Driving in Australia 101: Things you need to know

Cars are a critical part of life in Australia. Whilst some may not drive inside the major cities, Australia is one of the largest countries in the world and has fairly basic public transport coverage. So driving is a necessity in much of Aussie life. Two out of three Australians drive to work in their own car, compared to just one in ten who takes public transport. Australians are actually the third largest driving nation on earth per capita, with only Americans and Canadians travelling further by car each year.

So if you’re going to take on the Australian roads, what road rules do you need to know?

Check the state laws first

First things first, the road rules change depending on which Australian state you’re in. It’s always worth looking them up on the state government websites before you go. Most states allow you to use your overseas license, as long as it’s still within the valid date and it’s in English. If it’s not in English, you can obtain an international driver’s permit to gain status as a valid driver.

Most states allow international drivers on a temporary visa to drive for the duration of that visa. Some states, however, ask you to apply for a temporary license once you’ve been here longer than three or six months. If you’re in the immigration process, as soon as you get a permanent visa, you must apply for a local state license. You may be asked to pass a medical and a driving test, depending on your current license and circumstances.

In Australia, you are only legally allowed to drive the types of vehicles that your international license authorises in your country of origin.

Key facts for driving in Australia

Australia adopts a similar approach to driving as most western countries. The rules are familiar to those who learnt to drive in the UK or USA. Here are some things you should be aware of:

  • Australians drive on the left hand side of the road
  • Speedometers and speed limits are in kilometres
  • We use a standard western traffic light system (e.g. red light for stop, green for go)
  • Seat belts are a legal requirement
  • Solid yellow lines at the side of the road mean no stopping
  • Insurance is highly recommended but not a legal requirement to drive a vehicle.
  • We have a low tolerance of drunk driving, with a legal blood alcohol limit of 0.05 (37.5% lower than the limit in the USA, UK & Canada).
  • White stripes mark pedestrian crossings where motorists must give way to pedestrians. Different types of crossings exist; for example, some are button operated to stop large flows of traffic in unison to allow crossings. Other crossings are normally clearly marked, for example those that go over railway tracks or tram tracks.
  • School Zones vary by state, but generally include a lower speed limit in a given area during school hours to reduce potential casualties. For example, New South Wales enforces a 40km/h limit at key times and dates of the year throughout all of its school zones.

Wildlife and driving

The iconic yellow kangaroo diamond road sign may be plastered on tourism adverts round the world, but also sheds light on quite a dangerous reality of driving in Australia. The native animals are large and do not have any road sense. Dead kangaroos are a common sight at the side of the road, as they unfortunately make up 90% of all animal road collisions. The best thing to do is to not drive at night, dusk or dawn, when kangaroos are most active.

If you see one in front of you, do not turn as you risk going into oncoming traffic. Stay straight and brake hard. Sometimes, you simply cannot safely avoid hitting an animal. If this unfortunate occurrence happens to you, make sure you and your passengers are unharmed, then safely do a U-turn and go back and check on the animal. In most circumstances, there’s little to be done for the injured animal.

Car hire In Australia

Car hire in Australia is generally quite inexpensive and a great way to see more of the country. Most of Australia’s hotspots include very well equipped campsites in some beautiful locations. Many travellers who are looking to explore Australia over long distances use companies such as Wicked Campers to hire a van to go on a road trip. The best thing about the campers is you can pick them up and drop them off in different locations!

Be advised, though – when you get out into the bushlands there can be uncovered roads and limited petrol sources. Make sure you’re well supplied and plan routes before you set off.


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