What to look out for when driving in Australia

by wadders

Hiring a car and driving in another country is a never ending source of amusement (or bemusement) - Australia is no exception

Although Australian road rules are pretty much the same as the UK’s (at least they drive on the same side of the road), subtle differences do exist – particularly in the road signs.

Sometimes the sign’s directness positively reflects the bluntness for which Australians are renowned. One that always makes me smile is the ‘Wrong way, go back’ sign. Placed on slipway exits from the freeway (motorway), it faces traffic which may feel the need to drive into the oncoming traffic leaving the freeway. And in case you’ve forgotten what a yellow box with crossed yellow lines means, a sign with the words ‘No queuing across the intersection’ is placed nearby as a reminder.

A few Australian signs are a little perplexing though, just how dangerous are the pedestrians when unsuspecting drivers have to be warned with the sign: ‘Drivers beware of pedestrians on the crossing’. One wonders too if the Australian army can hit moving targets with this one: ‘Danger Military Training Area, Live firing, do not stop or leave this road’.

Animals down under appear to have a high rate of literacy with this sign at the start of a freeway (motorway): ‘No pedestrians, bicycles, animals beyond this point’. Australian guide dogs are trained to a particularly high level, even being told when to cross with this sign ‘Blind persons cross here’. Indeed, with signs such as ‘Fauna crossing’, complete with a drawing of an animal crossing a suspended walkway, the Australians are keen to protect their educated wildlife.

As you venture out of the cities, watch out for jumping kangaroos, wandering koalas, stray emus and other native animals as the yellow diamond road signs warn. And remember, some animals even have right of way as the ‘Give way to penguins’ sign points out.

Taking advantage of the iconic animal road signage, the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, South Australia, Australia’s most-awarded Outback hotel and renowned for its innovative menu of Australian native foods, has used the emu, kangaroo and camel road signs with the words ‘on your plate 3km’ beneath it.

Another amusing sign is the one warning of a UFO landing site at Wycliffe Well Holiday Park, 380km north of Alice Springs. Interestingly, there are lots of advertising signs in this area, presumably from forward-thinking companies wanting to be the first to reach a potential new market.

On a more practical level, when driving in the outback, some stretches of road are very straight and very long, so ideally drive with a companion to keep you awake. Also watch out for road trains which can be up to 50m long.

In Melbourne, because of the tramlines, you often have to move into the right hand lane to turn left, and in most states, at some intersections, you can turn left on a red traffic light – look out for the signs!

In my experience, Adelaide drivers seem to have difficulties with roundabouts; be prepared to hit the brakes when you’re on one as ‘thoughtful’ motorists stop to allow waiting cars onto the roundabout. Also, on two-lane roads, keep in your lane when turning right as there may be another driver turning left from the opposite direction. Note too, motorists are allowed to undercut, so be extra vigilant when moving into the left hand lane.

Australia measures distances in kilometres and road rules do differ slightly between states, but as a general rule, speed limits are clearly signed and are as follows:
• Country roads: 100-110km/h
• Freeways (motorways) outside cities: 110km/h
• Freeways (motorways) in built up areas: 100km/h
• Main roads: 60km/h
• Minor roads or roads in built up areas: 40 or 50km/h

Finally, like the UK, there are vast numbers of speed cameras, both static and mobile and there are also cameras on traffic lights to catch ‘red light jumpers’ – you have been warned!