Driving In Australia: Hints & Tips
Driving in Australia
Some Geographic Comparisons
Australia occupies 5% of the world's surface and is the 6th largest country after Russia, Canada, China, USA and Brazil. It is one of the least populated countries with 2.5 persons per square kilometre (in comparison the UK has 244 persons per sq km).
Australia's Land Mass
Make sure your insurance is up-to-date and provides coverage for the type of road surfaces and areas over which you intend to drive. If you are hiring a car/4WD/campervan then check the fine print for what you're covered for and what the excess may be and don't be caught out.
Distances between Cities
It is a long drive between most Australian cities. So be prepared to spend some time on the road. The distance from Cairns to Perth travelling south then west along Highway 1 is approximately 7,200 kilometres or 4,450 miles. For a chart of distance between all the major Australian cities click here
Driving on the Left
Australians drive on the left side and drivers should use the left lane of any given highway unless overtaking. Three cities operate trams, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne of which the latter is by far the largest. In general trams always have right of way. In Melbourne's centre "hook turns" are used on many intersections where drivers turning right sit in the left lane across the junction indicating right until the traffic lights change and then turn right.
In most States the maximum speed limit on freeways and major highways is 100 kph (approx 62 mph) and local urban limits range from 50 - 80 kph (approx 30 - 45 mph) with special speed limits in school zones in certain states. In the Northern Territory a 110km/h speed limit applies on all rural roads on highways, unless otherwise sign posted. All speed limits are clearly marked and all States operate sophisticated speed detection equipment including mobile and static speed cameras along with Red light cameras. Any fine incurred in Australia is the responsibility of the driver and should they be a foreign national the fine will be mailed to their home country address.
Safety Belts and Child Restraints
Wearing a seat belt in Australia has been compulsory since 1962. This applies to both front and rear seated vehicle occupants. Drivers please note that you as well as any passenger are liable should that passenger not wear a belt. Child restraints must be used and approved child restraints are compulsory to age seven. Make sure you hire one if you're hiring a vehicle.
All Australian states enforce strict drink drinking laws and the Police are entitled to stop drivers on a random basis for breathalyser tests. These operations are often referred to as a "Random Breath Test" or "RBT". In most states the legal limit is 0.05, however in encouraging responsible driving abstinence is recommended.
Driving in the Outback
The most important thing to remember should you decide to go "off Road" (off a sealed road) in the Outback is to seek local advice on your intended route as well as ensuring someone locally knows of your travel plans. If your vehicle does break down in a remote area stay with it do not attempt to walk. Generally people who stay with their vehicles are located quickly and easily.
Please note, that some rental suppliers do have conditions that limit the operation of their vehicles in the outback. Should you plan to go off road we suggest that you discuss your intended route with the rental company beforehand.
It is a legal requirement that any gates opened to allow your vehicle to pass through are closed afterwards.
Any travel across designated Aboriginal Land will require permission from the owners beforehand. As the permit process varies from state to state (and can take up to six weeks to obtain). It is best to contact the national parks' controlling body in each state prior to your journey.
A common sight in the Outback, particularly the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, are road trains. These are multi trailer trucks or road trains can be up to 53.5m long (176 ft). Always allow plenty of room as you pass in the opposite direction of a road train as the displaced air causes severe buffering. When overtaking a road train allow 1.5 kilometres (0.8 miles) of clear road.
Outback Road Conditions
Australia has an extreme of climates especially in the north. Minor roads that are passable in the Dry season (March - November) can disappear beneath a torrent of water during the "Wet". Seek local advice should your travels take you off the main highways. Some things to look out for in country areas include potholes and rough surfaces, soft road edges and road surfaces changing without notice.
A golden rule of travelling in the outback is to leave an iternary with someone reliable locally (e.g. Police) with an estimated travel time and take plenty of water. And if your car should break down, stay with the car.
Driving at Night
When driving at night particularly in the Outback care should be taken to lookout for wildlife that may stray onto the road. Animals are attracted by car lights. Collisions with animals such as the Red Kangaroo can cause substantial damage to your vehicle.
International visitors may drive in Australia on a valid overseas driver's licence that covers the same vehicle class. Whilst driving ensure that you carry your licence with you and if it is not in English carry a translation. International drivers can only drive for 3 months on their licence. The onus is on a tourist to learn the road rules before arriving. One way to become aquainted with and gain a general understanding of Australian road rules is by completing this tourist-focused quiz. Some rental car companies might ask foreign drivers to complete a similar online quiz or complete a printed checklist to identify road signs and road rules.
Petrol is sold in litres and comes in both unleaded and lead substitute forms. Prices will vary depending upon location and in the major cities you will see price fluctuations during any given week and national holidays. To get a sense of fuel prices in Australia and to help you budget please check here for prices in and around Sydney.
On the Beach
With 34,000 kilometres (18,500 miles) of coastline, it is little surprise that beaches are an integral part of Australian life. All popular beaches have areas marked with yellow and red flags that are patrolled by members of the Australian Surf Life saving club. It is recommended that you always swim between these flags to ensure your safety. Should you choose to swim elsewhere avoid doing so on your own as strong rips and tides exist around many of Australia's beaches.
In the North during the Wet Season (November - April) dangerous jellyfish are common in coastal sea waters and swimming should not be undertaken except in pools or areas designated safe by members of the Surf Life saving club. These jellyfish do not interfere with activities on the Barrier Reef as it is located away from the coast beyond the jellyfish habitat.
Travelling with Children
Some journeys in Australia, especially in the Outback, are longer than those undertaken elsewhere and keeping children occupied can be a challenge. You know your children best and what keeps them happy, however you may find something below that can assist.
- To keep children as comfortable as possible use sunscreen blinds or curtains on the windows to reduce glare and heat.
- Have a well stocked first aid kit including medication for common child ailments. Include sun block and insect repellent.
- Stop regularly to break the journey and visits to the toilet
- Make up an activities box for the back seat with notepads, crayons, activity books etc.
- Headphones for tapes of stories and songs will entertain and help send tired children off to sleep.
- Pack snacks and drinks. Ensure that you have a good supply of water on board.
Hitch hiking is illegal in Australia but still a common sight. It is recommended that you do not pick up travellers that you are not acquainted with.
Owing to the size of Australia and distances travelled driver fatigue has been the cause of 20% of all traffic accidents. Rest every two hours giving yourself a 15 minute break even when close to your destination.