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Is it illegal to drive in reverse?

When it comes to reversing on the road, you should try to avoid doing it as much as possible. (image: James Marsden)

Yes and no, as it's only legal to drive in reverse when it's safe and reasonable. 

The road rules in Australia state, with practical uniformity, that you must not drive in reverse unless it is safe to do so, and you must not reverse further than is reasonable in the circumstances.

Basically, you can't decide to drive your car backwards from your house to the shops down the road, and reversing on the freeway is a big no-no (as it is unsafe to reverse in that circumstance). However, backing out of your driveway is fine, so long as you remember you have to give way to pedestrians, cyclists and other traffic when entering a roadway.

While it would be more convenient to stop and reverse back to find that street you drove past, it is simply not safe to do so.

Thankfully, many modern cars not only feature reversing cameras to make it easier and safer to back out onto a roadway, but there are increasing numbers of vehicles with sensors to warn of vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists who are approaching from behind the vehicle. This is especially handy in areas where vision is obscured by plants or parked vehicles.

When it comes to reversing on the road, you should try to avoid doing it as much as possible. While it would be more convenient to stop and reverse back to find that street you drove past, it is simply not safe to do so as you cannot properly control the vehicle.

You also have a duty of care to other road users, who will be approaching your reversing vehicle at speed not expecting you to be coming at them in their lane.

It is always safer to pull over where safe and work out the best way to navigate back to the street you missed.

There have been horrific fatal crashes involving cars reversing on freeways and down freeway on-ramps, as people have tried to cheat their way out of making a wrong turn. It is illegal to reverse down a freeway on-ramp, or on a freeway (even in the breakdown lane), so there is no excuse. Simply drive up to the next exit and turn around safely (where there aren't cars driving at you at 100km/h)!

The same goes for suburban streets, where the cars are driving slower but vision is also cut down by parked cars, trees, signs, and other obstacles. It is always safer to pull over where safe and work out the best way to navigate back to the street you missed, whether that involves turning around or using back streets to get where you need to be.

This article is not intended as legal advice. You should check with your local road authority to verify the information written here is suitable to your situation before driving in this manner.

​Have you seen someone reversing in an obviously dangerous way? Tell us about it in the comments below.