Vehicle restrictions for provisional drivers

30 December 2020 / Bryan Shedden

My son Alex recently turned 16 and of course the first thing he did was get his Learner driving licence. Who would have thought? He's been driving motorkhanas since the age of 12, did a driver training day at Pheasant Wood at the age of 14, and spends countless hours playing Project Cars 2 and Dirt Rally 2 on his computer. But of course driving on the road in traffic is a whole different thing. For starters, there are no handbrake turns.

Lately we've been thinking about Alex's first car and of course he has his heart set on an MX-5. He's been saving for his first car since kindy! I wondered if there were any particular MX-5 models that are classified as "high performance" and therefore restricted for provisional licence holders. The SP is an obvious one, but are there any others?

Transport NSW provide a useful searchable database classifying every vehicle variant as either "allowed" or "banned" for provisional drivers.

The SP is banned due to its 150kW turbocharged engine. However, I was surprised to observe that several ND variants are now banned following the mid-2018 power increase for the 2L engine from 118kW to 135kW. You see the basis for these restrictions is a power-to-mass-ratio (PMR) of greater than 130 kilowatts per tonne. Without checking a calculator, I had assumed the kerb mass of the 135kW ND would place it just below this figure. What I didn't realise is the PMR is actually based on "tare mass". This is the mass of an empty standard vehicle with all of its fluids (oils, coolants) but with only 10 litres of fuel in the tank. Tare mass is the figure quoted in your registration paperwork. Kerb mass is the figure that is more commonly quoted in vehicle specifications - it is the same as tare mass, but includes a full tank of fuel. For the ND, tare mass is 25-28kg less than the kerb mass. A slightly lower mass means that the PMR is higher than I anticipated.

The bottom line is that series 2 ND 2L soft-tops (built since July 2018) are banned for provisional drivers (133.7 kW/t manual, 130.4 kW/t auto). Any ND RF is allowed because even though it has the same 135kW engine, the hardtop has a higher tare mass (127.3 kW/t manual, 124.4 kW/t auto). In a soft-top ND, the 1.5L engine is the only option (98.5 kW/t manual, 95.9 kW/t auto), apart from the first generation 2L (117.4 kW/t manual, 114.6 kW/t auto). All NA, NB (except SP) and NC variants are allowed for provisional drivers, including the SE turbo from 2004-05.

So there you have it. In the crazy bureaucratic world of Service NSW, a historic-plated NA with no ESC, ABS or airbags is perfectly safe for a P plater to drive, but a brand new 2L ND soft-top with 5 star ANCAP and all the latest safety devices is verboten.

It's all a bit academic for Alex though because a series 2 ND 2L soft-top is well beyond my budget, let alone his savings account balance. He was thinking about getting an NB, but I'm tempted to tidy up my NC "race car" for him instead. Afterall, when it comes to road safety, I am a firm believer in the general advice that the best car for any young driver is the newest one they can afford.