What You Need to Know About Driving in Australia

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Though some people might be under the impression that driving is the same no matter where you are, each country has its own traffic rules that need to be observed. In addition to driving on the opposite side of the road and the opposite side of the car for American tourists, there are a number of rules, laws, and guidelines to follow to make your driving experience in Australia a happy one.

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The Main Rules

Below is a list of the main rules that you should know before driving in Australia:

  • To drive in Australia, you must hold an international driver’s permit in addition to the license issued to you in your home country.
  • The speed limit in a built-up residential area is 50km per hour (31mph) except for the Northern Territory which is 60km per hour (35mph) unless otherwise signed. Keep in mind that this is the default speed limit and variations may take place between different areas, so always check for signage or ask locals.
  • The default speed limit beyond built-up, residential areas is 100km per hour (62mph), except in the states of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, where it is 110km per hour (68mph). This is generally the case with freeways unless the signs indicate another limit; particular stretches of the Newcastle Highway and Sydney’s M4 freeway are examples of a reduced speed limit.
  • Seatbelts must be worn by drivers and all passengers at all times.
  • It’s illegal to drink and drive. The maximum blood alcohol level is 0.05%.
  • It is illegal to smoke in a car when a child under the age of 18 (or under 17 in Western Australia) is present.
  • You are never permitted to use a handheld mobile phone while driving. This isn’t just limited to calls, but you are also prohibited from texting, browsing the internet and playing games.
  • When crossing a T intersection, the motorist driving straight through has right of way.
  • 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.
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Decoding the Signs

Below is a list of signs you need to decode before driving in Australia:

  • “No Standing” indicates that it’s prohibited to stop in an area unless picking up or dropping off a passenger, including for parking.
  • “No Stopping” indicates that it’s prohibited to stop in an area altogether​ unless you’re dealing with a medical emergency.
  • “No Parking” again signifies that it’s prohibited to park your car somewhere, though are able to unload passengers.
  • “Bus Zone” and “Taxi Zone” designates areas that may solely be used by buses and taxis.
  • “Loading Zone” designates areas that need to be easily accessible to those loading or unloading cargo. While it is possible to park your car there if you are loading or unloading, these tend to be reserved for large vans and trucks with heavy goods to transport.
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Guidelines and Etiquette

Below is a list of guidelines and etiquette for driving down under:

  • Drivers traveling below the speed limit generally stay in the leftmost lane in order to prevent holding up other drivers.
  • While traveling on the highway or freeway, it is generally advisable to stay in the leftmost lane unless overtaking. This allows cars to overtake slower drivers, and there are usually signs to reinforce this.
  • Beeping your horn is considered bad manners unless you need to bring something to another driver’s attention. For example, it would be okay to beep at someone who can’t see that they’re about to hit you.
  • Rest areas are located every 80 to 100km (49 to 62 miles) on main freeways and highways, to enable drivers traveling long distances to rest.
  • It is advisable to ensure your vehicle is in good condition when traveling to remote areas. Make sure you have a spare tire, plenty of fuel, food, and water, and are prepared for the conditions you’re driving into. As the distance between towns can be significantly large in Australia, it is a good idea to inform family and friends of where you’re going and what time you expect to arrive.  
  • The emergency phone number in Australia is 000, which will gain you access to police, ambulance and fire services.
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A Special Case: Tollways

Tollways refer to passages that charge a toll fee from the driver. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, and a few other highways and freeways, particularly in Sydney, are tollways, so it’s always a good idea to have change ready so you can get through the gates quickly and avoid holding up traffic.

Transponders have been fitted into an increasing number of Australian cars, which allow them to drive through certain tollgates without having to stop. An encoded magnetic card which speeds up the process is also available for some Australian tollways. Please note that on some tollways, only transponders (called e-Tags) and temporary e-Way passes may be used, so it’s wise to check the conditions of the tollway you plan on traveling on to prepare yourself.

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