
- You must not accumulate 4 or more demerit points
The following laws no longer apply to P2 provisional licenses, ONLY P1 provisional licences:
- You must display your P-plates so they are clearly visible from the front and rear of your vehicle
- You must not use any mobile phone function while driving (Hands-free, bluetooth or loud speaker)
- If you're under the age of 25, you must not drive between 12am 5am or with more than one passenger aged 16-20 (excluding immediate family members)
- Motorcycle P1 provisional licence holders must not lane filter
Head out west to WA and the rules are different again. P1 drivers cannot operate a car between midnight and 5 am unless an exemption is granted for work or study.
After six months, P1 licensees graduate to P2, and the curfew is lifted. Again, four demerits are allowed.
P1 drivers in Tasmania are restricted to 80 km/h or less. After one year with a P1 permit, the speed limit is lifted when a P2 license is granted.
No car class restrictions here and P-platers are can only receive four demerit points before losing their license.
New South Wales
NSW is the most restrictive on new drivers. P-platers must adhere to the following rules:
- P1 license holders must not exceed 90 km/h
- With a P1 license, maximum towing allowed is 250kg
- If the P1 licensee is under 25, only one passenger under the age of 21 is allowed between 11pm and 5am
- P1 licenses in NSW are only permitted up to four demerit points
- P-platers under 21 years of age cannot operate a high-powered car
- After 12 months, P1 drivers graduate to P2
- P2 license holders see their speed limit increased to 100km/h and up to seven demerits are allowed
While it would be great if laws were the same nationwide, they simply are not. P-platers are responsible for knowing the rules in the areas which they drive.
If you’re unsure of the regulations, contact your local traffic authority and be careful when crossing over state and territory borders as the rules may differ.
In-article image: Unsplash
Thumbnail image: American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
Jason is a Canadian automotive content writer with a background in the auto service industry, but he’s been hooked on cars and mechanics since childhood.
One of his first cars was an ’80 Mazda RX-7 that’s sorely missed to this day. A ’68 Ford Torino GT, a ’66 Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon, and a ’96 Suzuki GSX-R 750 have spent time in his fleet of cars, bikes, and trucks over the past two decades.
Jason’s pride and joy is under construction – a turbocharged ’88 Mazda RX-7 convertible. Also on his resume is CASCAR official certification.