Australian road rules | what you need to know

13 July 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

A quick how-to on understanding road rules in every Australian state and territory.

Australia is a relatively young democracy, and its road rules are even younger. In fact, Australian road rules only became standardised in 1999, with all states and territories signing on to enforce a largely similar set of regulations.

When it comes to enforcing those rules around the country, though, each state and territory is slightly different.

Overview

Australian motorists drive on the left side of the road in right-hand-drive-vehicles, similar to drivers in the United Kingdom, China and Japan, and opposite to many parts of Europe and all of the United States.

Distances and speeds are calibrated in metric units, and all drivers are required to be suitably licensed and insured.

Speed limit rules vary from state to territory, but the maximum speed for the vast majority of Australian dual-lane carriageways is 110km/h.

The one exception is a 300km stretch of road in the Northern Territory that is marked as 'unrestricted', and carries no speed limit. Some other highways in the NT are marked at 130km/h.

The driver is liable for all seat belt infringement penalties, including passengers and children.

The majority of urban areas carry a speed limit of 50km/h. Speed zones are marked with black characters within a red circle on a white sign.

As a rule, speeding laws are heavily enforced, and particularly so under Victorian road rules. There, the tolerance for overspeeding is as little as 2km/h; you can, therefore, be fined for travelling at 52km/h in a 50km/h zone.

The driver is liable for all seat belt infringement penalties, including passengers and children.

Seat belt laws are uniform around Australia, and require the driver and all passengers to be properly restrained, including children.

It is also an offence to travel unrestrained in the rear of vehicles like vans or utilities. The driver is liable for all seat belt infringement penalties, including adult passengers and children.

Finally, driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is illegal in Australia. The national limit for alcohol consumption stands at 0.05 grams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, which is measured by breath analysis. Police officers also carry drug-testing equipment.

NSW road rules

NSW is the most populated state in the country, and often leads the way in the implementation or change of national road rules.

For example, giving way to all vehicles in a roundabout – as opposed to just giving way to the right – began in NSW, before being adopted in other states.

Rules around the use of mobile phones were also first implemented in NSW; it is now illegal to use a device in any capacity if it is not mounted in a holder or bracket within the car.

The term 'use' also extends to functions outside making a call, including texting, checking email and even changing music.

Victorian road rules

While it is largely illegal to make a U-turn at traffic lights in Australia, Victorian authorities permit the practice, providing there is not a sign specifically forbidding it.

Leaving a bicycle rack on the car with no bike in it will attract a fine in Victoria, though.

SA road rules

South Australian drivers are required to slow down to 25km/h at a children's crossing (also known as a koala crossing), when driving in a designated school zone, and when passing a stationary emergency vehicle with its flashing lights illuminated.

A driver must also slow to 25km/h in a school zone when a child is present, even if it is outside school hours.

You are permitted to cross single or double continuous road-marking lines in order to avoid an obstruction. This does not include a slower moving vehicle or a vehicle stopped in a line of traffic, but may include a fallen tree, a crashed vehicle, or a car that has broken down or is illegally parked.

One to watch out for in Australia is a law pertaining to leaving a vehicle 'unsecured'.

In South Australia, you cannot make a U-turn where there is a No U-turn sign at an intersection or a break in the dividing strip or median strip, where there is a 'No U-turn sign', at an intersection where there are traffic lights (unless a 'U-Turn Permitted' sign is displayed), or over single or double solid lane dividing lines.

SA's rule makers also state that a driver must give way to vehicles already in the roundabout, and take particular care of vehicles approaching or about to enter from the right as they may enter the roundabout first.

It's also suggested that the driver should signal with their indicators to let other drivers know their intentions. For example, immediately before leaving the roundabout (i.e. when passing the exit before your exit) you must signal with your left indicator, unless it is impracticable to do so. For example, the roundabout may be too small to allow your indicator to operate. This tells drivers waiting to enter the roundabout where you intend to exit.

QLD road rules

If you are stopped by the police in Queensland, you will need to provide your name and address and show a valid driver's licence. You may also need to take a roadside alcohol breath test or drug saliva test.

If your licence is in a language other than English, you need to carry a recognised English translation of it when you are driving.

One of the greatest myths around driving in Australia centres around the ubiquitous thong, or flip-flop sandal, and whether it's legal to drive with them on.

WA road rules

While the state of Western Australia varies little from the rest of the country, one of the biggest hazards in regional areas can be the road train.

These multi-trailered prime movers can be up to 50m long, making passing difficult. The biggest trains are controlled by police, and restrictions applied by controlling officers must be obeyed.

TAS road rules

An interesting rule difference in Tasmania is the replacement of all double unbroken lines with a single unbroken line – but the same rules pertaining to no passing or overtaking still apply.

One of the greatest myths around driving in Australia centres around the ubiquitous thong, or flip-flop sandal, and whether it's legal to drive with them on.

The 'zip merge rule' also states that the vehicle in front where two lanes merge has the right of way, no matter what lane it is in.

The smallest state in Australia also enforces the rule that drivers must stay left on multi-lane roads when the speed limit is more than 80km/h.

ACT road rules

The ACT has strict rules around driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and can issue an Immediate Licence Suspension to drivers who break these rules, which can include failing to stop for police and refusing to undertake a roadside test.

Parking laws

One to watch out for in Australia is a law pertaining to leaving a vehicle 'unsecured'. If you are more than three metres away from your vehicle, and it's unlocked, has its windows wound down and/or the keys in it, you can be fined.

Also take heed of parking signage, which can be confusing and misleading if not read correctly. If, for example, you park nose-in to a spot that specifies rear-in parking, you can be issued a ticket.

Vehicles must also be parked with its nose facing in the direction of travel. In other words, a driver cannot park on the other side of the road facing the wrong way.

Australian road rule myths

One of the greatest myths around driving in Australia centres around the ubiquitous thong, or flip-flop sandal, and whether it's legal to drive with them on.

The short answer is yes, but only when it's safe. It's preferable to drive barefoot if a thong (or even a high heel) could impede your driving, according to experts.

What driving myth do you find most interesting? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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