There is no better way to see Australia than with a Road Trip. Yet sadly, each year we see international drivers killed on our roads, simply due to a lack of knowledge and research on driving in Australia.
Before you hit the road to drive in Australia, make sure you are familiar with the road rules and the conditions of the roads on which you will travel. The rules will vary from state to state, so it would be a good idea to research and familiarise yourself with the specific road rules in the states you will be visiting.
The biggest challenge facing many visitors is that we drive on the left hand side of the road. This can be very daunting at first, so you will need your full concentration when driving. You need to be aware of the traffic and the environment around you.
While there are some variations to road rules from state to state, below are some of the universal rules and safety tips. This is by no means comprehensive, but a basic guide to what you need to know to drive in Australia.
You will need an international drivers’ license to drive within Australia
We drive on the left in Australia.
- One of the more confusing issues will be our roundabouts. We enter clockwise and give way to traffic already on roundabout. Indicate left when you are leaving roundabout.
- Give way to the right at intersections. Take extra care when making a right hand turn.
- On multi-lane highways, keep left unless overtaking. This also applies to the overtaking lanes you will find on many two lane highways.
Speed limits can vary, even on the one stretch of road. So be alert for the speed limit signs and slow down accordingly
- Most residential areas will have a 50 km per hour speed limit.
- School zones (including passing school buses) have a 40 km per hour speed limit
- When passing emergency vehicles on the road, you must slow down to 40km per hour (25km in South Australia)
- Generally the speed limit on highways and freeways is 100 to 110. Once again, check the signs.
In the vehicle
- The driver and all passengers must wear a seat belt at all time.
- It is illegal to put any body part out of the window.
- It is illegal to use any mobile device when driving, This includes phones, tablets etc
- Don’t drive under the influence. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05 in all states, This means two standard drinks in the first hour for males and one standard drink for females.
- In most states it is illegal to leave children or dogs unattended in cars. Particularly in summer, temperatures inside the car can reach 60 degrees very quickly and they can die of heatstroke in as little as five minutes.
On the road
- No U-turns are permitted at traffic lights. This can get confusing when driving in Victoria, as their rule is that you can make a U-Turn if there is no sign saying otherwise.
- You may only overtake another vehicle if the center line is a single, broken line and it is safe to do so. It’s illegal to overtake if the center has two lines and the one closest to your vehicle is unbroken.
- When parking, you must park “close and parallel” to the kerb, facing the direction of the traffic. Obey the signs for angle parking and reverse parking, which you are likely to find in smaller towns.
- You will find paid tollways in most cities. These are mostly cash free and you need to pre-purchase an E-tag for your journey. Check with your hire company whether your vehicle contains a magnetic card. If not, you will need to go onto a website and lodge your credit card details.
- NSW uses the E-Toll Victoria uses the Emu Pass
- It is possible to open an account for an Australian wide toll
- Take care when driving into the sun. It can be blinding. Make sure you put your sunglasses on before you start.
- Avoid peak times in the cities. Avoid central Melbourne altogether. The trams are confusing and they have additional rules for “hook turns” to pass around trams. You can find more about the road rules in Victoria here.
- Avoid driving at dusk or dawn, when the wildlife will be about. You’ll be surprised how much damage a kangaroo or wombat can do to your vehicle
- Be aware of the long distances between towns and stop every two hours to avoid fatigue. You will find many roadside stops along the highways
- Hiring a GPS with your vehicle will be a worthwhile investment.
Driving in regional and outback Australia
When driving in regional and outback Australia, the distances are vast. Possibly the number one mistake tourists make is underestimating the distances and travel time. Allow plenty of time, as your trip is likely to take you longer than anticipated. Most roads to major attractions are either sealed bitumen or gravel and quite safe to navigate.
- Always fuel up when you see a petrol station in the regional areas. It could be 200 kilometres until the next fuel stop and they don’t always open 24/7
- Always carry a good supply of water and snacks in case you do get stranded beside the road.
- If travelling in remote Australia, carry 10 litres of water per person and spare fuel.
- Carry a good first aid kit, including any medications
- Ensure you have a spare tyre in good condition and a jack in case of a flat tyre on a remote road.
- If you are planning to venture off the main roads, ask the locals about the state of the road first.
- Make sure someone knows your travel plans. If you are late, they can raise the alarm and have an idea of where to come looking for you
- If you do break down, stay with your vehicle. You are more likely to get help from a passing vehicle. All too often we hear of tourists in the outback who have died walking for help.
If you are planning a driving adventure in remote Australia, make sure you do plenty of research first and are well prepared.
We can have extreme weather conditions in Australia. Flooding, bushfires, icy or snowy roads and cyclones can wreak havoc on the roads.
- Listen to weather forecasts and obey road signs. If a road is closed, it means it is not safe to pass.
- Do not drive through flood waters.
- Snow chains may be needed in the alpine areas during the winter months.
- Always use your headlights in poor visibility. It can help alert oncoming traffic
A driving trip in Australia is one of the best ways to see this great country of ours. A little preparation and research and some basic safety precautions will make sure you have n enjoyable trip.