When Can Police Impound Cars?


Police can seize property for a variety of reasons, including when they suspect it is the proceeds of crime, or for use as evidence in a case – but the main way that cars are impounded in NSW is under the ‘vehicle sanctions scheme.’

The ‘Vehicle Sanctions Scheme

For some major traffic offences, police officers also have the option of impounding your car or confiscating your number plates. This is in addition to charging you with the offence and taking you to court.

Back in 2012, the ‘Vehicle Sanctions Scheme’ was put in place and its major objective was to ‘crack down’ on ‘hoon drivers’. When the laws were introduced, former Premier Barry O’Farrell stated that:

“The message to lunatics who treat our streets like racetracks is simple – if you want to keep your car, slow down and obey the law.”

123 vehicles were impounded and 513 sets of numberplate were confiscated in the very first year of the Scheme’s operation.

Police can take your car or numberplates away if they have reason to believe that your car was used for a ‘sanctionable offence’, which are:

  • Street racing,
  • Burnout,
  • Police pursuit, and
  • Speeding by over 45km/h.

Under the Scheme, your car can be confiscated, or number plates suspended, for three months. Section 239 of the Road Transport Act 2013 outlines the powers of police when it comes to impounding your car.

They may confiscate it on the spot, or order that you bring it to a certain place at a specified time and date. They can remove and confiscate number plates, or send a notice requiring you to remove them from your car.

If your numberplates are confiscated, you cannot drive that car until you get them back. The maximum fine for driving without numberplates or with fake plates is $3,300).

If your car is used to commit another sanctionable offence within five years, you could find yourself facing a forfeiture order. This means your car can be seized for good and sold or destroyed.

What if I wasn’t the driver?

If someone else was driving your car at the time, the RMS may send you a warning notice – but beware, if your car is involved in another sanctionable offence within five years, your registration can be suspended for up to three months.

According to the RMS website, the reason for this rule is not to unfairly punish unsuspecting owners for a single mistake of lending a car, while at the same time preventing owners from doing this repeatedly.

How do I get my car or number plates back?

Your car will normally be impounded for three months, unless you make a successful application to the Local Court to get it back earlier.

Either way, you will be required to pay fees for moving or towing, and storing your car.

Perhaps unfairly, the legislation protects police and the RMS from any liability for damage caused to your vehicle while it is impounded, including for damage or theft.

However, the Commissioner of Police does have a duty to take “all reasonable steps” to make sure impounded vehicles are safe from theft or damage.

If your number plates are damaged when removed, the RMS is required to give you a replacement pair at the end of the confiscation period.

Under section 252 of the Road Transport Act, the Commissioner of Police can decide to sell your at a public auction if you fail to collect it. Forfeited cars can also be used for crash testing and driving education programs.


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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.
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