Traveller’s guide to road rules and road signs in Australia

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If you're looking to holiday in Australia, it's important that you understand the road rules and signage, so you don't end up on the wrong side of the law. It's also vital for your safety, and enjoyment, as getting lost or in trouble is never fun.

Each country has its own unique way of getting around by car, and some of our laws and signage can be a little confusing. That's why we've put together this handy traveller's guide to Australia's road rules and signs.

Road rules to be aware of when travelling in Australia

The first thing we want to explore is a quick list of Australian road rules and laws that may be different to other parts of the world.

You'll need an international licence

Before you start driving around Australia, you need to ensure that you've got a valid international licence. This is achieved by seeking an international driving permit, however, don't forget to carry your normal licence as well, as you'll need to produce both (regardless of the country of issue) if police ask.

Keep to the left

While many other parts of the world drive on the right-hand side of the road, Aussies like to do things a little differently. With very few exceptions, you'll want to stick to the left when driving on Australian roads, and, in many instances, it is illegal to be in the right-hand lane without a good reason.

When on Aussie highways you may see signs that state "KEEP LEFT UNLESS OVERTAKING". These signs are the law, not a suggestion, so be sure to listen to them.

When travelling in suburban areas you can usually select whichever lane you please, as long as you stay on the left-hand side of the road. However, roads that have three or more lanes and a speed limit of 80kmph or higher, are subject to the keep left law if you're not preparing to turn right.

Seatbelts are not optional

While some countries have a more relaxed approach to the wearing of seatbelts, buckling up is a legal requirement in Australia for both drivers and passengers. Failure to do so is not only unsafe, but can result in a hefty fine, so it's always better to be safe than sorry.

The legal BAC limit is under 0.05

When it comes to alcohol consumption and getting behind the wheel, the legal limit on Australian roads is a BAC below 0.05. However, this does not mean that 0.05 is an acceptable reading – you will be charged with drunk driving if a breathalyser shows this result, you must have a reading below 0.05.

The guidelines around this are usually one drink per hour to be in the "safe" zone legally, but we suggest avoiding getting behind the wheel if you're going to have anything more than a single drink with dinner.

Mobile and handheld device usage is illegal

Actions that are perfectly acceptable in some parts of the world can land you in hot water in others, and the use of a mobile or other handheld device while behind the wheel is one such task.

Throughout Australia, the use of pretty much anything other than a GPS while driving is illegal and can get you a fine that spans into thousands of dollars in some cases.

You can use mobiles and other handheld devices in a hands-free capacity if they integrate with your vehicle, but you must not touch the actual device.

Always check parking rules

While you'll work out pretty quickly that we park in line with the flow of traffic here (it's a lot safer because, at night, headlights reflect far better of tail lights than they do the front of a car) there are also plenty of different laws in regards to where, how, and for how long, you can park.

The instructions written on parking signs are, in most cases, legally binding, so be sure to always check when you pull up.

And don't forget you have to be at least ten metres from an intersection without lights, or twenty metres from one that has them.

Road signs to be aware of when travelling in Australia

We've also got some pretty interesting signs on our roads that can be quite confusing if you're not used to them. Look out for these common ones when en route to your next hostel or hotel.

The colourful ones

The big colourful signs dotted around Australian roads will be some of the most useful things you'll come across. With four general colours spanning the majority of the country, these signs make it easier to get around and can even save you some cash, or point you in the direction of something fun to do that you hadn't even considered.

As a general rule, signs that tell you how to get places in general will feature white text on a green background. Signs that point to tourist attractions, on the other hand, will be brown in colour with white text.

The other two major signs that you'll come across are those which point to amenities, such as rest stops or service stations (white text on a blue background) and toll signs which also feature a blue base, but with yellow text. If you don't have an appropriate tag fitted to your vehicle, we suggest avoiding toll roads, as many of them will sting you with extra fees if you try to pay after the fact.

Speed limit signs

There are two types of speed limit signs in Australia.

White signs that display a black number within a red circle denote the maximum speed that can legally be done on any given road.

You may also come across yellow signs which display a speed. These signs are only advisory limits, and you can legally continue your travels at the speed shown on the last legal speed limit sign. However, advisory limit signs exist for safety, so we suggest following the speed outlined.

Wildlife signs

Throughout Australia you'll also come across signs with animals on them. Generally yellow in colour with the animal depicted in black, these wildlife signs exist to warn motorists that the animal shown is frequently found on the road in the area.

These signs are more common in regional and rural areas, but you may come across them in suburbia as well. When you see them, be sure to be extra alert for the presence of wildlife, because running into a kangaroo or a wombat is no fun for anyone, trust us.

Livestock signs

Another animal focused sign that you may come across on Australian roads is a little harder to see, but far more important to take notice of.

When moving their animals across the road, farmers will put out "livestock on road" signs on the side of the road.

These signs aren't permanent, so they're not usually mounted on poles, but if you see one, it means that there are sheep, cows, or some other form of livestock up ahead, so you need to slow down. These signs can be either yellow or white, and generally feature black text.

Final word

Road-tripping around Australia can be a wonderful experience, and being able to drive yourself around in the city while you're visiting is certainly convenient, but there are a few things you need to be aware of before getting behind the wheel.

While this article isn't exhaustive – you'd be reading for months if we outlined all road rules and signs! – it does highlight some of the more important ones and should make driving on Australian roads both easier, and safer, during your adventure.

Jessica Jones
Written by
Jessica Jones
Jess has been writing educational content for almost ten years with a focus on lifestyle content. She loves coffee, dogs and all things fitness, and can often be found with her nose buried in a book and her music blaring through her earphones.

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