Tips for Driving in Australia
There are many ways of travelling around Australia, but if you ask me, I’d say that driving in Australia is easy and the best way to explore the country. Here is a complete guide on what you need to know for driving in Australia as a tourist, and we share our advice. I went on solo road trips around Australia. And I loved them.
However, it takes time to get familiar with the idea of driving. This mental block is probably due to driving on the left side of the road. But once you start, you soon realise this is a minor thing. Starting with easy road trips is key. This will help build confidence when driving solo in Australia.
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Driving Licence Requirements for Tourists in Australia
Here are the most common questions you may come up with when you think of driving in Australia on your holidays.
1. Can I drive in Australia as a tourist? The answer is simple: yes, you can.
2. What side of the road does Australia drive on? The answer is the left side but forget about this. It’s much easier to drive on the left if you come from a right-side driving country than you may think.
3. Do you need an international driver’s license to drive in Australia? Yes, you do.
If you don’t have an English driving license, you will need an English translation of a valid driving license for driving a car in Australia. You can get it from the officers who issued your original driving license. The translation cost, a.k.a. The International driving license, varies depending on your home country and is valid for 3-5 years.
Australia Traffic and Driving Rules
As mentioned above, in Australia, people drive on the left side. And driving on the left can be a bit confusing for first-time visitors from countries like the United States, continental Europe and the rest of the world, where you drive on the right side.
While in cities and populated areas, following the traffic flow, helps get used to it, in the Outback and the rural regions, it does require a bit more attention, though, as it’s easy to go on the wrong side of the road if you are not used to left side driving. So take it easy, drive slowly and possibly only in the daytime. Here below are my best tips and and road trip advice.
- Drive on the left side consistently and on all Australian roads. I have been driving solo on many road trips, and driving on the left was easy to adjust. My advice is to use automatic rental cars. I recommend everyone willing to go on a self-driving trip. That will help you concentrate on the traffic flow and reduce distractions, i.e. getting used to the left-hand side gear.
- Stay on the slow lane, the most left lane on roads, and overtake on the right side. Passing lanes for short stretches of 1.5 km in Australian rural areas helps you let fast drivers pass.
- Give way to the right, also at roundabouts. In some regional Australia, you must beware of road conditions and roadworks. It can be not very clear at crossroads, T-intersections.
- Enter roundabouts clockwise in Australia; there are many roundabouts in the countryside. By entering roundabouts on the left (clockwise), you give way to the right. However, Australians don’t like to slow down and tend to drive through the roundabouts very fast. So pay attention when approaching roundabouts. Times there are series of roundabouts within short driving distances, and some are real monsters with built-in smaller roundabouts and multiple exits.
- Beware of speed limits in Australia: they are 100-110 km (62-68mph) in most states. Northern Territory has a speed limit of 130 km (80 mph). Speed limit cameras and police checks are everywhere and in scarcely inhabited Outback roads where you wouldn’t expect to have cameras or police checks. The standard city speed limit is 60-50 km h (31-37mph).
- Don’t drink and drive in Australia – 0.05 bac is the blood alcohol driving limit, the same as in Europe. So beware of this because penalties and fines in Australia are high for drunk driving.
Road Signs in Australia
Australia’s natural environment represents the major attraction for travellers, but it is also concealed hazards that are often unknown to most people, especially overseas travellers. Not surprisingly, safety is a major concern of the local authorities across the entire country.
Fatigue has a huge impact on driving performance and is the major cause of all car accidents on Australian roads. Also, the danger of animal crossing the roads requires attention and high concentration while driving at night in Australia. Wildlife crossing the roads is common on Outback roads.
As soon as you drive out of town and more frequently in the Outback areas and nearby natural parks and forests, you will come across the unmistakable yellow warning signs with the black animals’ silhouette that warn you when approaching Australia’s natural parks and wilderness areas. And the number of injured Australian animals on the roadsides is tangible proof of the danger.
You can find plenty of informative material about Australian natural dangers and road hazards everywhere. At beaches, in national parks, on the roads, and in public places dotted with warning road signs.
What to know about Travel Distances in Australia
Here below our best advice and tips for diving adventures in Australia.
Australia is a top country of unique beauty and vastness. Its amazing, varied landscapes make it an ideal destination for road trips. However, it’s not easy to choose the right road trips, mostly because of Australia’s long driving distances and the many road hazards. No matter how you choose your Australian road trip, solo or with a travel companion, you prefer short road trips with exciting things to see along your way and more options for stopovers.
- Make sure you have a map of the travel distances.
Calculate the driving route accordingly. Check the above chart of the distances between main cities in Australia.
- Pick a road trip destination with good road conditions.
No rain or bad weather conditions. Ask for info and advice about the picked route before leaving for your destination.
- Let someone know about your road trip.
No matter where you go. Either the local tourist office, the local police officers or the main road officers.
- Have a travel distance map.
Distances are in km, and next to each field, it shows you the average time for driving those distances.
- Plan several breaks on all driving route.
Avoid burnout. Planning many stops when driving in Australia is critical. Although traffic is almost unexisting in rural areas, long hours behind the wheel and remoteness make the long-distance drive challenging.
- Never drive if you are tired or feel drowsy.
There is car parking on highways, and resting areas, in the Outback. Service stations or Roadhouses are the best places to stop for a cuppa or stay overnight.
- Don’t drive at night, dawn or dusk.
When hiring a car, one of the first things that you will need to know of is that you are not allowed to drive at night in Australia. Also travel insurance will not cover you if you drive a rental car at night.
- Have a map of all Services Station.
Petrol stations in Australia are called “Servos”, and are all self-service and take credit cards and debit cards. In rural areas and the Outback, there are only a few of them, with long distances in between. Keep your car topped up and fill up at every petrol station. This will give you peace of mind and help you stick to regular breaks from driving.
- Use a driving distance calculator.
If you don’t have a printed-out map to help you figure out what to expect and evaluate potential driving routes, you can use a driving distance calculator like Google Maps. This gives you an idea of the route length and difficulty. Another great tool to help you calculate road distances with fuel usage and road conditions is this.
- Be sure your car is prepared.
Many solo travellers in Australia feel overwhelmed when it comes to planning a road trip. With the right information and adequate preparation, you can nonetheless have a fantastic experience without having to be an expert driver nor using a four-wheel-drive car. Check car conditions, road and weather conditions. Be sure your car is prepared and in an excellent state for driving the route to your destination.
What to Pack when Driving in Australia
If you plan to hit the road in Australia, make sure you have all these essential packing items with you:
- A full water tank with at least 10-15 litres of pure water is no. 1 thing you should be packing into your car. Shop for food in the central town to be self-sufficient along your way or at least till your next destination. In rural and Outback areas there are few small shops. At service stations, you can buy some food but don’t expect to find as much as you find in town. It is also expensive to shop.
- Pack essential camping gear like:
1. A blanket,
2. A small gas-fired heater,
4. A warm jacket
If your car breaks down at night, you will be safe.
- Phone coverage is not something you can take for granted in Australia. In a rural area, the internet is slow. And on long roads of isolated regions, there is no coverage at all. I followed the tip of my Aussie friend years ago, and since then, I only use a prepaid Telstra sim card. It’s the best. Telstra is Australia’s only phone and internet provider that can guarantee decent coverage. But still, don’t expect to have a phone connection in the middle of nowhere. That’s the downside of driving remote regions of Australia.
Tips for Travelling the Australian Outback
Driving in the Australian Outback needs even more attention than on normal roads. And it is by far the most challenging drive for international travellers. The major concern on the Outback roads is the high risk of wildlife crossing the roads, especially at night.
Here below 9 tips for driving safely in the Outback
If you love road-tripping, you will love driving the Australian Outback. This will be the most exciting part of your entire Australian Adventure. Here below, I have compiled a list of simple road safety tips for you to use when preparing to drive the Australian Outback:
- Seek the advice of the local police, tourism office and local national park rangers.
Only access the Outback area if conditions allow it. Be sure you have an updated and detailed map.
- Check Road Conditions
You can download one from the internet that you can use offline and bring a print-out of the map. Unsealed roads are exposed to high traffic and climate hazards like heavy rains, which cause bog holes, floods, washouts and corrugations. Here below is a list of the websites where you can find reports about the Australian Road Conditions for each relevant area:
Northern Territory and Central Australia
Kakadu National Park
Western Australia Roadworks
Transport South Australia
Queensland Road Conditions
- Check the weather conditions in advance and monitor the progress of local hazards like cyclones, fires and floods. Here are sites for you to check:
Weather Conditions and Warnings
Australia Weather Radar Images
- Ensure your 4WD vehicle is in peak condition.
If a breakdown occurs, repair facilities are limited and can be costly. Make sure your vehicle insurance covers you throughout your trip.
- Have cash, not all service stations accept credit cards.
Some service stations in the Outback close early at 5.00 pm, and many are not open at night and on Sundays and public holidays. You can download a fuel map to map out where petrol stations are along your driving route.
- Be Self-sufficient
Carry a full range of spare parts, a vehicle workshop manual, and a full equipment recovery, first aid kit, communications and camping gear.
- Hire a satellite phone
Learn how to use a satellite phone, and remember that mobile phone coverage is mainly limited to towns. Learn primary navigation, take a complete set of maps and GPS and know how to use them.
- Carry plenty of water:
Three litres per person/day, food and fuel with you, including at least three days’ emergency supply. Remember that there are mostly no facilities in the outback, and even at the isolated fuel stations, their offer is limited.
- Take frequent breaks
Stop and have often rest, and swap the drive. Do not underestimate the long distances. Fatigue from the long driving distances and wildlife on the roads are the most hazardous on the Australian Outback roads.
- Tell someone about your Outback itinerary—a friend or family, where you are heading and your plan.
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First published in 2017 and last updated in August 2023