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Guide to the Motor Vehicle Standards Act changes

Car rules are changing in Australia – here is everything you need to know about the new legislation.

Australians are today digesting what is slated to be the biggest change to the country's car laws in 30 years. Announced in December 2017, the changes to the Motor Vehicle Standards Act will open the door for a wider range of left-hand drive vehicles to enter Australia. Find out exactly what the new rules mean in this guide.

What is being changed?

The Turnbull government this week proposed sweeping legislation changes to the Motor Vehicles Standards Act. The really exciting news in the draft paper is that our streets look set to soon feature incredible supercars like Bugattis, Lamborghinis and Porsches that were previously not allowed because they are left-hand drive.

Until now, only a smattering of left-hand drive cars were allowed in some jurisdictions. But the new federal changes mean some of these newer beauties that were previously locked out will soon finally be making the trek to our shores.

The new laws also extend beyond supercars.

Minister Fletcher said the changes to the Act are really about modernising and strengthening the laws governing how cars are supplied to the Aussie market more generally. Specifically, the Road Vehicle Standards bills are not just about giving consumers more choice but improving safety and cutting red tape.

"Specialist and enthusiast vehicles"

More super-expensive, insanely fast and ultra-rare supercars will be let into Australia thanks to tweaks to the definition of what a “specialist” and “enthusiast” vehicle is. Before, cars in these categories had to meet two out of four criteria to be let in. Turnbull's tweaks see the inclusion of six new criteria, with each special car only needing to meet one of them.

"The new legislation will provide more choice for specialist and enthusiast vehicles and be responsive to emerging technologies," said Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure.

He said that when the laws were written almost 30 years ago, most of the car technology we now take for granted was not even invented. For instance, certain high-performance electric and hybrid cars will be among those allowed to be imported under the new rules, as will more special “mobility” vehicles for the disabled.

What sort of supercars will we see on the roads?

Even the ultra-rare and super-expensive hypercars like the McLaren P1 – which is capable of going from 0 to 200kph in 6.8 seconds – and the $7 million LaFerrari could be on Aussie roads in the near future. The only potential issue could be how individual states go about setting registration rules for left-hand drive cars, as many may need to be converted.

But if the car really is supremely rare, with the manufacturer making less than 1000 of the model each year, they will be allowed on the road in the original left-hand drive configuration.

Improving safety

While the supercars may be hogging the headlines right now, the biggest change proposed in the draft legislation is how manufacturers and suppliers will be encouraged to make sure cars released to the Australian market are safe.

Sellers will be fined up to a million dollars or more for selling a vehicle that has not had work done to it as a result of a safety recall. And the minister will also be empowered to recall vehicles himself, whether they're used for private or commercial purposes.

This new power is probably all about the Takata crisis, where over two million cars in Australia were fitted with potentially faulty airbags that have already been linked with 19 deaths across the world.

It is believed up to a million of these potentially faulty Takata airbags are still on Aussie roads today.

Additional protections for Australian consumers

The government is also clamping down on car dealers who fiddle with odometers, falsify documents or provide bad information about a car's history, threatening them with hefty fines and even jail time.

And a loophole that allowed the importation of cheap vans, like the Nissan Elgrand from Japan, will be closed. Previously the 7-seater got through the door only because dealers dishonestly promised to turn them into campers.

Cost savings for Australians

Another touted benefit of the changes is that they will actually save Australian businesses a lot of money.

The minister says those savings could be worth more than $68 million every year, mainly in terms of regulatory compliance costs. Complying with the existing Motor Vehicles Standards Act regulations already costs businesses about a quarter of a billion dollars each year, so any help will be warmly welcomed.

When will the new laws be set in stone?

It's important to note that what has been put forward so far is a draft, which will be put to parliament early next year after the Christmas recess. When that happens in mid-February, politicians will debate the pros and cons and suggest tweaks.

But until then, the government is committed to consulting with both consumers and the automotive sector.

"This package is the most important set of changes to the Australian government's regulation of motor vehicles in almost three decades," said Minister Fletcher. "So it is important we take the time to consult on the details with interested stakeholders."

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