Australia is huge, so for visitors who want to see the highlights – and there are plenty – of this unique and entertaining country, hiring a car in Australia is the only practical way of getting around. But before you jump into your hire car, fill up at the nearest service station (or ‘servos’ as they’re affectionately referred to) and roar off in search of an Outback sunset, it’s worth taking a little time to familiarise yourself with the Australian rules of the road. Following these tips for driving in Australia should help you to drive safely from Darwin to Adelaide, Perth to Brisbane and all points in between.
Driving in Australia: the basics
Australia drives on the left-hand side of the road, so when you rent a car in Australia you’ll almost certainly end up with a right-hand drive vehicle, with either an automatic or manual transmission. Manual transmissions are quite popular in Australia, but you are likely to end up with an automatic. If you’re not used to driving on the left-hand side and manual gear stick is foreign to you, take some timeto familiarise yourself with the layout of your hire car before you embark on your Australian adventure.
An overseas driving licence in the English language will allow you to drive in Australia for up to three months. If you’re going to be staying and driving longer, you’ll need to apply for a licence from one of Australia’s six states. If your original driving licence is not in English, you will need to obtain an International Driving Permit, usually valid for twelve months, prior to your arrival in Australia.
Under Australian law it is compulsory for every occupant of a vehicle to wear a seatbelt whilst travelling. This law is strictly enforced, and it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that everyone is safely seat-belted. Babies and children up to the age of seven should be secured with a suitable child restraint and booster seat if necessary.
Driving in Australia: staying out of trouble
Australia imposes harsh penalties upon drivers, whether resident or visiting, who openly flout the law. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is considered a criminal offence without exception and is strictly policed via random roadside breathalyser and drug tests. A driver found guilty of this offence may expect to receive a fine and a temporary driving ban.
The use of a hand-held mobile phone for any purpose, including making or receiving a call, text message or email, taking a photo, playing a game or surfing the internet whilst driving in Australia is a criminal offence punishable by an on-the-spot fine and a three-point driving licence endorsement.
Additionally, any driver using a hands-free mobile phone but is deemed not to be in total control of the vehicle may be deemed guilty of driving without due care and attention and punished accordingly.
Australia takes a slightly stricter approach to speeding offences than some countries. Speed limits are always displayed using the metric system and are therefore measured in kilometres per hour. Typically, the maximum speed limit in urban areas is 50kmh and on major freeways (motorways) 100kmh, although there may be slight variations on the upper speed limit between different states; if you chose to hire a car in Western Australia, for example, you’d find that the upper speed limit on the freeway is 110kmh and in the Northern Territory can be as much as 130kmh. Speed cameras, both hidden and in plain view, are deployed throughout Australia.
The use of radar guns to determine vehicle speed is also widespread. Australian car rental companies often charge additional administration fees to drivers who incur speeding penalties, and may pass your details on to the relevant authorities if the speeding offence sufficiently warrants this action.
Driving in Australia: around town
As with any country, driving in Australia’s major cities can be time-consuming and frustrating during peak-period rush hours.
When approaching roundabouts remember that when driving on the left traffic will proceed in a clockwise direction. Drivers must give way to traffic approaching from the right that has already joined the roundabout. Drivers should signal their intentions when using roundabouts, indicating appropriately as they approach the exit they intend to take.
Unless explicitly stated, it is illegal to turn left at a red traffic signal or to perform a U-turn at a traffic signal.
At a two-way Stop sign vehicles must come to a complete halt, giving way to any oncoming vehicles.
Pedestrians always have the right of way and particular care and attention must be exercised when in the vicinity of a school or hospital.
Driving in Australia: the open road
Australia boasts some of the most scenic highways on the planet, but in order to maximise the enjoyment of journeys that can cover hundreds of kilometres in a single day, it’s wise to prepare properly.
Before embarking on a long distance road trip, it is important to make sure your vehicle is up to the challenge. Make sure you vehicle has been serviced, the tyres are in good condition and the vehicle you have chosen is suitable for the roads you intend on driving on. If you’re renting a car, make sure you choose a reputable company that looks after its fleet – Myaree Car Hire has a fleet of vehicles that are mostly less than 2 years old and are serviced regularly – so you can rest assured that everything has been done to prevent breakdowns on your Australian holiday.
In a country as large as Australia, towns and service stations can be very far apart once you hit the open road. It’s sensible to ensure that your car has sufficient fuel to get you at least as far as the next service station, if not your destination.
Filling your tank can be expensive, but you can find out the cheapest places throughout the state from which to buy fuel from the Government’s Fuel Watch website which is updated daily.
It’s also sensible to ensure that you carry sufficient food and water if you’re driving over significant distances in Australia. Fatigue can also become a problem and is a large contributor to road accidents in Australia, so aim to take a decent break from driving every two hours or so.
Whilst the majority of Australia’s main freeways are of sealed asphalt construction, road quality is liable to deteriorate the further you drive from urban areas, particularly in the Outback where any roads may be little more than dirt tracks.
Australia’s wildlife can also pose a hazard to drivers, particularly in remote areas and at daybreak, dusk and night. Be vigilant for koalas, kangaroos, emus, sheep and other creatures as hitting them is not only upsetting, but can also cause severe damage to your rental vehicle. Where possible, avoid swerving to miss them. Apply the brakes hard and keep the car straight and on the road. There have been many instances where people have swerved to miss kangaroos or other animals and ended up rolling their vehicles or hitting trees, which can result in much greater incident.
Above all, drive responsibly, take your time and enjoy every moment spent exploring this beautiful country we call Australia in your hire car.