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Why it’s illegal to only have 1 number plate on your car in South Africa

All self-propelled vehicles on South Africa’s roads, except for motorbikes, must display two number plates at all times in accordance with the National Road Traffic Act.

This is to make it as easy as possible for authorities and law-enforcement equipment such as speeding cameras to identify vehicles breaking the law, vehicles that were involved in illicit activities, vehicles that are in the country illegally, and vehicles with falsified plates, in order to take action against them.

Having only one registration plate on the vehicle can therefore impede traffic officials and their equipment in doing their duties.

Applicable vehicles found to have fewer than two plates or plates that do not abide by the law may then be subject to fines and/or impoundment.

Is your number plate legal?

Number plates are governed under several regulations in the National Road Traffic Act.

These standards were amended and gazetted on 28 January 2015, and stipulate key features that a registration plate must have to be deemed lawful.

According to the Automobile Association, there are only three legal number plate sizes and each must have embossed alphanumerics of a certain size.

These sizes are:

  • 520mm by 113mm – embossed with 75mm-high alphanumerics
  • 250mm by 205mm – embossed with 75mm-high alphanumerics
  • 250mm by 165mm – embossed with 60mm-high alphanumerics

Since not all vehicles have space for the same plate, it is allowed to have different sizes at the front and rear as long as both adhere to the regulations.

Apart from the size, the plate must display an SABS sticker and a certification mark that contains the name or trademark of the supplier, as well as the batch number in which it was made. The numbers and letters must also be in the specific font designed for the local industry.

Scenic backgrounds may be displayed, however, these are only chosen by the provincial traffic authority and can’t be personalised or show any advertising.

Attaching the identifier to your vehicle must then be done in a permanent and reliable fashion, so using things such as double-sided tape is considered illegal.

Number plates must be affixed at least 120mm from the side of the vehicle with 4mm rivets or one-way self-tapping screws, and either directly onto the bodywork or in a holder that has been approved by the National Department of Transport.

Regular passenger cars and SUVs may not install a plate higher than 1.5 metres from the ground, and a double-decker bus with an engine in the rear may not have it higher than 1.9 metres.

Moreover, both front and rear plates must be visible and clearly legible at all times, and be in an upright position or within 30 degrees of such.

If the rear plate is temporarily obstructed, like with a bike rack or trailer, another number plate must be attached to the rack to ensure that it is clearly visible.

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