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P-plate rules and restrictions on a probationary licence in Australia

Provisional drivers need to comply with all road rules and traffic laws and other restrictions.

The fact that the L on an L plate stands for Learner might causes you to assume that a P plate stands for “Passed”, but that’s not the case. 

It actually stands for “Provisional”, which means you have passed your test, but you’re only provisionally licensed - you can drive, but with certain provisions, or restrictions, attached, and you have to display a P plate to warn other motorists that you’re not fully Passed… yet.

As you would expect in a country of states that really hate to agree with each other, the P-plate provisions are different depending on where you get your licence, so we’re going to break that down.

Driving licences have been a thing in Australia ever since the introduction of the first motor car here in 1906, but provisional licences were only introduced in New South Wales in 1966 with a provisional phase of 12 months and a 40mph (64km/h) speed restriction. 

Progressing from a Learner’s permit to a Provisional license and then finally to a full driver’s licence is known as a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system, which was an Australian innovation created in the mid-1960s.

New Zealand picked up the baton by introducing a GDL in the ’80s that inspired the one that began in North America in the late-1980s, with GDLs now in play across several countries throughout Europe, Africa and Asia.

Each Australian state and territory has its own laws regarding Provisional licences, but the general premise is the same: learner drivers need to complete a theory and practical driving test before being granted their P plates. 

Once a Provisional licence is granted, drivers are placed in a probationary period with certain restrictions. 

This period lasts for two years in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, three years in the ACT, New South Wales and South Australia, and four years in Victoria.

Yes, it would be fair to say that Victoria is the toughest state to get your licence in, but that’s hardly a surprise. 

Read on for our extensive guide covering the P licence and P plate restrictions (including red P plate rules and green P plate rules), where you’ll find answers to burning questions like “Can you tow a trailer on P plates?”, “Can you drive a V8 on your Ps?” and “What is the P plate speed limit?”

Across-the-board requirements 

Provisional drivers need to comply with all road rules and traffic laws and other restrictions.

Drivers are required by law to display approved P plates that are clearly visible to the front and rear of the vehicle and which do not obstruct the driver's vision. P plates must not be displayed when the person driving the vehicle is not a provisional driver.

The P is usually a red or green letter on a white background or a white letter on a red or green background (Victoria & Western Australia only).

Probationary drivers must drive with a zero blood alcohol content (BAC) and have no illegal drugs in their system.

Prove your identity and pass an eyesight test.

Pay the licence and test fees. 

Note: most states and territories offer discounted or free licences in return for P licence holders having a good driving record. 

P plate rules in NSW 

The NSW GDL became three-stage on 1 July, 2000, with learners progressing from a learner licence, to a provisional P1 licence, to a provisional P2 licence and finally to a full licence.

P1 licence 

To obtain a P1 probationary licence, learners under 25 can undertake a Hazard Perception Test (HPT) after they’ve logged 120 hours driving (including 20 hours of night driving) and have held their Learner’s licence for a minimum of 10 months. Those over 25 can take the HPT regardless of the above conditions. 

Once the HPT is successfully passed, learners under 25 who’ve held their Learner’s licence for a minimum of 12 months can book a driving test (there is no licence-holding minimum for those over 25). 

Your P1 licence is valid for 18 months. If you haven't progressed to a P2 licence at the end of the 18 months, you can renew your licence and don't need to take the driving test again.

A P1 probationary licence is required for a minimum of one year, requires red P plates and is available to people 17 years old and over. 

Also they can only drive cars - not trucks of any kind - can never drive over 90km/h, can only tow trailers with up to 250kg of unloaded weight with a P plate attached on the back, can’t use mobile phones, including hands-free or loudspeaker unless the car is parked, and can only drive automatic cars unless the driving test was done in a manual.

There are P plate passenger restrictions: if you’re under 25 you must not drive a vehicle with more than one passenger who is under 21, between 11pm and 5am, although there are certain exemptions. 

P1 and P2 licence holders are prohibited from driving vehicles that have a Power to Mass Ratio (PMR) of greater than 130 kilowatts per tonne, if there’s a significant engine modification or if the vehicle is listed in the Transport for NSW document Novice Driver- High Performance Vehicle Restrictions as a high-performance vehicle. Certain exemptions are possible, but basically the idea is to keep inexperience drivers and fast cars away from each other. It’s called removing temptation.

Your P1 licence will be suspended or refused if you reach or exceed four demerit points.

If you commit a speeding offence your P1 licence will be suspended for at least three months. 

Excessive speed offences involving travelling more than 30km/h over the speed limit will result in further suspension. Any period that your P1 licence is suspended is not counted towards your P2 licence.

If you’re under 25 and live in a specified remote area, you can apply for a restricted P1 licence after you’ve logged 50 hours of driving (including at least 10 hours of night driving). 

P2 licence 

Once you’ve held your P1 licence for 12 months you can progress to a P2 licence, which must be held for a minimum of two years and requires you to display green P plates clearly on the front and rear of the vehicle. 

Most drivers can apply for a P2 licence online, but if your P1 licence was issued before 20 November 2017, you may need to complete a HPT. 

After 24 months, you can upgrade to a full unrestricted licence, as long as you haven't been suspended for unsafe driving behaviour. P2 drivers who receive a suspension for unsafe driving behaviour must stay on their licence for an extra six months for every suspension they receive.

Restrictions include never driving over the maximum speed limit of 100 km/h and no use of mobile phones, including hands-free or loudspeaker unless the car is parked.

P2 drivers will be suspended or refused if they reach or exceed seven demerit points and any speeding offence will result in a minimum of four demerit points. 

Excessive speed offences involving travelling more than 30km/h over the speed limit will result in further suspension and any period that your P2 licence is suspended is not counted towards your full, unrestricted licence.

If you’ve been disqualified for any driving offence committed on or after 11 July 2005, when your disqualification period ends you must not carry more than one passenger at any time while driving. This condition will apply for 12 months. This is known as the ‘one passenger condition’.

P plate rules in VIC

To gain a P1 probationary licence, an applicant must be a minimum of 18 years old and have held a Learner's permit for at least 12 months if the applicant is under 21; six months if the applicant is between 21 and 24 years and three months for applicants aged over 25 years. 

The learner must have logged 120 hours of practice, including 20 hours at night, and must pass a computerised HPT (available to attempt at 17 years and 11 months) before progressing to a driving test. A practice HPT is available online. 

If the driving test is successfully completed, those under 21 are granted a four-year probationary licence with 12 months at P1 level and 3 years at P2 level. Those over 21 are placed on a three-year probationary licence at P2 level. 

P1 and P2 restrictions: display P plates clearly on front and back of vehicle (red for P1, green for P2), not use a mobile phone or GPS of any kind while driving, must not tow a trailer (although there are some exemptions, such as it being a part of your job), must not carry more than one passenger aged between 16 and less than 22 years old (although there are some exemptions and this is only a condition of a P1 licence), must drive an automatic vehicle and have an A condition on your licence if you were tested in one, must not drive a prohibited vehicle (a vehicle with a Power to Mass Ratio of greater than 130 kilowatts per tonne, an engine that has been modified to increase performance or a vehicle that has been declared as probationary prohibited in the Victorian Government Gazette). 

The minimum age for obtaining a P2 Licence is 19 years and 22 years for a full, unrestricted licence. 

Yes, you have to be 22 to get your full licence in Victoria. And yes, that's different to everywhere in Australia. 

There are no speed restrictions other than those signposted on roads. 

P plate rules in QLD

After holding a Learner’s licence for a minimum of 12 months, logging 100 hours of supervised driving (including 10 hours of night driving) and being at least 17 years of age, learners may move to a P1 licence after passing a driving test. 

Drivers must display P plates (red for P1, green for P2) clearly on front and rear of vehicle, can only drive vehicles allowed on their licence class, must not use mobile phones, even on hands-free or loudspeaker, unless safely parked (even passengers can’t use the loudspeaker function on their phones while you’re driving), must not carry a passenger under 21 between 11pm and 5am unless it’s an immediate family member and must not drive a high-powered performance vehicle. 

Those who accumulate four or more demerit points in any 12 month period will have to choose between a suspension and a good driving behaviour period.

After a minimum of 12 months, under-25 P1 drivers who are a minimum of 18 years old are eligible to upgrade to a P2 licence after passing a HPT. Those over 25 can move to P2 if they passed their driving test and have held their P1 licence for one year. 

Under-25s must remain on their P2 licence for two years; over-24s for one year. 

P2 drivers have no passenger restrictions and are allowed to use a hands-free mobile. 

P plate rules in the ACT

For ACT Learner licences issued before 1 January 2020, drivers can apply for their Provisional licence if they’ve held a Learner licence for a minimum of six months, are at least 17 years old and successfully complete a practical driving assessment with a Government Assessor or the Competency Based Training and Assessment through an Accredited Driving Instructor.

ACT Learner licences issued or renewed after 1 January 2020 are part of a new GDS and must hold an active ACT Learner licence for a minimum of 12 months (six months if aged 25 or older at the time of getting your Learner licence), completed an online HPT (can only be completed after three months of holding an active Learner licence), completed and logged the required driving hours (drivers under 25 are required to complete 100 supervised driving hours including 10 at night; drivers 25 or older are required to complete 50 supervised driving hours including five at night) and successfully complete a practical driving assessment with a Government Assessor or the Competency Based Training and Assessment through an Accredited Driving Instructor.

If a driving test is successfully passed in an automatic vehicle then the licence will be endorsed with an 'A' condition. After 12 months the licence holder can have the 'A' condition removed. Drivers can choose to take a driving test in a manual car to avoid this condition. 

If the driving test is completed successfully, those under 25 will receive a P1 licence and those over 25 will receive a P2 licence. 

P1 licence: a red P plate must be displayed for the first 12 months and late-night peer passenger restrictions apply.

P2 licence: a green P plate must be displayed for two years. If you are 25 or older when you are issued with your provisional licence, you will be a P2 for the entire three-year provisional licence period.

The accumulation of four or more demerit points during this period will result in suspension of the licence for three months. Any suspension periods served do not count towards the required provisional tenure period required to upgrade to a full driver licence.

After the provisional period of three years has been completed, you can obtain a full licence which is renewable on each birthday divisible by five years. 

Restrictions include a ban on mobile phones, including hands-free and loudspeaker (although hands-free GPS is allowed), P1 drivers under 25 will be limited to one peer aged passenger between the hours of 11pm and 5am (some exemptions do apply). 

P plate rules in Northern Territory 

To get your P plates, you must hold your learner driver licence continuously for at least six months. If your licence has been suspended, disqualified, cancelled or allowed to expire, the six months will start from the date your learner licence becomes active again. You must have read A Guide to the Driving Test. 

Under-25s who pass the driving test receive a two-year provisional licence. Those 25 and over will receive a one year provisional licence. 

Provisional licence holders must not exceed a speed limit of 100km/h. 

P plate rules in SA

To get a Provisional Licence you must have held a Learner's permit for at least 12 months (six months if you’re 25 or older), logged at least 75 hours driving experience (including at least 15 hours of night driving), passed a HPT and be at least 17 years of age. 

You can get your P1 licence two ways: by passing a practical driving test called the Vehicle On Road Test (VORT) or completing the competency-based training course (CBT) in your Driving Companion.

After successfully passing a driving test, drivers are then issued with a P1 licence. The main restrictions on P-platers must display red P plates, never exceed a maximum speed limit of 100 km/h (even where the posted speed limit is higher), you must never accrue more than four demerit points and you must not drive a high-powered vehicle if you are under 25 unless you have an exemption certificate.

P1 drivers must not use mobile phones, including hands-free and loudspeaker (although can use an authorised GPS), if under the age of 25 they must not drive between midnight and 5am or with more than one passenger aged 16 to 20 years (excluding immediate family members) unless a Qualified Supervising Driver is seated next to them or they meet the exemption and must not exceed a maximum speed limit of 100km/h. 

Provisional licence holders under 25 are prohibited from driving high-powered vehicles unless they have an exemption or have been granted a full, unrestricted driver’s licence. 

P1 drivers will have their licence automatically converted to a P2 licence after 12 months, provided they don't breach any provisional licence conditions and are a minimum of 18 years old. 

You must not accumulate four or more demerit points during the provisional licence period.

Those with a P2 licence do not have to display P plates, are not prohibited from using mobile phones or high-powered vehicles and don’t have any restrictions on when they drive or who their passengers are. 

You can apply for a full licence once you reach the age of 20 and have been a P2 licence holder for two years. 

P plate rules in Tasmania

After you’ve held your Learner’s licence for 12 continuous months, are at least 17 years of age and you’ve logged at least 80 hours of driving time, including 15 at night, you can sit the P1 driving assessment and HPT. 

If the HPT and driving assessment is passed you receive your P1 licence and must display the red P plates on your car. 

Restrictions include a ban on mobile phone use, including hands-free, a maximum speed limit of 100km/h, for P1 licence holders under 25, only one 16 – 21 year old passenger allowed during the P1 stage (exclusions apply)

If you hold your P1 licence for 12 continuous months and drive safely, you’ll progress to your P2 licence and must display your green P plates at the front and back of your car. 

P2 drivers can drive at the posted speed limit and hands-free mobile phone use is allowed.

Depending on your age, you’ll hold a P2 licence for either one or two years. 

P plate rules in WA

All learner drivers under 25 must complete a minimum 50 supervised driving hours, five of those driving at night (those over 25 are exempt from the 50 hours). Once the hours are logged, you’re a minimum of 17 years old and a HPT is successfully completed (note: those who live outside a radius of more than 100 kilometres from a HPT location are exempt), you can sit your practical driving assessment for your Provisional licence. 

Those on red Ps are subject to a P platers curfew - they not permitted to drive between midnight and 5.00am for the first six months that they hold a driver's licence unless the driving is to or from a place of work or study.

Drivers start with red P plates and switch to green after six months. 

Drivers must hold a provisional licence for two years or until they are 19 years of age, whichever is the longer period.

If four or more demerit points are recorded against a person, they will be disqualified for at least three months and any driver's licence held will be cancelled. The amount is eight demerit points for P2 drivers.