Australian Road Rules: Facts and Myths

Road rules and myths
We look at some road rules you might not know exist, plus ones that apply in different situations.

Driving in Australia is complicated.

In Australia, the Federal Government lacks the legislative authority to enact laws governing road transport. That’s why we have eight sets of traffic rules in force around the country, because road laws are the responsibility of each state and territory.

In 1999, the Australian Transport Council brought in a national policy to create uniform road rules across the nation, which helped greatly, but the states and territories still have differences and they are not bound to adhere to everything in the policy. 

Because of this, knowing the specific road rules of the area you are driving in, with its own demerit points and fines systems, becomes very important when driving interstate.

What Are Road Rules – Why Do We Need Them?

If we didn’t have rules, it would be a free-for-all on our roads. 

Personal and property damage would skyrocket. 

There’s no question we need road rules. Take a look at these recent figures:

  • There were a total of 84 road deaths during the month of April 2021. The figure is 12.5 per cent lower than the average for April over the previous five years.
  • During the 12 months ended April 2021, there were 1,133 road deaths. This is an increase of 1.0 per cent from the 12-month period ending April 2020.

Source: The Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE)

This does not account for the people injured or taken to hospital – and this is with road rules in place. Imagine if there was lawlessness on our roads?

What Are Australia’s Important Road Rules

There are over 350 road rules in Australia, and they have been in operation since December 1999. That’s a lot of rules to remember. But here are the big ones on which all states and territories are agreed:

  • Drive on the left
  • Don’t speed
  • Wear a seatbelt
  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Don’t take illicit drugs and drive 
  • Don’t use your mobile phone while driving
  • Give way at roundabouts and intersections

Different Types Of Road Rules 

The Australian Road Rules are reviewed every two years. 

But it’s not enough just to know them for your state or territory. You also have to know how they apply to the vehicle you’re in.

There are specific rules for motorists, motorcyclists, cyclists, pedestrians, passengers and others. Check the rule book for full details.

It’s a miracle things run as smoothly as they do on our roads.

Road Rules You Didn’t Know About 

  • It’s illegal to honk your horn to greet or farewell someone – horns should only be used to alert other drivers, or to scare off animals.
  • In NSW, it’s illegal to drive through a puddle and splash people at a bus stop.
  • You can do U-turns in Victoria so long as there isn’t a sign specifically saying not to.
  • In Queensland, you have to give way to “restive horses”.
  • School zones in South Australia are 25km/h and you must go at that speed at all times in those zones, even on the weekends if there is a child present in that zone.
  • In NSW, you can be fined for not locking your parked car if you move 3m or more away from it.

Some Road Rule Myths

  • It’s totally fine to drive barefoot. In fact, it’s preferred over thongs or high heels, which, while not illegal, are unsafe.
  • It’s not illegal to have earphones on, but again, it’s unsafe and if you have an accident while wearing them it could compromise your case.
  • Sleeping in your car poses some problems. In NSW, you can do so if you’re parked legally. But in Queensland, for instance, you can only do it on designated camping grounds. And if you’re drinking in a parked car, even with it off but keys in the ignition or you’re in the driver’s seat, you can be fined.
  • If you’re going through a construction zone or where they have temporary speed signs, you need to adhere to those speeds, even when the road workers have knocked off for the day or on weekends, or you can be fined.
  • Drink-driving offences can be committed anywhere, even in your locked garage.

When Road Rules Do Not Apply

The majority of driving laws (eg. seat belts, speeding) do not apply when driving a vehicle on private land that’s not open to the public. However, the drink driving laws and motor vehicle accident laws do apply to driving on private property.

You do not have to state your name and address or produce a driver’s licence (or be licensed) upon request unless you are found driving on a public roadway.

Be careful, though: you may be liable on a private road or driveway on a farm if it is open to the public for driving.

Road Rules By State And Territory

Demerit points, penalties and offences on NSW roads
Queensland Transport and Main Roads – Speeding fines and demerit points
South Australia Infrastructure & Transport – Offences and Penalties
Road Safety Commission of Western Australia
Tasmanian Road Rules [PDF]
Victoria Road Rules – Vic Roads
Northern Territory Traffic Regulations
Australian Capital Territory Road Rules Handbook [PDF]

If you’ve been charged with a traffic offence, or you’ve lost your licence and need to get it back, you don’t have to face it alone. 

At Ryan & Seton Lawyers, we understand how important your licence is to your job, your family and your freedom. 

We will thoroughly investigate your case, help prepare you for your court appearance and argue strongly on your behalf. We know how to get the best result possible for you.

Have a chat with one of our experienced traffic law solicitors today.

Road Rules FAQs

How Many Demerit Points Have You Got To Start With?

All drivers start with zero demerit points. If you haven’t committed any offences which incur demerit points, you’ll have zero demerit points. Safe driving will help you avoid getting any points. The more offences you commit, the more demerit points you’ll accumulate. Most regular and overseas drivers (over 22 years’ old) are allowed to accrue 12 points in any 3-year period before their licence is suspended. Learners and P-platers, as well as younger overseas drivers, start with as little as 5 points in any 12-month period.

Can Police / Emergency Vehicles Break Road Rules?

Police vehicles can break road rules in special circumstances so long as they exercise great care in the situation. They must use their sirens and lights and are able to break rules during high-speed pursuits and run red lights where it is safe to do so. States have their own rules on how slow you should go when passing an emergency vehicle.

How Do You Check Your Fines In Australia?

Each state has the ability to pay traffic fines and infringements online. Some states also include the ability to pay other types of fines.

What Happens If You Don’t Pay A Fine In Australia?

If you don’t pay your fine and ignore reminders, authorities can: suspend or prevent you renewing your driver licence; suspend or prevent you renewing your vehicle registration; make deductions from your bank account, wages or money owed to you; or charge and sell land that you own. If you continue to ignore your fine, the Local Court may issue an enforcement warrant, giving the Sheriff power to enforce that warrant and take action against you. The Sheriff can: seize and sell your personal property; wheel clamp your vehicle; remove the number plates from your vehicle; or arrest you.

Do Traffic Fines Expire In Australia?

It depends on the state – in NSW, traffic fines do not expire. In Victoria, however, there may be a 5-year limit. Check your local jurisdiction, as they update regularly.

How Do You Check Your Demerit Points?

Each state has its own online portal to check your demerits – check your local state provider. For example, in NSW, it’s ServiceNSW.

How Much Are Speeding Fines?

Fines vary even more wildly from state to state than demerits. Check your state guidelines on what the amounts are for speeding. In NSW, speeding up to 10km/h carries a $114 fine and one demerit point, between 10-20km/h carries a $265 fine and three demerit points. (Source: SMH)

What Happens If You Cannot Afford A Fine?

If you are experiencing serious financial, medical or other personal problems, you can: request a payment plan; apply for a work and development order; apply to have your debt written-off; or apply for 50 per cent reduction in the fine amount (eligibility criteria apply). You can also go to court to challenge the fine. (Source: NSW Revenue)

Related Links

National Transport Commission

Transport and Infrastructure Council



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