If you’re an international visitor taking a trip to Australia, one of the greatest ways to see and experience all that Australia has to offer is by doing the ‘great Aussie road trip’. But when you get to the hire car place and notice that the steering wheel is in fact on the left hand side of the car, you’d be forgiven for commencing a small panic attack.
This simple guide to driving down under will help you when you get behind the wheel and start your Australian adventure.
To the left, to the left
Turns out Beyonce’s hit song is more than just a catchy tune. This little line is going to be your mantra that you play over and over in your head when you start the engine of your vehicle. In Australia, our drivers drive in the left lane. This is all easy enough to remember when you’re driving in a straight line and following the flow of traffic. It’s when you go to turn a corner that you need to concentrate.
In most European nations, and America – the saying is ‘tight right, loose left’. Here in Australia it’s the opposite. You need to keep your left turns tight and your right turns are the loose turns.
You will know that you’re on the right track if the oncoming traffic is closest to the driver’s door and you as the driver are seated closest to the road lines. Should you find yourself off the beaten track on your adventure – just keep singing ‘to the left’ in your mind.
Which driver’s licence do I need?
In Australia, you are allowed to drive with the use of your international drivers licence, provided it is in English. If it isn’t, you will need to obtain an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) from your home country specifically to drive in Australia.
You can drive on your international licence for three months, but if you plan on travelling and driving in Australia for longer than this, you will need to obtain an Australian licence from the State Roads and Traffic Authority, which will require testing prior to receiving your licence.
Road rules and etiquette
It is important to adhere to the road rules, as you can and will be pulled over and penalised by Australian Police if you are found to be breaking the road rules. There are speed limit signs visible every few kilometres. In Australia we measure our speed as kilometres per hour or km/h. The maximum speed that can be reached is 110km/h and that is on freeways and motorways.
Generally in more built up areas the speed limit can vary from 50km/h to 70km/h. When you see school zones and road works, it’s imperative to slow down to the advised 40km/h or 25km/h until you are out of the labelled zone.
If you need to overtake a slow driver, you must overtake from the right lane, and then return to the left once you have passed the slower vehicle. Fines and penalties can apply for drivers who sit in the right hand lane.
You must also ensure that you don’t touch your mobile phone or eat/drink whilst driving in Australia. If you need your phone for navigation purposes, set the navigation up before you start your engine and then put the phone down. If you have a passenger – let them handle the device.
Tricky roads and destinations
There are some roads that will completely confuse you in Australia if you have never experienced anything like it before – and this means that road rules can vary from state to state. In Victoria, in the heart of Melbourne there is an active tram network where trams travel on the roads alongside the cars. Because of this, Melbourne drivers use a ‘hook turn’ in the CBD which can confuse even interstate drivers.
If you have ventured out into the Aussie outback – you might find yourself on secluded roads with not much signage and an abundance of Australian wildlife appearing on the road suddenly. Kangaroos, emus and wombats in particular can do a great deal of damage to a car, so if you are driving at night or around dusk or dawn, remain vigilant, keep your headlights on (or high beams if there is no oncoming traffic) and be aware that these native animals can wander out on the road in an instant.
The best way to prepare yourself for each destination you plan to drive in is to do some more specific research on the area to ensure you’re not surprised by anything you are likely to encounter as you drive into the area.
Selecting a vehicle
When you’re hiring a car, it can be hard to know which car is going to be best suited to the journey you’ve got planned. You would be best to choose an automatic vehicle, as the added pressure of driving a manual car on the wrong side of the road could prove to be dangerous for you and other drivers.
If you are looking for something small and zippy, to get you from A to B on a more city dwelling style vacation, something like a hatchback or a sedan is the best option. If you are going out onto the open road to see the countryside or the outback, something built for rough terrain like a 4WD or pick-up truck might be what you’re after. Be sure to plan your trip out and speak to the car hire experts about the correct vehicle for the type of driving you’ll be doing.
Contributor: Brett Mills of Ken Mills Toyota on the Sunshine Coast grew up with the Toyota brand, taking family holidays to Fraser Island in the 40 Series as a kid and working in every role at his Dads’ – Ken Mills – Toyota Dealership in Kingaroy. He went on to work for Toyota Australia Motor Corporation (TMCA), where he met his wife Caroline, and they purchased their two dealerships – at Nambour and Maroochydore – in 2002. Brett is currently the Chairman of the National Toyota Dealer Association.