Driving in Australia, in this "Great Southern Land" is an experience to be savored. Get into the wide-open spaces and see nature at its best. Drive hard and see if you can put an end to that massive horizon - Some adventures can only be found by car. But before setting off you should make sure you are well prepared to ensure you have a great road trip. So "Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel!"
Although there are eight states and territories in Australia, luckily road rules are largely the same. Measurements in Australia are metric, distances are in meters and kilometers, and road speed in kilometers per hour. Australians drive on the left side of the road, with most vehicles have the steering wheel on their right side.
The majority of cars have automatic transmission but the gear stick in a manual transmission is operated by the left hand. The arrangement of the pedals is stock standard worldwide. Most cars will have the indicator (turn-signal) stalk on the right side of the steering wheel and the windscreen wiper on the left.
Driving conditions vary but most Australians live on or close to the eastern and south-east coasts. Roads between the cities and towns in these areas are sealed (paved) and usually well maintained, as are the main highways that join the state and capital cities. There are plenty of marked rest areas on major highways.
In more remote areas - such as “The Outback” - you may travel for hundreds of kilometers between towns or road houses without opportunities to refuel, get water, or use toilets, etc. In these areas, you will have to plan your trip, including fuel and food stops. (We cover this later in this article) Off the inter-city highways, conditions can be difficult in remote areas. Many roads are unsealed (gravel or sandy) and often poorly maintained. Some are only suitable for four-wheel drives and some (including major sealed highways) may not be passable at all in certain seasons or weather conditions.
You need to be self-sufficient and prepared for emergency situations when traveling in remote areas and be aware that outside of the major towns, mobile (cell) phone coverage will almost certainly not work. A satellite phone may be a good and possibly life-saving investment. Permits may also be required to travel through Aboriginal communities in certain locations, though many of these permits can usually be obtained for free.
Tips for staying safe and aware while on vacation in Australia
Australian road rules follow international standards. Australia drives on the left side of the road (the same as in the UK and Japan, and opposite to the USA and Europe).
Drive on the left-hand side of the road. If you are used to driving on the right, you need to concentrate at all times. Take particular care when pulling out from lay bays and driveways or when you are tired. It is very easy to have a lapse of concentration and to revert to habit. Such lapses have caused a number of fatal head-on accidents in Australia. Many intercity roads lack median barriers, so there is nothing to force the driver to stay on the correct side of the road.
Driving in rural and remote Australia
Driving in rural and remote areas requires special driving skills and awareness of different conditions. Make sure your vehicle is in good working order and has been serviced recently. Always carry a spare tyre, tools, and water. If traveling to remote areas off major highways take extra food, water, fuel, and tyres. Our remote areas have few towns and facilities, often with large distances between them, so plan your trip. If traveling in remote areas or planning to leave major roads, tell local police of your intended route.
Tips for Outback Driving Take precautions when traveling in the Outback. It is always a good idea to arrive at your destination by dusk.
- Obtain a good map, stay on recognized routes, check facilities and road conditions and make sure you have plenty of food and water.
- Rental companies may not let you drive on certain unmade roads.
- The Outback is not the place to learn to handle a 4WD vehicle.
- Travel with good maps, plenty of petrol and a first-aid kit.
- Stay on recognized routes and check road conditions before departure.
- Take at least 4 liters of water per person per day and a week’s extra food supply.
- The vehicle should be air-conditioned. Take tools, spares, a shovel, a workshop manual, two spare tyres and wheel changing equipment. If you break down, stay with the vehicle where there are shade and protection from the heat.
- Consider renting a radio from the Royal Flying Doctors Service if you are planning to take a long, off-road route.
- The best time for outback travel is the drier, cooler period from April to October. November to February rain can block some of the roads in northern Australia.
- Driving at night in outback regions is not advised.
Looking for an Outback driving itinerary? Try the iconic Explorers Way from Adelaide to Darwin