Road transport in NSW is subject to one of the most confusing, complex, intertwined and obscure collection of legislation you could have the misfortune to imagine. I am sure you are far too intelligent to think that some person setting out gratuitous information on the internet would be giving you legal advice. Instead I will simply set out the regulations that appear to me to be relevant and allow you to draw your own conclusions.
In this case you need to refer to 3 different regulations
The Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 which sets out the requirements for number plates.
The Road Transport (General) Regulation 2005 which provides for penalty notices offences.
The Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2008 which provides for demerit points.
The requirements for a bike rack number plate
Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 wrote:21 Auxiliary number-plates for bicycle ...
(1) The Authority may on payment of any applicable fee issue a number-plate (referred to in this Division as an auxiliary number-plate) for use on a registrable vehicle (in addition to the vehicle number-plates) by being placed on apparatus attached to the vehicle for use in transporting a bicycle ...
(5) For the purposes of this Regulation: ...
(b) an auxiliary number-plate displayed, in accordance with this Regulation, on apparatus attached to a motor vehicle for use in transporting a bicycle ... is taken to be placed on the motor vehicle concerned
(6) An auxiliary number-plate displayed on a motor vehicle must be illuminated, at all times when the vehicle is driven between the hours of sunset and sunrise, with a white light so as to render visible at a distance of 20 metres the distinguishing number on the plate.
52 Registrable vehicles to comply with vehicle standards specified in Schedule 2
(1) A person must not use a registrable vehicle on a road or road related area unless: (a) the vehicle complies with the applicable vehicle standards for the vehicle, ... Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units (currently $2,200)
The standards are specified in schedule 2.
Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007, Schedule 2 wrote:61 Number-plates
(1) In this clause: ... (b) vehicle number-plate means a number-plate other than an auxiliary number-plate. ...
(2) The vehicle number-plate issued by the Authority for a vehicle must be permanently affixed to the vehicle so that (assuming the vehicle to be on level ground): ... (b) the number-plate is not obscured, defaced or otherwise not legible...
99 Number-plate lights
(1) At least 1 number-plate light must be fitted to the rear of a vehicle.
(2) When on, the number-plate light or lights must illuminate a number-plate on the rear of the vehicle (other than an auxiliary number-plate) with white light, so the characters on the number-plate can be read at night 20 metres from the rear of the vehicle.
It is most likely that in fitting a bike rack, especially with one or more bikes attached, your number plate will be obscured. It appears clear to me that the intention of the regulation is that this is not an offence if you have a bike rack plate fitted in accordance with the regulations. There is however a bit of a gap in the regulations in that nowhere is that expressly stated.
The penalties for obscuring a number plate
If your bike rack does not have a bike rack plate, issued by whatever the RTA is called today, or is fitted but has no number plate light and you are driving after sunset and before sunrise, you may be fined and receive demerit points off your licence. Sunset and Sunrise are not defined, but you would have a good argument for referring to the computations from Geoscience Australia.
The maximum court issued fine for a breach of clause 52(1)(a) is $2,200. If you are issued with a penalty notice for a breach of clause 52(1)(a) this carries a level 6 fine, currently $353 – see Road Transport (General) Regulation 2005, regulation 170.
Road Transport (General) Regulation 2005, schedule 3 wrote:Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007
Clause 52 (1) except in relation to a matter provided for elsewhere in this Table - level 2
Clause 52 (1) (a) in respect of the use of a registrable vehicle that does not comply with any of the following provisions of Schedule 2: ...
(i) clause 61, number-plates not affixed and displayed correctly (including obscured, defaced, illegible or illegal number-plates) in the case of a class A motor vehicle - level 6
If you are issued with a penalty notice for a breach of clause 52(1)(a) this will include 3 demerit points:
Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2008, schedule 2 wrote:Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007
Clause 52 (1) (a) - Use vehicle with obscured/defaced/illegible number-plate or number-plate not displayed or affixed in accordance with Regulation - 3 demerit points
What might I be able to do to avoid a fine or demerit points ?
As I am in the fortunate position of considering this before I have been charged, the simple option is to
(1) As I don’t yet have a bike rack plate, I went to the Myplates website, paid the $37 and am now waiting for the plate to be ready to be picked up.
(2) When it arrives I will fit the plate to my bike rack
(3) I will fit a number plate light to my bike rack, in case I drive my car after sunset and before sunrise. As my car has a towbar, it is as simple as fitting a suitable plug to use the trailer connection. If I didn't have a towbar, I would need to use my imagination to set up a suitable plug.
If I had already received a penalty notice, unless I had a bike rack plate or the number plate was not obscured, I would accept that I was "bang to rights" and simply pay the fine and accept the penalty.
If I had a bike rack plate fitted and the issue was the lack of a number plate light, I would consider seeking a review from the State Debt Recovery Office. In the request, I would make the following points:
(1) if there is an issue about sunrise or sunset, the time and location of the alleged infringement and the time of sunrise and sunset at that location;
(2) That even if I was in breach of regulation 21(6) of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (ie after sunset, before sunrise & no number plate light) that is not the offence with which I was charged. Both clauses 61 and 99 of Schedule 2 of the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 specifically exclude an auxiliary number plate.
(3) The penalty is out of proportion to the scheme in Schedule 3 to the Road Transport (General) Regulation 2005 in that not having a working number plate licence light is not specifically provided for in the table to and accordingly the fine is a level 2 penalty, being $88 and attracts no demerit points under the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 2008.
(4) a 10 year clean record driving record, including no previous cautions or convictions – it should be obvious that I would only include this if it is true.
I probably wouldn’t take it to court unless it was going to be the difference between losing my licence or not because
(1) Whilst I would never discourage anyone from their right to spend money on lawyers, a lawyer is going to cost me more than the fine; and
(2) I would want to be very confident about winning because the Court can fine me significantly more than the $353, plus Court costs.