Road rules you need to know

How well do you know the road rules? Has it been a while since you sat the theory test? Drivers’ answers on these points often coexist in inverse proportion. For many, the longer we drive, the further the rules recede from working memory. Which is fine – until you’re at the roadside having one of those awful ‘but officer…’ conversations.

If you don’t fancy wading through the mind-bendingly long 375-page tome entitled The Australian Road Rules, read on.

What’s a road?

Greg, a police prosecutor in NSW, who declined to be identified, said: “This still catches people out. They think, ‘I’m on private property, the road rules don’t apply’. They’re wrong. Say you’ve had a few drinks at the pub. You think: ‘I’ll get a cab, but first I’ll move my car down the back of the carpark, where it’ll be safer.’ The cops show up; you’re driving in the carpark. They breath-test you; you’re over the limit. You get arrested for drink driving. Legally, it’s a slam-dunk.”

The Australian Road Rules apply to ‘roads’. And a ‘road’, officially, is: “an area that is open to or used by the public, and is developed for, or has as one of its main uses, the driving or riding of motor vehicles.”

Okay, so … fire trails and camping grounds, the beaches at Fraser Island, the Woolies carpark (in fact every public-access carpark) – they’re all roads. Which means all those rules about giving way, indicating, having a license, wearing seatbelts, alcohol, etc., all apply 

Circle Work

Shaun McGowan from says roundabouts were designed to be simple. “But people still don’t know the golden rule, which is you give way to vehicles already in roundabouts,” he says. “You must also indicate left on departure, which very few people do.” Giving way on exit is required only when it’s “practicable”, a.k.a. ‘feasible’.

No Parking Vs No Stopping

David Eccleston from Seven’s Today Tonight is a veteran of many stories on the public’s perception of road rules. “‘No parking’ and ‘no stopping’ usually stumps about half of all drivers,” he says. “How hard can it be? ‘No stopping’ – you just can’t stop there; ‘no parking’ means you can stop, briefly, say to pick up a passenger, but you can’t park."  The driver can even get out … provided he remains within three metres of the vehicle and the vehicle is stopped for less than two minutes.

Pedestrians Protocols

Shaun McGowan says pedestrian rules are complicated. “For starters, you have an obligation to avoid all crashes that can be avoided,” he says. “Pedestrians have an obligation not to cause an obstruction. But if you’re turning into a street and a pedestrian is crossing that street, you (the driver) must give way. Most people don’t know that – and it doesn’t apply at roundabouts, which is strangely crazy. You also have to give way to pedestrians when you’re entering or leaving a driveway.”

Mobile Phones

It’s illegal to talk handheld, or text, or e-mail, when stopped in traffic.

Default speed zones

The default speed limit in built-up areas is 50km/h, outside of which it’s 100. If there’s a contrary speed limit sign posted, however, the sign is definitive.

Proximity Parking

How close are you allowed to park to another vehicle? The minimum clearance – front or rear – is one metre.

Give Way. Huh?

With a gun at your head, could you tell someone what ‘give way’ means? Try: Slow down, stop, or remain stationary, if necessary, to avoid a collision.

Locked & Leaving

Before you leave the vehicle it’s a legal requirement that you apply the parking brake.

If you then move more than three metres away (the official distance to qualify as ‘leaving the vehicle’), you must switch off the engine.

If you leave the vehicle and there are no passengers (or only passengers under 16) you must remove the ignition key.

If you leave the vehicle and there are no passengers, you must roll up the windows (at least within 2cm of shut) and also lock the doors.

Let there be…

Lights (low beams) are required after sunset and before sunrise. High beams must be dipped within 200 metres of another vehicle – whether approaching it from the rear, or head-on. High beams may also be legally flashed to warn the driver in front that you are about to overtake. However, fog lights may be used only in visibility-limiting weather, such as fog or smoke.