Driving in Australia is one the best ways of getting around. We’re a nation of vast and varied beauty. Whilst our cities and vibrant and entertaining, a real Aussie experience requires a road trip, even if only for a day. Whether you want to travel around Australia by car or ditch the tour bus and head out on your own, having a car gives you so much more freedom to explore at your own pace.
Like any country, Australian has its own nuances and rules, so here are some handy tips to ensure your can focus on the journey and confidently driving in Australia.
DISCLOSURE: Some of the links below may be affiliate links, which allow me, at no cost to you, to earn a commission.
What to consider when driving in Australia
The roads and driving conditions in Australia are varied. You’ll need to ensure you have the right type of vehicle to fit the job. The majority of roads in Australia are paved,. If you’re planning to stay around the cities and venture well trodden paths you’ll be fine with a 2 wheel drive vehicle.
Australian road safety rules say that all passengers must be restrained. Ensure the vehicle that you have select has plenty of room for all of your passengers and any luggage you might have. Children under 12 months should be in a rear facing car seat. Additionally, children up to four years old in a front or rear facing car seat. Ideally your child should be at least 145cm before allowing them to use an adult seat belt. Car seats can easily be added on to a car rental and will already be fitted for you.
City driving - Choosing the right car
City driving can be quite busy and car spaces small, so consider this if you’re doing a lot of city driving. A compact sized car is perfect for zipping around and an automatic will have you navigating the traffic easily.
Outback & rural driving - Choosing the right car
A 4wheel drive is best if you are venturing to central Australia or on dirt tracks. If you are hiring a car make sure to check with your provider that your journey won’t venture on to any prohibited roads. Some roads have year round bans and others during certain seasons of the year. This also goes for common hot spots such as Fraser Island where many a car gets bogged in the sand dunes each year! If you’re driving in places like Far North Queensland, you may have to use a ferry so double check that this is also covered.
The easiest way you can organise hiring a car in Australia
The VroomVroomVroom website the best place for hiring a car in Australia. They compare a great range of cars from a multitude of destinations around the country. This will ensure that you’ll get the best choice and rate in vehicles.
We recently used them for a trip to the Gold Coast with our young son and the booking process and choice available was fantastic. It was very easy to collect our car from the Gold Coast Airport. A 4WD was perfect for all of the luggage that you accumulate when travelling with a baby! Best of all, it only took me a couple of minutes to book it through their site. Perfect for time poor travellers!
Car rental in Australia should be booked in advance. Hiring a car in Australia can be difficult during peak times. This is particularly prevalent at rural and popular destinations. Don’t let your self drive Australia trip be spoiled by high rental prices or lack of vehicles.
Key road rules to consider when you self drive Australia
When driving in Australia keep to the left
When driving in Australia, remember to keep to the left. Yes, we’re one of the few countries in the world who drive on the left. If you’re in a touristy area we’ll signpost it to remind you. Unless you’re going to enter a major highway ramp the wrong way though, most roads will assume that you know to drive on the left. Ensure to keep driving on the left in mind when driving in Australia.
In addition to driving on the correct side of the road another basic rule is that in an intersection we give way to cars on our right. Unlike some countries (namely Canada which confused us two Aussies), we don’t have intersections with stop signs on each intersecting road. Australian roads have a combination of roundabouts and traffic lights. Many major intersections will also have turning lanes and arrows to help guide you.
Use the signage as a guide to the driving conditions in Australia
When driving in Australia, you will notice the roads are well signposted. Signposts will mark routes, points of interest, speed limits and warnings. If you are planning to travel around Australia by car, you will be able to turn your GPS off during longer stretches of road and navigate by signpost only.
If you plan to self drive in Australia make sure to stick to marked speed limits. Australian road rules are strictly enforced. Roads are frequently patrolled by police and on speeding ‘hot spots’ are often targeted by fixed speed cameras in unmarked cars on the side of the road. Fines are quite hefty and not something you’ll want to add to your holiday budget. Unmarked, but strongly enforced, are 50km/hr limits in suburban streets. Additionally, please ensure that you slow down during school times and obey the reduced speed limits.
100km/hr is the norm for freeways (unless otherwise signed) although some more remote areas allow up to 110km/hr. Smaller highways you’ll travel at 70 – 80km/hr. It’s usually 60km/hr on smaller connecting roads. If you see police or emergency services on the side of the road, make sure you slow down to 40km/hr for their safety. This rule is in force even if you are in a 100km/hr zone. This new rule has been designed to keep emergency officers safe whilst working on the side of the road. If you speed on past you may be issued a fine.
Plan where you will park in advance
When it comes to parking, particularly in the capital cities, check and double check the parking signs. Quite often there will be one rule for weekdays and another for weekends. Parking for too long, or parking illegally could result in a fine or worse, your car being towed. If you’re unsure, ask a passerby to help you decode when you can park.
It is handy to keep some coins on you for the meters. However some areas now require you to download an app and pay via credit card. Parking inspectors patrol parking zones frequently. Unless you’re quickly running to the shops to get some change, it’s not worth taking the risk. Parking fines are often over $100 in Australia.
If you’re in the suburbs or further afield it’s often better to park at a shopping centre. You’ll be able to leave your car for longer and won’t need to pay for parking. High rise car parks are also a good option if you need to park for a little bit longer in the capitals. It’s worth noting that they can be quite expensive on weekdays. You may wish to return your car and rehire another car a few days later if you’re planning on having a few days break in the city.
What you must consider when city driving
The driving conditions in Australian cities can be quite busy. Peak hour in Australia’s capital cities can last up to 3 hours. Leave the city before 8am and return after 6pm to avoid the worst of the traffic. This also goes for the major arterials leading in and out of the city. If you’re not keen on driving in the dark, summer might be an ideal time for your visit. Daylight extends until as late as 9:30pm and allows for extended driving.
Each city has its own unique set up and quirks. Hobart has a series of one way streets which can be eternally frustrating if you miss your stop! Sydney is the city of no right hand turns during peak hours to keep the traffic flowing. Lastly, in Melbourne you’ll have trams and hook turns to contend with!
Conduct a quick search of where you’re going before you get there. Additionally, leave a little extra time. Unfortunately Australian drivers aren’t the most patient so you may be faced with the odd beep if you hold the traffic up. This can be stressful if you’re new to an area so be prepared and try and enter any areas you’re unsure about outside of peak times. This will allow you to more easily navigate any tricky roads.
Drinking and driving in Australia
If you’re hiring a car in Australia you may want to add on an additional driver. This can be useful for those times where you want to enjoy a drink or two. The ‘booze bus’ – or mobile breath testing bus, is a common feature on Australian roads. Police can and will also randomly stop drivers to breathalyse them.
Australian road rules state that you must be under 0.05 in Australia or you will be disqualified from driving immediately. You will also be fined. The rules are applicable across Australia. Consequently, if you have an incident in one state you’re also disqualified across the rest of the country. The police in other regions will be able to access this information.
In addition to alcohol, police also check for illicit drugs such as amphetamines and cannabis use. You may be asked for a tongue swab. This will be tested on the spot. Sometimes readings can be false. To rule out a fake positive further testing may be required. These tests are quite routine in Australia. If you’re doing the right thing it should only take a minute of your time before you can happily continue on with your drive.
Easily travel around Australia by car
There are lots of choices when it comes to car rental in Australia. Having a hire car makes it easy to travel around Australia by car and opens up so many more destinations for you. It allows you the freedom to better explore destinations such as the Great Ocean Road.
Cars can easily be collected from all major and most smaller airports and from a range of depots around the country. This means you can easily hire a car for a portion of your journey before you move on, or you can organise a longer term car rental if you are going to self drive around Australia.
The driving conditions in Australia are excellent with paved roads the norm. A GPS (sat nav) is a useful extra. Data in Australia is quite expensive, so adding on a sat nav unit will free up your phone. It is illegal to touch your phone once your car has started. Stow it away or use it hands free. If you are using it for navigational purposes, set up your journey before you leave and then place it in a holder where you don’t have to touch it again until you stop. The fine for using your phone whilst driving goes into the hundreds as well as increasing your risk of an accident.
Prepare for toll roads when driving in Australia
It’s wise to be prepared for the driving conditions you’ll face before you set out. Toll roads are becoming more prevalent in Australia. If you have a hire car you need not worry. All toll roads in Australia are automated, so you’ll be able to drive straight through without stopping at a booth.
A toll pass is a small device that is attached to the inside of the windscreen. There are many different toll providers in Australia. Toll passes are valid across all tolls roads, regardless to which city or company they’re issued by. Tolls are automatically added to your bill when you finalise payment with your hire company.
Borrow a tag or buy a temporary pass if you are purchasing or borrowing a car. You have 48 hours after using a toll road to pay the toll fare if you don’t have an electronic tag. Toll roads are easy to identify and well signed, so you will not be able to travel on one without realising it.
With a little preparation you can successfully drive in Australia
Whilst it may seem like a little more responsibility than taking organised tours, self drive in Australia really is the way to go. If you’re travelling in a family or group of over 2 you’ll get much better value from hiring a car in Australia than booking a tour. Australian road safety rules are logical and if you’re an experienced driver you’ll find our signage and roads easy to navigate.
Feel free to ask the locals how to get to a destination or for any tips if there is a rule or sign you can’t make sense of. If you’re hiring a car, the staff at the collection point are also a wealth of knowledge for you to tap into.
Hiring a car in Australia is simple and flexible. Car rental in Australia is a popular way to access the right vehicle for your travel needs. It is cost effective and the generally excellent driving conditions in Australia mean that you’ll be able to enjoy your journey and not worry about navigating tricky roads (unless off road is more your cup of tea!).
So now you know the essentials, you should have the confidence to hit the road. With the perfect car and road trip in mind, all that’s needed are some snacks and some tunes! Happy driving!