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20 July, 2016
Driving in Australia is pretty similar to driving in any other Western country, but there are couple of differences which expats might simply not expect. Here are 6 smart tips to help expat drivers avoid getting fines and drive with peace of mind in Australia.
1. Using a foreign license
As an international visitor, you can drive in Australia with your foreign license for a total of three months – but only as long as that license is in English. If it's not, you'll need to get an International Drivers Permit (IDP) from your home country before coming to Australia.
If your license doesn't have a photo, remember to always carry some type of formal photo identification with you, for instance a passport. If you're staying in Australia for longer than 3 months, you'll need to get a drivers license from the state where you intend to drive most.
2. Drive on the left side
This basic rule is something many foreigners still forget about when driving in Australia. It might be easy to forget to stay on the left side of the road when driving in isolated parts of the country, but you want to avoid serious injuries on the road, right?
Always make sure that as a driver sitting on the right hand side, you're situated closest to the middle of the road and you see the traffic passing on your driver’s side. It takes time getting used to it if you're coming from a country where people drive on the right side, but you'll get the hang of it with some practice.
When parking, make sure to stop your car on the left hand side of the road, clear of traffic. Never park on the opposite side that faces the oncoming traffic – this will incur a fine. To be on the safe side, use apps like Divvy to easily find a parking place in congested cities like Melbourne or Sydney to take your mind off the search and focus on properly parking the vehicle.
3. Fasten your seat belt
Australia tends to be strict when it comes to seat belts. If you're driving kids younger than 7 years old, you need to restrain them in special safety harnesses and capsules. The driver and passengers need to have their seat belt fastened as long as the vehicle is moving. If you get caught not wearing your seat belt, prepare for a fine and up to 5 demerit points or equivalent penalties that could easily be applied to an International drivers license.
4. Avoid using your mobile phone
Strict Australian rules prevent the use of mobile phones while driving. It's basically illegal in all Australian states and territories to use a hand-held phone to talk, text, take photos or play games while driving. This applies when your vehicle is stationary as well, for instance when you stop at the traffic lights. Violation incurs a fine and up to 3 demerit points.
5. Remember to pay the tolls
Motorways in Australia have toll points and if you fail to use them, you're guaranteed to pay a fine. Most of these toll points are fully electronic and have no tool booths, so it's easy to forget about paying outstanding tolls. One way to deal with that is by simply setting up an e-tag which automatically deducts the toll amount as your drive through tollways. Be sure to check how it works in your state or territory – here's an example for Queensland.
6. Mind speed limits
Another thing Australia is very strict on are speed limits. Unlike the United States or Germany, you shouldn't simply go with the flow of the traffic and end up speeding with other drivers. If you get caught, you're likely to face a fine and a potential loss of your driving license depending on how far over the speed limit you drove. Beware of hidden fixed cameras, as well as aerial cameras and manual speed cameras used by highway patrolmen. Note that Australia uses the metric system, so all signs are stated in kilometers per hour, not miles.
These 6 tips are just the most important things expats should know before taking to Australian roads. Are there any other things that surprised you about driving in Australia? Share your tips in comments!
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