Australia is a massive country with plenty to see. If you want to see it all with the ultimate in freedom and flexibility, hiring a car may the right plan for you. However, driving in a new country can be intimidating. Unlike some tourist destinations, Australia takes road safety and driving regulations seriously. One wrong move and you could end up with your driving rights suspended. Before you hit the road, consider a few travel tips to keep you moving.
Tourists in Australia on holiday are generally safe using their home driving licence. Make sure your licence is current and always keep it with you while driving. However, the rules do differ from one state to the next. Same states prefer, or even require, that you also have an official international driving licence. Since these are fairly easy to arrange, it is best to plan on getting one, just in case.
Australia uses a demerit based system for traffic violations. Each fully licensed driver is allowed up to 13 demerits on their record within a three year period. This means that drivers can make a few mistakes and still keep driving. Different violations are worth different point values. For example, speeding only a few kilometres over the limit will likely only get you one or two demerits. However, you could be given five demerits for pulling your caravan while someone is inside it.
There seems to be some debate about how demerits affect foreign licences. Officially, most governmental sites agree that a driver using a foreign licence will be subject to the same demerit system. However, it is hopefully unlikely that you will accrue more than 13 demerits during your holiday. So most foreign drivers will not be subjected to fines.
It is also worth noting that, whatever the situation might be for demerits on foreign licences, there are some days which are considered “Double Demerit” days. On these days, traffic violations are taken more seriously. The penalties assigned for violations on these days will be twice as heavy. Double Demerit days tend to be holidays and other important days, so be sure to check the calendar.
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That said, there are some offences which would lead to immediate licence suspension. Even if you have no demerits or other traffic violations in Australia, certain things are simply not tolerated. Again, the exact list of offences varies from state to state. However, as a general guideline, driving more than 45 kilometres per hour above the speed limit will usually result in suspension. Similarly, driving under the influence will do the trick. And, ironically, not having a licence at all will cause your “licence” to be “suspended”.
Australia has a great nightlife and between the hot pubs and the hotter beach BBQs, you are likely going to have a drink or two. However, be advised that driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the fastest ways to lose your driving privileges, no matter where you are from. Generally speaking, blowing a blood alcohol level of 0.10 or higher will result in immediate suspension. That is, of course, saying nothing of the terrible risk to yourself and others that you pose when driving drunk. Just don’t do it. Choose a designated driver or take a cab.
Another of the more serious offences relates to mobile phone usage. While the penalties range from state to state, across the country mobile usage while driving results in higher demerits and higher fines. Australian law forbids using your mobile in any way while driving. This includes not only texting, but also talking or taking pictures. Further, Australian law considers you to be “driving” even while stopped at intersections.
Finally, one of the biggest and most common mistakes made by tourists driving in Australia is forgetting which side of the road to use down under. In Australia, traffic flows on the left side of the road. Failing to keep left can cause not only serious penalties, but can quickly result in serious injury or even fatality. Always remember to keep the driver to the inside of traffic! If you aren’t comfortable with these driving rules, perhaps renting a car for your holiday isn’t the best plan.