Getting around the large cities in Australia and New Zealand is easy when you’re using public transportation. But if you plan to travel outside of these areas, you may find that you will have to rent a car. I’ll admit that when my husband lost his drivers license somewhere in the Chicago O’Hare airport, I was nervous- I would have to do all the driving in Australia and New Zealand. But I strapped on my big-girl boots and took on the challenge like a champ.
Turns out, I’m pretty boss at driving on the left side of the road!
If you are planning a road trip around Australia and New Zealand, and are nervous about having to drive, here are some useful tips for you!
Me & my cute little Suzuki that I fell in love with
You must have a license to be able to drive in both Australia and New Zealand. Your license from your home country is fine, as long as it is in English. If it is not in English, you have to get an International Drivers License, which you can get in your home country. In Australia, you can drive with your license for 3 months. After that, you must register for a license in the state you are driving in. In New Zealand, you can drive for 12 months with your license, before needing to convert to a New Zealand license. You must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in both Australia and New Zealand.
Drive on the left
The biggest difference you’ll find while driving in Australia and New Zealand is that traffic drives on the left-hand side of the road. This can be tricky to remember, especially when making turns. It is important to always look both left and right before making a turn, to avoid collisions. In addition, there are often signs posted reminding you to “Keep Left” while driving.
Sit on the right
While traffic moves along the left, the driver sits on the right side of the car. In most cars, your gearshift, windshield wipers, and turning signal will be reversed as well. Take some time to practice getting used to this before heading out onto major streets. Luckily, gas and brake pedals remain the same, so you don’t need to retrain your brain on those.
Ahh, the infamous roundabouts. Also known as a traffic circle, these are commonly seen while driving in Australia and New Zealand. Essentially, they are a circle of flowing traffic that takes the place of traffic lights or 4-way stops. Traffic at all roundabouts goes in a clock-wise direction, so make sure to look to your right before entering. As you enter the roundabout, you must always give way to the cars that are already in the circle.
There are some tricky bits to remember regarding what lane to be in, and how to properly use your turning signal. This post by Lifehacker Australia is awesome at explaining roundabout etiquette. I recommend giving it a read before hitting the road.
Passing vehicles (Overtaking)
Laws for overtaking vehicles in Australia and New Zealand are very similar to those in the United States. As traffic moves on the left, all overtaking is done using the right lane. If there is no designated passing lane, you must pay attention to the road’s center line. You may not pass a vehicle if the center line is continuous and unbroken, if it there are two unbroken lines, or if there are two lines and the one closest to you is unbroken.
While driving in New Zealand, there is often only one lane of traffic flowing in each direction. If you are driving slower than the posted speed limit, or you see that the vehicle behind you is trying to pass, it is courteous to pull your own vehicle over to the side of the road to let others go around you.
You will most likely come across one-way bridges in New Zealand. Before approaching the bridge, you will see a sign with two arrows inside, indicating the direction of traffic flow. One of these arrows will be larger than the other. This arrow indicates which lane of traffic has the right-of-way. If you are not in this lane, you must yeild to all oncoming traffic, until it is safe to pass.
Speed limits are highly enforced while driving in Australia and New Zealand. Hidden speed cameras are used in both countries, along with highway patrol. In Australia, the default speed in urban zones if 50km/h. Each state has different regulations regarding top legal speeds on freeways and major motorways. For instance, in New South Wales and Queensland the top speed is 110km/h, while the Northern Territory has some highways with top speeds of 130km/h. In New Zealand, the maximum driving speed is 100km/h. Urban areas will usually have a speed-limit of 50km/hr.
Driving in rural areas, you may encounter herds of animals using the road to get from one pasture to another. Make sure you slow your vehicle down immensely and drive patiently as the herd moves. There is no need to blast your horn or rev your engine, as there is usually a person with the herd who will help clear a path for you.
Cell phones, Seat belts, and Driving under the influence
Australia and New Zealand are both very strict about these. It is illegal in both Australia and New Zealand to use a hand-held cell phone while operating a vehicle. This includes while waiting at traffic lights and stop signs.
In both Australia and New Zealand, the driver is responsible for making sure they and all passengers have seat belts on while the car is moving. Both the driver and passengers can receive hefty fines for not wearing seat belts.
The blood alcohol limit in Australia is 0.05%, and police do set up random roadside drug and alcohol tests. If caught driving under the influence, you will be faced with a fine and a driving suspension. In New Zealand, the blood alcohol limit is also 0.05%, but this is lowered to 0.0% for any drivers under the age of 20. If you are caught driving under the influence in New Zealand, you could face fines of up to $10,000 and even jail time.
Emergencies & Accidents
In Australia, vehicle accidents that cause harm to people or property must be reported to the police. You are legally required to stop when involved in an accident. The same practices apply in New Zealand.
Australian Emergency Number: 000
New Zealand Emergency Number: 111 or *555 (from a cell phone)
Have a question about driving in Australia and New Zealand? Comment below and I will help!