Driving in the city is a very different experience from driving in the suburbs. You have less time to make decisions, and with so many cars on the road it can be very stressful.

If you’re driving in an Australian city for the first time or just want to be a better city driver, here are eight tips to help you manage.

Do you need to drive?

Before we start on our city driving tips, it’s worth considering whether you need to drive at all. City driving can be fast-paced, high-pressure, and a big time investment. It’s also very difficult to park in most CBDs.

Most Australian cities have good public transport systems, with trains, trams, and buses to get you into town. If you can get by without driving it’s worth it, especially if you’re not comfortable or experienced with city driving.

That said, if driving in the city is unavoidable there’s no need to stress. Read on for our 8 tips on city driving in Australia.

1. Don’t Panic

The car driver’s guide to the city should have this written in big letters on the front cover. When you drive in the city you’ll have to deal with traffic, and other drivers that may not be as careful as you. The most important thing is not to panic, and keep your stress to a minimum.

Here are a couple of tips to try and help with that:

  • Turn the radio off once you’re in the city, so all your focus can stay on the road.
  • Ask your passengers to keep chat to a minimum or talk softly, for the same reason.
  • Leave a big gap ahead of you. If other drivers cut in, let them and don’t get annoyed.
  • Take a breath and avoid getting angry at other drivers… it won’t help.

A man meditating on a mountain, not panicking

2. Avoid peak hour

The best time to drive in the city is when other people aren’t. Every city has slightly different peak hours, but you should generally avoid driving in the city from 7am to 10am or from 3pm to 7pm.

You should also plan ahead if you’re driving in the city on a weekend. See if there are planned events or road closures, and try to avoid driving within a few hours of those. To find local road closures, do a Google search for road closures *your city here*.

Peak hour traffic in the city, with hundreds of people driving in the city lined up on a highway

3. Give yourself double the time and double the fuel

When you’re under time pressure, you’re more likely to be stressed and drive dangerously. To make city driving less stressful, give yourself twice as much time to get where you need to. That might seem excessive, but any regular city driver will tell you that trips can easily double in length if something goes wrong.

You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of fuel well before you get into the CBD. Most Australian cities don’t have petrol stations in the city centre, so if you’re running low you risk getting stranded in a very high pressure environment. Even if you don’t run out of fuel, driving on empty is only going to increase your stress levels.

The fuel gauge in a car

4. Drive slowly

When things get stressful on the road, it’s always okay to slow down. City driving is already a slow process, with most inner-city roads speed-limited to 40km/h. Drive slowly and you’ll have plenty of time to change lanes and turn off when you need to. You’ll also have much more time to avoid accidents with other cars or pedestrians.

The worst thing that could happen is that you get a beep from an impatient motorist behind you, but even that’s not very likely. Experienced city drivers know that things move slowly, and as long as you’re not stopped unnecessarily, they shouldn’t hassle you.

On a related note, you should never speed up to get through traffic lights while you’re in the city. While you might be able to get away with this often illegal behaviour in the suburbs, the risk of an accident is far higher downtown, with potentially hundreds of cars and pedestrians going through every cycle of stops lights.

A woman driving in the city on a highway full of traffic

5. Use a GPS or Google Maps

When you’re driving in the city, you’ll have to navigate one way streets, no right turns, tramways, and pedestrian only streets far more than you do in the suburbs. Luckily, most of this information is included in most navigation apps.

Your drive will be easier if you set up a GPS or navigation app before your trip begins… just make sure to use a phone cradle, as it’s illegal to hold your phone while you drive. It doesn’t matter whether you use a GPS, Google Maps, Apple Maps, or another navigation app, but make sure you have the latest update before you leave.

Letting someone else handle the navigation means you can focus on the road. GPS navigation is even used by taxi and Uber drivers, who are extremely experienced at driving in the city.

A map using Google Maps on his phone in the city

6. Look out for pedestrians and cyclists

The inner city isn’t just home to more cars than you’ll see in the suburbs. You’ll also find many more pedestrians and cyclists. People without cars don’t have the protection you do, so you need to make an effort to look out for them.

This means being ready to brake if someone walks out in front of you, and making sure you’re not driving through an intersection as someone’s about to cross the road. In Australia, a green light for you doesn’t necessarily mean pedestrians have a red, so always look before you drive. When turning left, check you don’t have a cyclist next to you… cutting them off risks much more than a bump for them.

If you’re street parking, don’t open your door without taking a few seconds to look in your wing mirror and check your blind spot. Opening your door in front of a moving cyclist is called dooring – it’s extremely dangerous and can be fatal. The Dutch Reach is a great way to train yourself to check before you open your door, here’s a video on how it works. 


7. Plan where to park

One of the worse parts of driving in the CBD is when you need to park. In most Australian cities, street parking is hard to come by, so you could be driving around the block multiple times before you find something.

If you need to park in the city, it’s often better to find a multi-story or underground car park to leave your car. It’s secure, and can sometimes be cheaper than street parking, especially during times of lower demand, like evenings and weekends.

Whether you decide to park on the street or in a car park, look for a parking guide online first. Most car parks will let you pre-book, which guarantees you a spot and tends to be slightly cheaper. If you’re going to try and find a street park, take the smallest car you can so you’ll fit in more spaces.

8. Learn to drive with trams in Melbourne

This final tip is essential if you’re driving in Melbourne City. Because Melbourne has a vast tram network, there are some special rules you need to know to drive safely alongside them.

The most important of these is the hook turn, which can be a little confusing if you’ve never seen it done before. The best way to show you these rules is visually, so here’s an excellent video from VicRoads that has everything you need to know about the rules around driving with trams in Melbourne city.


About Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.