When should I stick to the left on the road?
If you were to conduct a snap-poll of every single driver in the country, quizzing them on the one bad driving habit that annoys them more than any other, 90 per cent would say people driving slowly in the fast lane is the offence that most fries their fuses.
That other 10 per cent? They’re the ones clogging up the right lane of our nation’s freeways, blissfully unaware of the traffic (and frustration) building behind them. Well, we hope they’re blissfully unaware, because if they’re doing it on purpose they are, quite possibly, pure evil.
With more than 18-million registered vehicles in Australia, that’s more than 1.8m people ruining road trips for everyone.
Come to think of it, it feels like more than that many. It could even be 30 per cent. The unbelievable thing is that some of the people who do it are probably equally annoyed when they get stuck behind someone who’s returning the favour.
It’s hard to believe people could still not know the Keep Left Unless Overtaking rule - authorities even paint those words on big signs to remind us - or that there are stiff penalties (although you’re more likely to get stabbed by a unicorn horn than see someone actually get a ticket) that can apply if you’re caught ignoring it.
Wouldn’t it be a magical day, though, if the police ever did a crackdown on the practice? Perhaps with triple demerits attached.
What’s less known is that the rules can change depending on what State or Territory you live in, with different areas employing slightly different versions of the fast-lane law.
And in our endless quest to deliver Zen-like peace to the roads of Australia, we’ve toured the country to breakdown those rules. So please consider the following your keep-left bible.
It’s a common misconception that the Keep Left Unless Overtaking rule applies only to freeways or motorways, but it’s actually not the case. In fact, the NSW road rules simply state that on any road with a limit of more than 80km/h (and with two lanes, of course), you must “keep left and allow a reasonable space for overtaking”.
More than that, you can be fined if you increase your speed while being overtaken (and why do people do that; misplaced pride or suicidal tendencies?) or if you merge into the right lane to try and stop someone passing you. The fact that we even need to have laws for those two things is alarming, frankly.
Melburnians apply a similar level of common sense to their go-fast roads, applying a blanket keep left policy to any road with a speed limit of more than 80km/h, or on any road with a 'keep left' sign.
There are some exceptions, though. If you’re making a U-turn or turning right, then obviously the left lane is no longer your home. Equally, if the left lane is turning left then you’re also free to roam. Finally, if you’re stuck in heavy traffic then you are free to crawl along in any lane you wish (which is pretty much what happens every morning and evening in Melbourne).
If you’re on a three-lane road, then you can cruise in the left or the middle lane. And the Victorians - kind folks that they are - suggest you always keep left, no matter whether you are required to by law or not.
The love affair with keeping left extends to single-lane roads in the sunshine state, with the road authority telling its drivers to “stay as close as practical” to the left-hand side of the road no matter how many lanes there are.
On fast roads, though, the rules mirror those in NSW or Victoria, with drivers told to 'Keep Left Unless Overtaking' on roads with a speed limit higher than 80km/h or with a 'keep left' sign.
Like its neighbours, Queensland also allows you to venture into the right lane if you are turning right, in congested traffic or overtaking.
Unlike some other states, though, you can undertake (that is, overtake using the left lane) on all multi-lane roads, provided, of course, you don’t exceed the speed limit. So if some dunce is clogging the right lane, you can escape their madness, quite legally.
In some countries, and European ones in particular, this is hugely frowned upon. But then, they understand lane discipline.
In South Australia, the rules largely mirror those of NSW and Victoria, in that you must (yes, must) keep left on any road with two or more lanes if the speed limit its more than 80km/h, or on any road marked with a sign telling you to keep left.
That said, you can venture right if you’re about to turn in that direction, if there’s an obstruction in your lane, if you’re stuck in traffic or - and no surprises here - you’re overtaking.
Our most western state is also home to our first rule change. Sure, on single-lane roads you have to drive as far to the left as is practical (unless you’re riding a motorbike), but in a multi-lane situation, you have to keep left on any road on which the speed limit is 90km/h or higher, as well as on any road with a 'keep left' sign.
Like the other states, though, you can venture from the left if you’re turning right or making a U-turn, the left lane is a turning lane, if there’s an obstruction in your lane or if you’re stuck in traffic.
In our nation’s capital, the rules state you must keep left on any road with, you guessed it, a speed limit higher than 80km/h, and it applies for the entire length of that road, or unless you pass a sign telling you that the keep left area has finished.
Like the rest of the country, heavy traffic is a deal-breaker, meaning you’re free to go absolutely nowhere in any lane you’d like. If they ever have traffic in Canberra, which is doubtful.
In the Northern Territory, you can need to Keep Left Unless Overtaking on any road with a speed limit higher than 80km/h, or any road with a 'keep left' sign. That said, you can head to your right if you want to overtake or turn right.
Find yourself being overtaken? You can’t speed up to stop them merging back in, and you have to stay in your lane.
In Tassie, the rule is broken down as follows; you need to keep to the left side of any road with a speed limit higher than 80km/h, or if there’s a 'keep left' sign. And that’s on any road, regardless of the number of lanes.
You can break the rule if you’re stuck in traffic, overtaking, or if the left lane is one of those “slow-vehicle turnout lanes” you find in Tasmania.
Oh, and you can ignore it if you’re avoiding a hazard or a bicycle in the left lane - which, let’s be honest, is kind of the same thing.