Losing your vehicle: Impounding and confiscation
Automatic 28-day impounding for some traffic offences
For a number of driving offences the police can seize and impound your vehicle on the spot for various periods up to 28 days.
Note: If your vehicle is impounded, this will usually be in addition to other penalties for the particular offence you’ve committed.
When can the police impound my vehicle?
A police officer must impound your vehicle for 28 days if they believe on reasonable grounds that:
- you drove while you were disqualified or while your licence was suspended or revoked, or
- you’ve breached your alcohol interlock licence, see “Repeated or serious drink/drug driving: Heavier penalties”, or
- you drove while you didn’t have a licence and when you’d previously been forbidden to drive by the police until you got a licence or renewed your licence, or
- you drove while you were over the 400 microgram breath-alcohol limit or 80 milligram blood-alcohol limit or you refused a blood test when required, and you’d had two or more drink/drug driving convictions in the past four years (400 mcg and 80 mg are the levels over which adult drivers can get a criminal conviction rather than just an on-the-spot infringement notice), or
- you breached an anti-cruising bylaw when already under a 90-day warning notice for an earlier breach of one of these bylaws (see “Street-racing and ‘cruising’”), or
- you’ve been street-racing or doing wheel-spins (see “Street-racing and ‘cruising’”).
The police also have the power to impound your vehicle for 28 days (but aren’t required to) if you fail to stop when signalled.
What happens when my vehicle is impounded?
The police will call for a tow truck to take your vehicle away to a storage yard. The police officer must fill out an impounding notice in the proper form, and give copies to you, to the owner (if that’s not you), and to the tow-truck operator.
Your vehicle will be impounded for 28 days unless the police release it earlier or you successfully appeal against it being impounded.
If the police ask you, you have to tell them your name, address and other details (and the owner’s details, if you’re not the owner and you know those details).
Can I get my things out of my vehicle after it’s been impounded?
If your vehicle has been impounded, your personal things inside the vehicle must be released to you if you provide satisfactory evidence that you were legally entitled to have possession of the vehicle or the property immediately before the vehicle was moved.
Your vehicle can be released before 28 days in some cases
Your vehicle must be released to you if the police decide not to prosecute you, or if they prosecute you and you’re found not guilty.
If your vehicle was impounded because you were an unlicensed driver, the police can release it to you before the 28 days are up if you produce a current driver’s licence and pay the towing and storage charges.
Can I appeal the decision to impound my vehicle?
You can appeal to the police on the following grounds for your vehicle to be released:
- that the police officer who impounded the vehicle didn’t have the necessary legal grounds for it, or
- that the officer didn’t give you the proper impounding notice, or
- that there was a serious medical emergency (for example, a woman was about to give birth).
If someone else was driving at the time, you can also appeal on the ground:
- that your vehicle had been stolen, or
- that you did everything reasonable to stop the other person driving, or
- if the driver wasn’t permitted to drive, that you didn’t know this and couldn’t reasonably have been expected to know, or
- if your vehicle was impounded for street-racing or wheel-spins, for cruising, or for failing to stop for the police, that you did everything reasonable to prevent the driver doing this, or you didn’t know and couldn’t reasonably have been expected to know that the driver would do this.
You have 14 days to appeal. You’ll need to put your appeal in the form of a statutory declaration (which must be signed by, for example, a Justice of the Peace, a court registrar or a lawyer).
If the police turn down your appeal, you have 28 days to appeal their refusal to the District Court.
How do I get my vehicle back when the 28 days are up?
You’ll need to go to the car storage yard and show them some ID, and also either the impounding notice the police gave you or a document proving you own the vehicle. You’ll also have to pay the towing and storage fees or make an arrangement to pay them. The storage yard will then release your vehicle.
What happens if I don’t claim my vehicle?
If you haven’t claimed your vehicle within 10 days after the end of the 28-day impounding period, the storage yard can apply to the police for approval to sell or otherwise dispose of the vehicle.