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Australia - Driving

In Australia you should be aware that they drive on the left-hand side of the road, which is fine for British expats as this is one less worry. However, while the basic driving regulations are the same across the country you need to be aware of the specific driving regulations for your state. There will be some slight variations in things like speed limits.

No matter where you are in the country you need to ensure that you carry your driver’s licence. If you are stopped and you cannot produce your licence you can be fined. You should also ensure that your licence is in English and if your original is not you need to arrange an English translation before you begin driving in Australia.

Speed limits are posted along the roadside and the local police regularly operate speed checks using a variety of methods on different types of roads. The default speed limit in most built-up areas is 50 km per hour and in some areas limits are lower around schools. The speed limits on highways are usually 100 km/h and on motorways are 110 km/h. In some areas these are adjusted in bad weather, so you should check on the regulations in your particular area before you set out to see if there have been adjustments that day. In some states there are regulations for learner drivers which limit their maximum speed. For example, in New South Wales the maximum speed for learner drivers is 80 km/h, regardless of the type of road you are on. If you exceed the speed limit then the police have the power to take away your licence on the spot.

Those who are convicted of a driving offence in one state will find that the authorities will pass this information on to the authorities in other states, to prevent drivers from attempting to conceal previous offences. Some states may allow you to drive if you have been banned in another state but this is rare and you should check first before you take the risk.

One of the main causes of accidents in Australia is fatigue and there are numerous campaigns which promote driver safety in this matter. Most states recommend a 15 minute stop every two hours.

There are strict regulations about driving while under the influence of alcohol. The police have the power to stop vehicles and conduct a breathalyzer test at any time. If you have a full drivers licence then the legal limit is 0.05 g/100ml. If you have a different licence then the legal limit is 0.02 g/100ml and if you are a learner driver you are not permitted to have any alcohol in your bloodstream at all. If you are convicted of drink driving you can lose your licence or even be given a prison sentence.

It is compulsory to wear a seatbelts at all times while a vehicle is moving. This applies to all drivers and passengers and if there are children in the car you should ensure the use of the appropriate child seats.

You are only permitted to stop your car on the motorway if it is an emergency. You should get your car as far off the road as you can. It is not permitted to do a U turn or reverse your car on any motorway or a freeway.

Road signs that are in use are very similar to those used in the UK and these are very clear. The one you may need to look out for is the wildlife warning sign, which has a kangaroo on it. Wildlife is something of a hazard in country areas and hitting an animal is one of the most common causes of accidents in the outback.

Other hazards to look out for are poor roads. Potholes and rough roads are common in remote areas, although the main roads and those in urban areas are usually in much better condition.

Most driving offences will result in being given demerit points. If you are given 12 or more over a 3 year period then you could have your licence taken away. Fines are another common punishment and if you are late paying then your driver’s licence could be suspended.

There are toll roads found in the areas around Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and most now make use of electronic sensors which capture your licence plate number. You should pay the toll within a few days of using the road, although you are able to pay in advance if you have planned your journey carefully and you know which road you will be using. Some toll roads still accept cash and this makes it easier for most people. Electronic passes are available for a 30 day period as an alternative method of payment. These are pre-paid, the sensor picks up the tag in your windscreen and the amount is deducted from your account.

If you are in a car accident in Australia then you should stay at the scene as you can be prosecuted if you leave. You should move your car if you are able to do so to ensure that it is not in the way of other traffic. You should take the name and address of the other driver, details of any witnesses and if you are able, make a sketch of the scene. You should contact the police and the other emergency services if there is an injured person or damage to property other than your own car and if your car is deemed unfit to drive you should not attempt to do so.

Australia is no safer to drive in than the US or the UK and car accidents are usually down to driver error, so the statistics are similar. When you are driving you need to give way to traffic that is already on the road, and as in the UK, you give way to traffic coming from the right when you are on a roundabout. If there is a stop sign then you are legally obliged to stop and give way to other traffic.

There are few regulations about carrying essential equipment in your car, although this varies from state to state. Recommended basics are the warning triangle in the event your car breaks down or is in an accident and a first aid kit.

Congestion and rush hours are normally between 8 am and 9.30 am and between 4 pm and 6 pm in built-up areas. Traffic can be easily affected by roadworks and accidents and in heavily trafficked areas delays are not uncommon.

There are various systems in place for informing road users about traffic information and these include Twitter updates, SMS and up to the minute updates online. You should check the traffic website for your state to see which services that they offer.

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