Guide to Driving In New Zealand - Drive Safe in New Zealand

Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in New Zealand?

In New Zealand, driving is on the left with overtaking on the right. New Zealand has the same system of signs and road rules as you would find in the United Kingdom so you'll feel at home.

Winter conditions, especially in the mountains or on South Island can be tricky so consider renting some snow chains and tyres at that time of year and also maybe a 4 x 4 car. Care should also be taken on the country's gravel roads with your speed reduced accordingly.

Driving Laws

Seat Belt Laws

You must wear a seat belt no matter whether you are sitting in the front or the back. The fine for not doing so can be NZ$150.

Drinking and Driving

New Zealand is very strict about drink driving with many preventative measures including regular breathalysing test roadblocks, even on motorways. The alcohol limit is 50 mg per 100 ml of blood, less than that in the UK so one drink could take you over the limit. The best advice therefore is not to drink and drive at all. This applies especially to drivers under 20 years old who must have no alcohol in their bloodstream whatsoever.

Must Have Documents

Your EU licence will be fine as long as it's printed in English. If not, you'll require an international driving licence. This is the only compulsory documentation you'll need. It is however a good idea to have your certificate of insurance, vehicle registration document and MOT certificate handy as well as proof of identity as this can often speed up sorting out difficulties.

Speed Limits

Generally the speed limits are:
  • 50 kilometres per hour in built up areas unless signs say otherwise.
  • 100 kilometres per hour on highways.
However there are times when the open road speed limit drops to 70km/h or 80 km/h. Additionally, some roads have a limited speed zone indicated by a sign with the letters LSZ where the speed limit drops. You should also reduce your speed to what you consider appropriate in poor driving conditions.

Minimum Driving Age

To drive in New Zealand you need to be at least 21 years old with a minimum of one year's driving experience, though some rental companies may charge you extra for being a young driver. Some rental companies have a maximum rental age of 70. If you are driving your own car then the minimum age for driving is 16.5.

Safety Camera Warning Devices

Speed camera detection equipment isn't illegal in New Zealand but it is safer simply to stick to the speed limits!

On the Spot Fines

Police issue 'infringement notices' for traffic offences unless the offence is serious such as drink driving or driving significantly over the speed limit. The notices will tell you the penalty and how and where to pay it.

Child Safety Rules

Children must be seated in appropriate car seats with suitable restraints. No child under twelve can sit in the front of a car without a suitable restraint system. If you're hiring a car for your travels around New Zealand, let us know the age of your children and we'll arrange the correct seats for them. 


A minimum of third party insurance is required in New Zealand and it's useful to be able to prove you have it.

Rules of the Road

Traffic regulations in New Zealand are generally common sense but be aware of the following:

Do not try and overtake when you see a solid yellow line as this indicates that it is too dangerous to do so.

At one lane bridges you should look out for a sign which indicates right of way and give way to the vehicles which have right of way.

Farm animals are often found on the road, especially sheep. If you are driving at night be particularly vigilant.

Driving in New Zealand can be tricky in the winter and signs will show you when conditions are slippery - that's a good time to add snow chains.

Towing Regulations

There are no specific regulations for towing in New Zealand. Simply make sure the vehicle being towed is securely attached and that other drivers know what you are doing.

Speed Cameras

Speed cameras are usually placed just after a speed limit reduces. There are also mobile speed traps that operate from the back of vans parked at the side of the road. Remain watchful of changing speed limits as even a small excess can land you with a fine.

Using Mobile Phones when driving

The use of mobile phones without a hands-free kit is illegal in New Zealand.


Parking regulations
Parking is fairly relaxed in New Zealand as there aren't that many cars for the size of the country. You must remember to only park in the direction of the traffic unless it's a one way street.
Paid parking
Paid parking is easily found whether it's on a meter, in a parking lot or in a multi-storey car park. Parking isn't generally expensive except in the big cities.
You must not park on broken yellow lines, on clearways, bus or taxi stops. Enforcement of parking is done by the police and you may get a fine or, if causing an obstruction, you'll be towed.
Disabled parking
EU Blue Badges for the disabled aren't recognised but New Zealand does its best for less mobile drivers. Find a convenient spot in an attended car park and ask for assistance; it'll be willingly given.

Motor Way Signs

There are various colours to motorway signs in New Zealand. For the main part signs have a green background and white edges. Signs with a red background indicate orders which must be followed. Warning signs have a black border with orange inside. Information signs are in blue, brown and green with a white edge.


  • Highways – Arterial roads which go through New Zealand. Not to be confused with motorways.
  • Logging Trucks – Carry timber and can be hazardous.
  • Unsealed roads – Gravel roads.
  • Level Crossings – At railway junctions.
  • Dual use bridges – For both trains and cars. Make sure nothing is coming before you use!
  • Slips – Small avalanches
  • Centennial Highway – This road has gained a reputation as an accident blackspot.
  • Drainage ditches – Can be covered with grass at the side of the road so take care not to fall into them.

Traffic Lights

Traffic lights follow the Vienna Convention and are the same as in the UK. You must not turn left on a red light unless you are told to do so by an arrow. 

Toll Roads

There are toll roads including the Northern Gateway Toll Road which was one of the first electronically operated toll roads in the country. Toll roads are indicated well in advance and alternatives are clearly signposted.


The emergency services number is 111. If you try dialling any other emergency number such as 911, 112 or 999 you'll be directed to phone 111.

What to do in an emergency

If you are involved in an accident, call the police on 111 or 199 (traffic police) Do not move your car, unless it is in a dangerous position which might lead to another accident, until the police arrive. In the interim, photograph the accident scene and get witness details as well as details of the other driver's insurance and wait for the police to arrive. The police will give you a copy of the accident report which is needed for insurance purposes.

Fuel Costs

As of June 2014, the price of 95 octane unleaded averages around £1.10 a litre with diesel a penny or two cheaper.


Actually you need to be 16.5 to hold a full NZ licence and 15 to apply for restricted. NZ accepts from international drivers,any age, with restriction only on category held
12/17/2016 4:10:25 AM
Steve Taylor
It's actually not compulsory to have third party insurance in New Zealand, although it should be!
7/21/2017 7:28:09 AM

Leave your comments here

 Security code
Click here to enter an extra message...

Hiring a Car

With our Drive Smart guide you're fully prepared to hire a car in New Zealand and stay safe on unfamiliar roads.