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Do you break these 10 Australian driving rules?

The NSW RTA has released a refresher guide for drivers explaining the top 10 most misunderstood road rules. How does your driving stack up

Maryse Dubois

The NSW RTA has released a refresher guide for drivers explaining the top 10 most misunderstood driving rules in Australia. How does your driving stack up?

The guide, which is available at RMS registries in NSW and online, might surprise you – particularly if it’s been a while since you studied for your driver licence.

You may have heard that most people think that they are more careful and skillful drivers than average – but do you know how strong that self-deception is?

In fact, one well-known study showed that nearly 90% of drivers rated themselves as being better than the median level of driving skill. You don’t need to be much of a mathematician to know that most of us are over-estimating our driving skills compared to others.

But how do you know if it’s you who’s fooling yourself, or that fool who just cut in front of you?

Do you ever break these common Australian driving rules?

  • speed up to get through yellow lights?
  • flash your lights to warn people of a speed camera?
  • hold your phone between head and shoulder so that you can talk and drive?
  • make a u-turn at the traffic lights?
  • disregard the school zone speed limits if you know it’s a pupil-free day?
  • exit a roundabout without signaling left?
  • honk at that pesky pedestrian who stepped into the road you were turning left into?

Even if you’re confident that you’re a perfect driver, it’s worth taking a minute to check. We’ve summarised the top 10 misunderstood rules below, but for more detail and some handy diagrams, check out the full guide (available here).

And by the way – good, safe drivers are always welcome to car share with Uber Carshare! Find out more about how to borrow a local car or rent your car out.

  1. Roundabouts
    Drivers approaching a roundabout must use their indicator if they intend to turn left or right, or make a U-turn at the roundabout. They must give other road users sufficient notice of their intent to turn.

    Drivers must slow or stop to give way to any vehicle already in the roundabout. Drivers must also continue to use their indicator if they intend to turn left, right or make a U-turn.

    Drivers must indicate left on approach and be travelling in the left-hand lane (unless there are road markings with other instructions), stay in the left lane and exit in the left lane.

    There is no requirement for drivers to signal when approaching the roundabout, if they are going straight ahead.

    Drivers may approach the roundabout from either the left or right lane (unless there are road markings with other instructions).

    Drivers must indicate right on approach and be travelling in the right hand lane (unless there are road markings with other instructions).

    When using a roundabout to make a U-turn, drivers must approach in the right lane and signal right.

    Drivers may change lanes in a roundabout if they wish. The usual road rules for changing lanes apply. Drivers must use their indicator and give way to any vehicle in the lane they are entering.

    Just like exiting any road, drivers must signal left when leaving a roundabout, if it is practical to do so, and stop indicating as soon as they have exited the roundabout.

    When travelling straight ahead on a small single lane roundabout, it may be impractical to indicate left when exiting.

    All drivers are required to drive carefully and slow down or stop when there is a chance of a crash with another vehicle.

  3. Giving way to pedestrians when turning
  4. If a driver is turning left or right at an intersection, the driver must give way to any pedestrian crossing the road the driver is entering. This applies to intersections with and without traffic lights.

  5. Mobile phones
  6. A mobile phone may only be used while driving:

    • if it is secured in a commercially manufactured and designed mounting which is fixed to the vehicle and does not obscure the driver’s view of the road, or
    • if it can be operated by the driver without touching any part of the phone, for example through the use of Bluetooth technology or voice activation.

    While driving, a mobile phone cannot:

    • rest on the driver’s leg, between the shoulder and ear, or on any other part of the driver’s body,

    • be used for text messaging, video messaging, emailing or similar, or

    • be held in the driver’s hand other than to pass it to a passenger.

    Drivers can only use a hand-held mobile phone if their vehicle is parked in an authorised parking spot. They cannot use a hand-held mobile phone while stopped at traffic lights.

    Drivers may use the navigational or GPS function and audio functions of a phone while driving, provided the phone is secured in a fixed mounting.

  7. Merging
    When a driver is travelling on a road without lane markings and the number of lanes or lines of traffic is reduced, they must merge by giving way to any vehicle that is ahead of them. This is often called a zipper merge.

    When a driver is travelling in a marked lane which is ending and is required to cross a broken painted line to enter the adjacent lane, the driver must give way to the traffic travelling in the lane being entered.

  9. Keeping left
  10. On multi-lane roads with a speed limit of more than 80km/h, motorists must not drive in the right-hand lane unless they are:

    • overtaking
    • turning right or making a U-turn
    • avoiding an obstacle
    • driving in congested traffic
    • driving in a special purpose lane or if there is a Left Lane Must Turn Left sign or a left traffic arrow and the driver is not turning left.

    If a Keep Left Unless Overtaking sign is displayed, the requirement applies regardless of the speed limit.

  11. Using headlights and fog lights
    A driver must not use their headlights on high beam if travelling:

    • less than 200m behind a vehicle travelling in the same direction
    • less than 200m from an oncoming vehicle.

    It is an offence to flash the vehicle’s headlights unless the vehicle is being used to respond to an emergency.

    A driver must not use any light fitted to their vehicle that may dazzle another road user.

    A driver is only permitted to use fog lights if driving in fog, mist or other atmospheric condition that restricts visibility.

    When driving at night, or in conditions where there is insufficient daylight to render a person dressed in dark clothing discernible at a distance of 100m, a driver’s vehicle must have clearly visible:

    • headlights
    • tail lights
    • number plate lights
    • clearance lights and side marker lights if they are fitted to the vehicle.

    It is recommended that in some daytime situations driving with the vehicle’s headlights on can improve the likelihood of being seen by other road users.

  13. U-turns
    When making a U-turn a driver must:

    • have a clear view of any approaching traffic
    • be able to make the turn without unreasonably obstructing the free movement of traffic
    • give way to all vehicles and pedestrians.

    Drivers are not allowed to make a U-turn:

    • at an intersection without traffic lights, where a ‘no U-turn’ sign is displayed
    • at a break in a driving strip where a ‘no U-turn’ sign is displayed
    • across any of the following:
    • a single continuous dividing line
    • a single continuous dividing line to the left of a broken line
    • two parallel continuous dividing lines.

    Drivers are not permitted to make a U-turn at traffic lights unless there is a U-Turn Permitted sign displayed or a green U-turn traffic light is displayed.

  15. Safe following distances
  16. Drivers must keep sufficient distance behind a vehicle travelling in front of them to safely avoid a collision.

    Safe following distances may vary depending on the conditions, the type of vehicle and the speed at which the vehicle is travelling. As a general rule, when following a vehicle, the driver should travel three seconds behind the vehicle in front to provide sufficient time to avoid a crash.

  17. School zones
  18. A school zone is the area around a school with a speed limit of 40km/h.

    The school zone speed limit applies on NSW gazetted school days and during the times detailed on the school zone sign. School zone hours are normally 8:00am–9.30am and 2.30pm–4:00pm. Pupil free days fall within the gazetted school days, thus school zones are operating and enforceable.

  19. Yellow traffic lights
  20. A yellow (amber) traffic light or arrow means stop. A driver approaching traffic lights showing a yellow traffic light must stop if the driver can stop safely before reaching the stop line or traffic lights.

    Penalties apply for drivers who fail to stop at a yellow light, unless it is unsafe to do so.

We hope this list of common driving mistakes is useful. If you're visiting Australia for the first time, be sure to check out our advice for driving in Australia.