Whether you’re taking a long road trip, driving a tractor as part of your farm work or going to pick up friends from the airport, chances are you’re going to be behind the wheel at some point during your time in Australia. It’s therefore a pretty good idea to have some basic road safety tips under your belt. While many rules of the road Down Under will be the same as those in your home country, there are a few exceptions that come into play due to Australia being such a large and remote country. So even if you’re feeling fairly confident on the road here, it’s probably a good idea to cast your eyes over these important safety tips for driving in Australia – just to check you and your passengers are aware of them all.
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Drive on the left
This might sound like a fairly obvious one, but that means it’s a good place to start. Yes, driving on the left-hand side of the road is a crucial safety tip on the roads in Australia! Plenty of people make the mistake of forgetting it’s different to their home country and often catch themselves swinging over to the right, especially on roundabouts or at intersections. If you’re new to driving in Australia, sticking to the left can be harder than you think, but it’s definitely something you’ll need to remember!
Watch out for animals on the roads
This is a key safety tip for driving Down Under, especially if you’re going to be on the road in more remote or rural areas. Australia has many large wild and farmed animals that love to wander across the road right in front of you. This happens particularly often during sunrise, sunset and at night. Getting passengers to help you spot wildlife on the road can be a great help. This is also a really good reason why you should keep solo driving at these most dangerous times of the day to a minimum. It’s even better if you can avoid driving during night time or at dawn or dusk.
Be aware of school zones
Speed limits apply across Australia and should always be heeded, otherwise heavy fines apply. What you might not be aware of, however, is that some speed zones are temporary i.e. only enforced at particular times of the day. Areas around schools (school zones) are one of these places. 40kmph speed limits are generally imposed in these areas between 7:30-9am and 2:30-3:30pm (but this can vary, depending on the school). Flashing lights and signs will indicate to you where these zones are, but it’s best to be forewarned too.
Only stop for a photo where it is safe
This is a classic error for tourists! Given how beautiful the Australian landscape is, the temptation to snap photos as you’re driving along is hard to resist. However, this really isn’t a good idea, as stopping abruptly or in unsafe locations to pull out your camera can easily cause an accident. If you want to snap a pic, make sure you can pull over at a safe pace, in a reasonable location, and don’t endanger other drivers or passengers in the process.
Check road conditions in advance
As we all know, Australia is a country with extreme weather. This means that road conditions can change quickly, so checking the state of the roads in advance of your journey is essential. This is especially important if you’re going to be travelling in remote or rural areas, where flooding or bushfires can significantly impact your intended journey. Road condition reports can generally be found in Visitor Centres along your route, but the easiest way to find out is probably to check road reports online. Each state will have their own website, so make sure you get the details ahead of time.
Only tackle roads within your comfort zone
As a country full of rugged and rough terrain, it’s good to be aware that a lot of Australian roads are not sealed. This is something that may well differ from your home country. If you’re taking a long road trip, or driving in some of the more remote locations, then you will definitely want to plan your route in advance, making sure you know whether bitumen roads make up the entirety of your intended journey. If you intend to drive on unsealed roads, make sure you have a suitable vehicle and a skill set to match. A good knowledge of how to operate a 4-wheel drive vehicle, as well as some off-road experience, is a much-needed starting point.
Take regular breaks
Another key safety tip when undertaking long driving journeys in Australia is to take breaks often – ideally 15 minutes every 2 hours. This is another example of where planning your route in advance is handy, because it will allow you to see where suitable rest points are available. Sometimes the distance you will be travelling in Australia is far greater than what you’d be used to at home and with the added factors of heat and humidity, driver fatigue is a common problem. To avoid this, make sure you get plenty of fresh air during your breaks and drink lots of water. It’s also a good idea to get out of the car and stretch your legs as often as you can.
Always pack extra supplies
Breakdowns can be an issue anywhere in the world you’re driving a vehicle, but in Australia, the enormity of this country means it can be a very long time until you receive or reach help. As such, packing extra supplies is a very important safety tip. Things to consider include extra food, fuel and water. It’s also a good idea to have a torch, some basic tools and a puncture repair kit with you too. If you do get into trouble, always stay with your vehicle and try to reach help via your mobile or satellite phone.
Be aware of trams in the cities
In some of the cities in Australia, the presence of trams can make driving a bit more complicated than you’re used to. Most collisions between vehicles and trams happen when cars are merging lanes, so be extremely careful to watch out for trams and check your blind spots. Be aware that trams can’t swerve, and are larger, heavier, and take longer to stop than cars. At roadside stops, you must stop behind the tram until the doors close and pedestrians finish crossing. Give way to trams and only drive on tramways and lanes if you need to avoid an obstacle, on tram lanes up to 50m when you are making a right-turn. For more information on sharing the road with trams see the Vic Roads website here.
Know the laws around drink driving in Australia
In Australia, you’re breaking the law if you drive and your blood alcohol concentration equal to or more than 0.05. If you’re on a learners or provisional licence, your BAC must be zero. It generally takes the body about 1 hour to process 1 standard drink. However, two people can drink the same amount of alcohol and have different BACs, because there’s a range of factors that affect how alcohol is broken down and absorbed, from gender to body size to how much you have eaten. There’s no amount of drinking that guarantees you’ll stay under 0.05% BAC, so it’s safer not to drink at all if you plan on driving.
So there you have it, 10 important safety tips for driving in Australia. Hopefully, with these golden nuggets of advice, you’ll be safely enjoying your time across the many roads of this great Land Down Under in no time!