Driving in Australia: rules for expats, travellers, and backpackers
Are you an expat? A backpacker? Maybe just a traveler visiting Australia? If so you may find yourself driving in Australia at some stage. You might buy a car during your time down-under, or (if you’re clever) you’ll join a car share service like GoGet, which lets you use cars without the cost or hassle of owning one.
Either way, the rules for driving in Australia are different to the rules in other countries, and they’re very strictly enforced. This article is a basic primer to driving in Australia for overseas visitors.
In Australia we drive on the left
If you want to drive in Australia – you’ll need to drive on the left hand side. This is a significant change for most (as seen on the map below, blue is left, red is right) and you’ll notice when jumping in the vehicle, that everything is opposite.
This is really the only difference between driving in Australia and driving overseas, the basic mechanics are all the same. It definitely won’t take long to get used too, but we highly recommend having a go around a car park before you head out on the road.
Luckily, all GoGet cars are automatic, which means it will be significantly easier to drive and they’re all quite new, so you wont incur any unexpected breakdowns.
Always have your license on hand
This is a must. If you want to drive legally, you must have a valid driver’s license and take it with you whenever you drive. If a member of the police force asks to see it, you must present it to them.
If your license is written in a language other than English, you’ll also need an International Driving Permit. You can get this from the Australian Automobile Association.
You’ll also need these details if you decide to join GoGet!
Distance is measured in kilometres not miles
Unlike driving on the left, Australia is the same as most of the world when measuring distance. Australian drivers use kilometres to measure distance, and kilometres per hour (km/h) to measure speed. In fact, every measurement in Australia is made with the metric system, with the exception of the nautical and aeronautical industries, and for old drill bits.
So if you’re visiting from the USA, or if you’re a backpacker or expat from the UK, sorry (well, sorry not sorry). Welcome to the future, the rest of the world really likes it.
Read the signs
Australia’s parking signs are similar to those in other English speaking countries. Speed limits, parking zones, and turning restrictions are all signposted. The closer you are to the centre of the city (the Central Business District, or CBD) the more restricted parking will be, and the lower the speed limit.
You should take the time to get familiar with Australian road signs. You can read more in this Guide to Australian Road Signs from CarsGuide. For a quick introduction, here’s a video from the ABC.
Fasten your seat belt, don’t touch your phone, and don’t drink drive!
In Australia, seat belts are mandatory; everyone in a car must wear one, with no exceptions! Not only are seat belts one of the best ways to keep you safe in a car, if you’re caught with someone not wearing one in the car, you’ll get hit with a massive fine. You could even lose your right to drive in Australia. The police are really tough on this.
You’ll also get busted if you touch your phone while you’re driving in Australia. In most states, drivers must not touch their phone, unless it’s in an approved phone cradle. To be safe, do whatever you need to do with your phone (connect Bluetooth, play music, etc) before you start driving. If you need to do anything urgently, pull over first.
Strict rules also apply to driving while drunk in Australia. If you have more than 0.05% blood alcohol concentration, you’re driving illegally. You could be over the limit after one or two drinks, so the best thing is to not drive at all if you plan to drink alcohol.
Park in line with traffic
Another basic rule when driving in Australia is to park in line with traffic. Generally, you should only park with the car facing forward on the left side of the road. That means the passenger door (on the left of the car) will be the closest door of the curb.
On some one-way streets you can park on either side of the road, but you still need to face the direction of traffic. In that case, you can park with the driver’s door nearest the curb.
Here’s a rule of thumb. If you can’t park in a space without illegally driving on the wrong side of the road, against the traffic, you shouldn’t park there.
Driving in Melbourne
We love Melbourne! You definitely need to visit if you’re travelling in Australia!
But if you’re driving in Melbourne, you need to know a few extra rules, because you’ll be driving with trams.
If you’re spending much time in Melbourne – you’re in luck! GoGet is Melbourne’s largest Car Share network, with vehicles available everywhere, from the CBD to the suburbs. Find your nearest GoGet car in Melbourne here.
Driving with Trams in Melbourne
While Sydney and Adelaide both have a light rail service, they don’t interact with cars as much as they do in Melbourne. As a result, Victoria has a series of extra rules that relate to Melbourne trams, and police are very strict about them.
A few driving rules in Melbourne to remember are:
- You must not move into the path of an approaching tram.
- At a tram stop, you must stop level with the rear of a stationary tram, until the doors have closed.
- Don’t exceed 10km/h when passing a stationary tram at a tram stop.
- You can’t park or stop withing 20 metres of a tram stop unless there’s a sign that permits it.
- You cannot drive on tramways – they are for trams only.
- You can only drive in a tram lane for 50 metres, in order to turn right.
You can see these rules in action in this video from VicRoads.
Performing a Hook Turn in Melbourne
The infamous hook turn! Even many Australians living outside of Melbourne don’t know how these work.
The hook turn is a way of turning right when there is a tram on the road you’re turning from. Remember, Australians drive on the left, so turning right takes you over oncoming traffic lanes. The reason you need to be careful is because pulling out in front of a tram can be dangerous, and hook turns make it safer.
Some people find hook turns confusing, because you need to move left (into the hook turn lane) before turning right, which is a strange idea. The best way to understand this is to see it in action – VicRoads have another great video explaining how hook turns work.
Drive slow, and drive safe
We’ve just scratched the surface of driving in Australia, and how to do it safely. There’s lots of information on the websites of the state motor registries, which are linked below. Spend time looking over the rules for the state you’ll spend the most time in and when you’re on the road, take it slow! That’ll help you get used to the new rules in the safest possible way.
Remember, GoGet gives you access to lots of different cars, without the confusing, time-consuming, and expensive process of buying your own! Whether you’re in Australia for a month or a decade, GoGet can help you get around more conveniently and cheaply, especially when you’re first getting used to the country.
Australian State Motor Registries: