Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in Australia?
Always know where yo
u are going to get fuel when you set out on overnight drives and be aware of the fact that fuel stations may close late at night or Sundays. Cell phones may not work in some parts of Australia. Always tell someone if you are making an off road trip and give them your planned itinerary. If your vehicle breaks down in the Outback stay with it and do not attempt to walk.
Driving is on the left hand side of the road. Do not overtake on the left hand side and do not overtake if there are solid white lines. At roundabouts give way to vehicles already on the roundabout and select your lane early.
In Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide there is a tram system so look out for signs and tram tracks. Trams usually have right of way. A solid yellow line means cars are not allowed to drive in the tram lane. A special 'hook turn' is used by traffic in Melbourne to get around the problem of trams. It involves approaching an intersection in the left lane and indicating right. Approaching the intersection as far left as possible until you are perpendicular to the traffic heading in the direction that you want to be. They should be waiting at a red light. Then you follow the traffic lights to your right.
Watch out for animals such as kangaroos on the roads. If you do hit a marsupial you are legally required to stop and check whether or not they had any young in their pouches.
When driving on highway you should stay on the left unless overtaking. At T junctions the motorist going straight through has right of way.
You should be aware that there are massive driving times between the Australian cities. There are 860 kilometres between Sydney and Melbourne on the Hume Highway, 964 kilometres between Sydney and Brisbane on the Pacific Highway and 2695 kilometres between Adelaide and Perth on the Eyre and Great Eastern Highways.
Some roads which are OK in the dry season may become impassable in the wet season.
Seat Belt Laws
As the driver, you'll get an A$250 fine if you or any of your passengers aren't wearing a seat belt. You'll also get points on your licence.
Drinking and Driving
The legal limit for blood alcohol in Australia is 50mg per 100ml of blood – less than that of the UK. The police carry out random breath tests and if over the limit you'll face a court appearance with a fine and a suspension for the first offence; a possible custodial sentence for further offences. If you are a new driver or a probationary one, no alcohol is allowed in your bloodstream.
Must Have Documents
All you need is your driving licence printed in English.
- 50 km/h in built up areas.
- 100 – 130km/h on freeways.
If there is no speed signposted the speed is 100km/h.
School zones have their own speed limits in various states which should be signposted. Foreign nationals who are fined for speeding will have the fines sent to their home address. If the ticket is sent to your car rental company, they will charge an admin fee to pass it on to you.
Minimum Driving Age
Car rental companies may require you to be over 25 years of age, though some rent to 21 year old and even 18 year old customers. Australia has one of the lowest minimum ages for driving in the world. In Victoria you have to be 18 to drive by yourself but in the Northern Territory you can drive from 16.5 years. All new drivers have to undergo a three year probationary period.
Safety Camera Warning Devices
It's not illegal to use detection equipment in Australia and most states have websites to tell you where active cameras are located.
On the Spot Fines
An on the spot fine in Australia is simply a ticket which tells you the offence, the fine you're liable for and how to pay it. If fines are large enough, you can opt to pay in instalments.
Child Safety Rules
There are complicated rules over child restraint systems in Australia which are as follows:
- Babies up to six months must be in a rear facing car seat
- From six months to four years they can be in a forward or rear facing seat
- Children up to four years old can't travel in the front seat unless it's only a two seater
- From four to seven a booster seat or forward facing seat must be used
- Children from four to seven can only ride in the front seat if there are no other seats for them
A minimum of third party insurance is compulsory in Australia.
Rules of the Road
Standard driving laws apply with one or two exceptions.
- Australians drive on the left in right hand drive cars
- 70% of Australian cars are automatic – most rentals are too!
- When the speed limit is over 50 mph (80 kmph) it's illegal to stay in the right hand lane on multi lane roads, except when overtaking
- Some roads have overtaking lanes which are usable for both directions, a black and yellow sign will show who has priority
Other than common sense rules, there are no legal requirements regarding towing – just make sure that it's clear you're on tow.
Australia has many ways to catch you speeding; fixed and mobile cameras, cameras in unmarked cars and in some states, airborne cameras. For all offences you'll receive a ticket which is called an 'on the spot fine' despite not being able to pay it on the spot.
Using Mobile Phones when driving
Using your mobile phone whilst driving in Australia will land you with an on the spot ticket fine.
Parking is expensive in the major cities, especially as you approach the centre. It's often cheaper to park further out and walk or get public transport.
There are expensive municipal parking garages and lots, metered parking alongside the road and ticket machine parking in most towns and cities. All are quite expensive in order to persuade drivers to use public transport.
Enforcement of parking is usually the responsibility of the police and is carried out infrequently. Many risk parking without paying and get away with it but it's not recommended. Parking where it's obviously illegal or dangerous will earn you a A$100 fine and, if your car is towed, a similar amount in tow charges.
Australia has its own system for parking for the less mobile but it doesn't apply to badge holders from Europe.
Motor Way Signs
Motorways are signposted with an M such as the M1, the Sydney to Newcastle freeway. The signs have a green background.
Motorway – Freeway, Highway
Petrol – Gasoline
Asphalt – Bitumen
Bonnet – Hood
Boot - Trunk
Traffic lights follow the UK system in Australia and you mustn't turn left on a red light unless it's indicated you can do so. Some states such as Victoria, ban U turns at traffic lights too.
There are an increasing number of toll roads in Australia as well as toll bridges and tunnels. Toll roads are clearly indicated and many use transponders to collect payment. If you don't have one, then a photo is taken of your registration plate and you're given a fixed time in which to pay the toll by website or a phone line.
See our guide to toll roads in Australia here.
The emergency services number is 000, though 112 also works. The Australian search and Rescue team, who can find you if you are lost in the Outback, are on 641. The United States Embassy in Canberra is on +61 (0) 2 6214 5600 and the British High Commission is on +61 (0) 2 6270 6666. For more embassy numbers visit www.wordtravels.com/Travelguide/Countries/Australia/Contacts.
What to do in an emergency
You are legally required to stop and help if you have been in an accident where someone has been hurt or injured. Phone the police on 000. Leaving the scene could land you with 10 years in jail. You are protected by law from legal recrimination should something go wrong if you try to administer first aid in good faith at an accident which you are obliged to do if you have a current first aid qualification.
For fuel prices in West Australia try www.fuelwatch.wa.gov.au. As of December 2013, the price of 95 octane unleaded petrol in Australia is £0.80 whilst diesel is £0.75.
||It is now ILLEGAL to have speed/radar camera detection equipment in your vehicle in all states and territories, however radar detectors can be used in Western Australia. Sat navs with preloaded fixed camera locations are still available in all states and territories. Australia has an extremely low tolerance for speeding and fines can be heavy.