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EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Visiting Australia soon? If you are planning to do some driving in Australia for the first time, you need to familiarise yourself with these essential driving in Australia tips. As a local I will cover the most important things you need to know, whether you intend driving in the cities or rural areas.
Above photo: Peterborough, on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Driving in Australia is relatively easy and one of the safest countries in the world to drive in. You will soon appreciate the sheer vastness of the land and the diversity in landscape as you drive. Make sure to allow plenty of time for driving from one city or town to the next. Don’t try to drive everywhere, as it’s impossible.
Before coming to Australia make sure to bring your driver’s license, if it’s in English, or an international driver’s permit in English from your home country, to be carried with you when driving at all times.
Drive on the left
First and foremost when driving in Australia, we drive on the LEFT side of the road. It is not Europe or America, so please remember to drive on the left, and stay on the left, unless overtaking. It will be challenging at first, particularly when turning, but you will get the hang of it in no time. Keep in mind oncoming traffic will pass on your right side.
Steering wheel is on the right
Cars in Australia have the steering wheel on the right side of the car. This may take a bit of getting used to also. As will some other minor differences, such as the middle console is on your left, and the rear-view mirror is to your left also.
Most rental cars in Australia are automatic
When you rent a car it will most likely be automatic, unless you request otherwise, as most cars in Australia are automatic.
Seat belts & child restraints
Driver and all passengers must wear seat belts whilst driving.
Children must be properly harnessed in a suitable car seat or restraint. Refer to this guide for details. It is best to arrange to have the appropriate child safety equipment supplied and fitted by your hire car company.
Speed limit signs are posted on most roads and are in kilometres, not miles. Your rental car’s speedometer will be in km so you won’t have a problem. The limits are heavily enforced and steep fines are handed out frequently, either on the spot or via mail. Trust me!
In Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) U-turns are allowed at intersections and wherever it is safe to do so, unless signed otherwise.
In all other states it is illegal to perform a U-turn at intersections, unless there is a sign permitting it.
Red light cameras and speed cameras are used throughout the country. Beware, not all cameras are visible.
Some states (Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland) have road tolls on some major freeways. Many don’t have booths and are electronically monitored. Payment can be made online as per the posted signs, without needing an e-tag. Simply call and pay within 3 days.
Do not drink and drive with more than a 0.05 per cent blood alcohol level. There is zero drug driving tolerance in Australia. Random Police booze and drug buses are common to test drivers on the roads. Steep fines are imposed and perhaps loss of license.
Adhere to all parking restrictions. Again fines are issued promptly and can be quite harsh. Don’t risk parking your car in a no standing zone, permit zone, loading zone, or tow away zone. Always check times and purchase parking tickets from nearby meters when necessary.
When parking parallel on side of street, always park in the same direction of traffic.
Do NOT use your phone whilst driving
It is against the law to touch your phone whilst the car is on. So be sure to set bluetooth, navigation, music, podcasts and anything else you need from your phone before driving. In most parts of the country the fine for touching your phone is a few hundred dollars.
If you plan to drive on rural roads and unsealed roads, you may be best served using a 4WD vehicle, as sealed roads only take you to the tourist areas. Going off the beaten track allows you to see parts of the country you would otherwise miss and allows you to explore more of this vast country. Perfect for adventurers.
Also, when travelling in rural areas, watch out for animals on the roads. Cows, kangaroos, wombats, emus and others are wildlife sometimes roam freely in rural zones.
Long road trips
If driving on long road trips, please be prepared for hours and hours of driving like nothing you’ve experienced in any other country. Australia is huge and it can take a long time to get to where you’re going. Make sure to take regular power naps at designated rest stops. Carry drinks and snacks in the car with you. Note in some remote areas you won’t have mobile phone coverage. Petrol stations can be few and far between, so it’s a good idea to have a jerry can of petrol with you for extra long road trips in the outback.
Roads shared with trams
Cars share roads with trams / light rail most commonly in Melbourne. Trams have right of way. When trams stop, you must stop in line with the rear of the tram until after passengers have hopped on and off and the doors of the tram close. Then pass on the left side when it is safe.
In Melbourne’s central business district (CBD) right turns from the left are performed at intersections shared with trams. These ‘hook turns’ are a little tricky and you can find more details here. You can avoid having to perform this manoeuvre if you prefer, by turning at a normal intersection instead.
Can you drive on the beach in Australia?
Yes. Australia is one of the few countries where driving on the beach is allowed. There are certain beaches around Australia where you are permitted to drive. Infact there are ‘beach highways’!
1. Check the local council websites for details on which beaches you are allowed to drive on.
2. Get a permit to put on the windscreen, usually available online, from the respective council.
3. A 4WD vehicle is a must, but check that your rental car company will allow you to use it for beach driving.
4. Don’t carry too much weight in the vehicle.
5. Abide by the signed speed limit on the beach, as it varies.
6. Don’t go driving on the beach when the tide is coming in. Occasionally vehicles have capsized in the water.
7. If there are people or wildlife on the beach, they have right of way, of course.
8. Do not drive on the beach at night.
9. Best states for beach driving are: Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.
Snazzy tip: If you get stuck in the sand, which is more than likely, try reversing out. A shovel comes in handy too.
Fraser Island is a popular destination for its 75 Mile Beach. To get there you need to take a ferry with your 4WD to the Island. Or you can join a tour with professionals.
Don’t be surprised if you see some unusual big sculptures around the country, like the one below.
Final thoughts on driving in Australia
Lastly, before any road trip, always plan ahead by doing a little research and being well prepared.
I hope my driving in Australia tips help you to have a fun and safe motoring experience.
Feel free to ask me any questions below.