A major overhaul of the rules that govern what cars are allowed on our roads was due by the end of this year – but has now been postponed. 
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The Federal Government has postponed sweeping rule changes that would have enabled million-dollar left-hand-drive supercars to legally be driven on Australian roads – and given a stay of execution to “grey import” used cars that were supposed to be banned.

The biggest overhaul of Australian motor vehicle regulations in 30 years – since 1989 – is intended to simplify the vehicle approval process for car companies and streamline it with new global standards set by the United Nations, which are also being adopted by the European Union and Japan. China and the US are yet to sign up to the regulations.

In addition to allowing certain left-hand-drive supercars, such as the 2.4 million euro Bugatti Chiron (pictured above), the new rules regarding the approval process for motor vehicles in Australia will also close a loophole created in the mid 1990s.

Specialist import rules originally designed to cover enthusiast vehicles were over time also used to bring in hatchbacks and vans not sold in Australia – outside the intention of the regulations – leaving some unwitting buyers with dearer insurance premiums and a lack of parts or servicing support.

Vehicles such as the Nissan Cube hatch, the Nissan Elgrand van (pictured below) and Toyota Alphard people mover were supposed to be phased out over a 12 month period starting from the end of 2019.

However, the start of the phase-out period for these vehicles has been delayed, meaning they will be allowed to be sold for some time yet.

The delay also means it could be at least another year or two before rare left-hand-drive supercars are allowed to be legally driven on Australian roads.

Under the new rules, left-hand-drive supercars of which fewer than 300 are made overseas – and which are not made in right-hand-drive or already sold locally by the manufacturer or an authorised distributor – may be eligible to be imported under the revised specialist vehicle scheme.

For example, the new rules would allow the importation of left-hand-drive supercars such as the Mercedes-AMG Project One, the LaFerrari, the Lamborghini Veneno and the Bugatti Chiron, at 2.4 million euros ($3.8 million) one of the world’s fastest and most expensive cars.

Under the proposed changes, however, individual states and territories will still have the final say on whether these left-hand-drive vehicles will be allowed on the road.

So far, only Queensland has given the green light to the new rules. In a media statement to CarAdvice, the department said: “All new or imported vehicles are regulated under the Commonwealth Government’s Motor Vehicle Standards Act (MVSA) 1989 or upcoming Road Vehicle Standards Act (RVSA) 2018. Left-hand-drive only super or exotic cars approved for road use under this legislation can be registered in Queensland.”

Victorian authorities told CarAdvice "more work is needed to determine any policy changes required for Victoria resulting from these Commonwealth legislation changes".

A statement to CarAdvice from NSW authorities said: "NSW legislation requires Left Hand Drive vehicles must be at least 30 years old before they can be registered in NSW. As such a new, or near new 'supercar' does not meet that requirement."

At the moment, private collectors of supercars keep their vehicles overseas, or are restricted to using them on racing circuits in Australia as they are not allowed on public roads.

The Federal Government has pulled the handbrake on the rollout of the new rules because the automotive industry said it is not ready. Industry sources say the delay is expected to take anywhere from six months to two years.

A bulletin issued by the Department of Infrastructure, which oversees vehicle regulations, says: “The Australian Government is seeking to extend the commencement date of the Road Vehicle Standards legislation following an extensive consultation process”.

The department said the delay was based on feedback from the car industry, which “needs more time to plan and implement changes to ensure a smooth transition to the new regulatory framework”.

“The Government has therefore introduced legislation into Parliament that, if passed, will delay commencement of the Road Vehicle Standards Act 2018 and related legislation,” the statement says.

“The Government remains committed to implementing these policy reforms, but rather than risk disadvantaging Australian businesses that may not be sufficiently prepared for the reforms, the Government will seek to set a new commencement date in consultation with all affected industry sectors.”

At the moment, only classic left-hand-drive cars that are 30 years or older (such as this 1965 Ford Mustang, below) are eligible for an exemption to be driven legally on Australian roads.

According to the new regulations tabled in February 2019, certain exotic left-hand-drive vehicles could be eligible for legal use on Australian roads if the vehicle “is not available as a right‑hand drive vehicle in any market in the world” or if “the vehicle was not originally manufactured as a right-hand drive vehicle for that market”.

It is unclear how long the new legislation will be postponed for, however industry insiders say part of the reason for the delay is to coincide with the rollout of new vehicle identifying system.

Rather than requiring vehicles to have an Australian compliance plate or label affixed, the new system will be online only.

Representatives for the “grey import” used-car industry said they will not use the delay in the introduction of the new rules to lobby the government to return to the previous import arrangements that allowed non-enthusiast cars such as hatchbacks, vans and light trucks.

“The government has made it quite clear they’re not using the delay as an avenue for renegotiation,” said Kristian Appelt, the vice president of the Australian Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association (AIMVIA).

“We support the new rules as they strike the right balance for full volume importers and for the enthusiast market. The rules have been tightened and brought back to the original intention of the rules and that is for enthusiast vehicles.”

AIMVIA says there are more than 100 dealers nationally who specialise in imported used cars, primarily from Japan, the UK and the USA. It estimates about 5800 cars were imported under these guidelines last year, a sharp decline on previous years.

The automotive industry and safety authorities had argued against “opening the floodgates” on cheap used cars because they were often not supported by a parts network, were dearer to insure and, because of their age, lacked the latest safety aids.

Figures from New Zealand, where used car imports are unrestricted, show the average age of all vehicles on the road there has increased.

As recently reported, older cars are seen as a key factor in the rising road toll in Australia.

The new rules will also make it harder for specialist vehicle importers to “wind back” the odometers on used vehicles they are selling, as every car will have an online history report that cannot be tampered with.