Driving Guide

Australia Driving Guide

Australia is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit.

2023-11-30 · 9min read

G' day, mate!

It's always a good time to visit Australia, known as the Land Down Under. This country offers a vibrant blend of city life, stunning beaches, abundant wildlife, and outdoor adventures, all enriched by its Aboriginal heritage.

Consider renting a car in Australia to fully immerse yourself in the Australian experience without being tied down by public transport schedules. Renting a car in Australia offers the freedom to explore at your own pace. However, be mindful of the unique aspects of driving in Australia, such as the left-hand traffic rule on two-way roads, varied weather conditions, and differing road landscapes, which are crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey.

As a country full of rugged and rough terrain, it’s good to be aware that a lot of Australian roads are not sealed. This is something that may well differ from your home country. If you’re taking a long road trip, or driving in some of the more remote locations, then you will definitely want to plan your route in advance, making sure you know whether bitumen roads make up the entirety of your intended journey. If you intend to drive on unsealed roads, make sure you have a suitable vehicle and a skill set to match. A good knowledge of how to operate a 4-wheel drive vehicle, as well as some off-road experience, is a much-needed starting point.

Steph Parker, a backpacker based in Australia, shares in his post 10 Safety Tips For Driving In Australia, published on the Australia Backpackers Guide travel blog.

Embrace the Joy of Driving across Australia

Country Road Through Vineyards at Sunset
Source: Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash

Numerous must-visit locations are accessible primarily by car; it's an adventure you shouldn't miss! We've designed this guide to streamline your car rental process and enhance your driving experience in Australia.

Let's Take a Closer Look at Australia

Uluru Ayers Rock at Sunset with Moonrise
Source: Photo by Ondrej Machart on Unsplash

Geographic Overview

Positioned in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia stands south of Southeast Asia, nestled between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Commonwealth of Australia is the only country that occupies an entire continent.

With Canberra as its capital, Australia's vastness brings diverse terrains, including tropical rainforests, mountainous regions, and central deserts. The country includes the mainland, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller isles.

Linguistic Diversity

While Australia doesn’t have an official language, English predominantly prevails. In addition to English, languages like Mandarin are increasingly spoken in homes, alongside growing languages such as Punjabi, Filipino, and Arabic.

In Sydney, Australia's most culturally diverse city, nearly 30% of residents speak a language other than English at home. Australian English stands out from other English varieties with its unique accent and lexicon.

Initially, around 250 Indigenous Australian languages existed, but today, less than twenty are used daily across all age groups. The commonly spoken “General Australian” English is now the standard dialect.

Historical Background

Australia's western exposure began with Portuguese explorers, initially known as Terra Australis Incognita (Unknown Southern Land). Later, other European powers like the Spanish, Dutch, and British took interest, leading to the British establishment of a settlement in New South Wales in the late 18th century.

Autonomy from Great Britain was achieved in October 1942 through the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act. As of a 2020 estimate, Australia's population is approximately 25.47 million, predominantly of English, Australian, Irish, and Scottish descent, alongside significant Chinese, Italian, German, and Indian communities.

Government Structure

Historic Building Viewed Through Green Foliage
Source: Photo by Nico Smit on Unsplash

Australia operates as a federal parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy, boasting one of the world's oldest constitutions. Power is shared between the federal government and state/territorial governments. The federal government comprises:

  • The Executive: The Federal Executive Council, led by the Prime Minister and ministers appointed by the governor-general upon Parliament's recommendation.
  • The Legislative: A bicameral Parliament consisting of the monarch (represented by the governor-general), the Senate, and the House of Representatives.
  • The Judiciary: The High Court of Australia and other federal courts, with judges appointed by the governor-general based on Parliament's advice.


Sydney Harbor Bridge and OperaHouse Aerial View
Source: Photo by Caleb on Unsplash

In 2023, Australia attracted 7.3 million international visitors, contributing AUD$60.8 billion (3.6% of GDP) to the economy and employing around 666,000 people.

Known as a top global tourist destination, Australia boasts diverse attractions, including unique wildlife, natural wonders, stunning beaches, vibrant cities, and the iconic Outback. Catering to all tastes and budgets, it offers unique experiences ranging from sightseeing to various land and aquatic adventures.

International Driving Permit FAQs

The 1949 United Nations Convention on Road Traffic introduced the International Driving Permit (IDP) to facilitate global vehicle operation by motorists. The IDP, available in several languages, bridges language barriers between drivers and law enforcement, simplifying interactions during overseas travels.

When planning a trip to Australia, consider driving as a quintessential way to absorb its expansive and breathtaking landscapes.

Can I Use My Driver’s License in Australia?

A native driver's license written in English is acceptable in Australia. If it's not in English, it's advisable to secure an International Driving Permit before your departure. A photo ID, such as a passport, is also necessary if your driver’s license does not have a photo.

You can use your English-language driver’s license if:

  • You remain a visitor.
  • Your overseas license is updated and unexpired.
  • You have not been disqualified from driving.
  • You have not had your license suspended or canceled or your visiting driver privileges withdrawn.

UK license holders can drive in Australia, but its validity depends on the length of your stay as a temporary visitor. An expired UK license invalidates your driving privileges in Australia, regardless of an accompanying IDP. Remember, an IDP is a translation tool, not a standalone document – your original license must accompany it.

Who Can Apply For an IDP?

Travelers who plan to drive in Australia and whose native driver's license is not in English need an IDP. This requirement extends to car rentals. An IDP must always be paired with a valid driver's license from your home country.

Applicants must be at least 18 and have valid driver’s licenses. The International Driver’s Association offers an online application process for obtaining an IDP.

How Long Is the IDP Valid?

An IDP's validity can be up to three years, with options for one-year, two-year, or three-year durations. Its validity cannot surpass that of your original driver’s license. Australian state and territory regulations may differ, so it’s prudent to check local driving laws.

For longer stays or frequent international travel, a three-year IDP is recommended. If your native license is in English, it’s valid in Australia for three months. If you're staying beyond three months, you must acquire an Australian license. Certain countries can directly convert their licenses to Australian ones, while others might need to undergo testing.

Countries eligible for direct conversion include Austria, Belgium, Canada, and several others, while foreign license holders from other countries must pass theoretical and practical tests for an Australian license.

Renting A Car in Australia

Renting a car in Australia offers flexibility and convenience for travelers. Below are factors one should consider when browsing through car rental companies in Australia.

Car Rental Companies

There are many great car rental companies to choose from in Australia. You can book in advance online or show up in person and collect your vehicle from the airport or other pick-up locations. Many car rental companies have pick-up locations in major cities or towns. You can hire a car or motor vehicle from any of these major car rental companies:

  • Budget
  • Europcar
  • Avis
  • Rent-a-Car
  • Thrifty
  • Hertz
  • Enterprise

You should know, however, that renting a car at airports in Australia is more expensive than renting it elsewhere.

Tip: Some smaller rental companies will pick you up from the airport and take you to their nearby office to complete the paperwork. Look for these smaller companies first before checking out the big ones. It might save you a pretty penny.

If you plan to hire a car in the Outback, it might be difficult to avoid them – unless you’re in Darwin, Broome, or Alice Springs. There are local companies there that can accommodate you. If you don’t have a choice, you can still avoid that airport surcharge by hiring at the company’s office in a town or nearby resort, just not at the airport.

Documents Required

The most important documents when renting a car in Australia are your driver’s license and credit card. The credit card will have to be in the renter’s name and cover the bond.

Debit cards with MasterCard or Visa logo are also accepted. Go over the terms and conditions of the car rental company carefully regarding their policy for using debit cards.

There are also a few things to remember regarding your license: it has to be printed in English. Otherwise, you need to have an International Driver’s Permit, presented together with your original driver’s license.

A driver’s license without a photo would also mean you’d have to have an IDP when renting a car. Most companies also require that your license has been registered with you for a minimum of one year.

Provisional licenses are not accepted. Additional drivers will also need to present their licenses or IDPs. Have your passport ready, too. Check the terms and conditions of your rental carefully.

In summary, here are the documents you will need:

  • Driver’s license
  • International driver’s permit (if required)
  • Credit card
  • Passport

Vehicle Types

You can rent all types of vehicles in Australia, from family cars to standard sedans to vans and trucks. Just make sure your driver’s license has the proper class qualifications. Ultimately, it depends on where you want to go.

For example, rental companies would forbid you from driving on unsealed – or unpaved – roads if you hired a standard sedan or a station wagon. No exceptions. So, if you’re planning a more adventurous trip in the Outback, rent a vehicle with four-wheel drive.

Even then, those big rental companies will avoid letting you drive on unsealed roads. You’d have to get written permission from the company and pay a much higher insurance premium. Those small, locally-owned car rental companies will be useful if you want to save money as they will be cheaper.

There are a few things to consider when dealing with these companies:

1. They have a smaller fleet of cars to choose from.

2. You need to book in advance—no last-minute bookings.

3. No one-way rentals – return the rental to the same place you got it.

4. Offices may be open for shorter hours.

A family car would do nicely for family trips on a leisurely drive through one of Australia’s metropolises or on a few scenic trips on sealed roads. Some car rental companies offer a camping package where you can hire a robust 4WD to take you through the Outback.

These tour packages have a majority of vehicles for hire fully equipped for camping for up to four people through routes that would take you to some of the most memorable locations in the Outback.

Car Rental Cost

The cost of renting a car in Australia depends on several factors: the time of year, the supplier from which you have hired the car, the type of vehicle, and the location. Renting a car in airports may incur an extra daily surcharge.

However, many of these car rental companies offer a discount if you’re renting for a longer period – the longer you need the vehicle, the cheaper the rate.

Hiring a car in Australia can cost from AUD$30 to more than $100, depending on the car and other extras, like:

  • A one-way fee. This is applicable in the event that you collect your vehicle in one location and return it in another. For additional information, please refer to the rental product disclosure statement (PDS) or review the terms and conditions.
  • Mileage excess. Companies would charge you extra for distance beyond the limit. Usually, the limit is around 100 to 200 kilometers daily. You can see the excess mileage rates in the agreement you have signed.
  • Fuel fee. Rental companies would prefer you to replace the fuel before returning the car. Otherwise, they’d charge you as much as double the cost of filling up. So fill the car up before you return it.
  • Late charges. Make sure to return your car on time because if you’re late for a day or even for just a few hours, you’ll be charged a hefty fee.
  • Insurance. This is a major factor for rental car pricing. Like regular car insurance, it’s based on your age, type of car, destination, etc.
  • Baby car seats. Some companies allow you to rent a baby car seat for a nominal daily fee.
  • Toll fee. You may pre-purchase a transponder and toll if you run across toll roads. The rates are usually the same as the regular tolls. Opting out of this option may cause the rental agency to charge you extra if you go through some toll roads.

Age Requirements

Most car rental companies in Australia require renters to be over 21. Also, drivers under 25 may need to pay a daily underage surcharge. There are also car rental companies that need a medical certificate for drivers of rental cars over 75.

Car Insurance Cost

When you rent a car in Australia, you must pay for car rental insurance. Car insurance is mandatory for both car owners and renters. The cost of car insurance in Australia depends on your age, the Australian state you are renting in, and the type of vehicle you are renting. The younger you are, the more expensive your car insurance will be. Moreover, since you are just renting, you’re only going to have to pay for insurance daily.

Car Insurance Policy

A standalone car rental insurance called excess cover is readily available for your vehicle. This will cover you against damage to your car and other vehicles, property, etc.

Remember that every policy is different, so check the insurance terms before signing. Excess cover is purchased to reduce the amount you pay if you need to make a claim. Discuss the policies thoroughly with the rental company.

It can be tempting to skip buying insurance altogether, especially if you are on a budget. But think of it this way: your trip might cost a lot more than you bargained for in case of an accident. Especially if you are at fault – you would need to pay for the full cost of damage to the rental and any other vehicles and property involved. Besides, having insurance can give you peace of mind during your vacation.

Understanding Road Regulations in Australia

Australia's road rules are governed by the Road Traffic Act, which stipulates penalties for violations ranging from fines to imprisonment and, potentially, the confiscation of your driving license.

Licensing Requirements

In Australia, a valid driver's license is mandatory for all residents and international visitors. Driving without a license is considered a grave offense, with penalties including fines of up to $38,000 and potential imprisonment for up to two years.

Minimum Age for Driving

The legal age for driving in Australia varies across states and territories.

  • In the Australian Capital Territory, learners as young as 15 years and 9 months can drive under supervision.
  • In the Northern Territory and other states, the minimum age is 16. For unsupervised driving, learners must be 18 years old in Victoria, 16 years and 6 months in the Northern Territory, and 17 in the ACT and all other states.
  • New drivers are subject to various restrictions during a probationary period after obtaining their license, which lasts three years in the ACT, New South Wales, and South Australia, and four years in Victoria.

Drunk Driving Laws

Australia enforces strict drunk-driving laws. If your blood alcohol concentration exceeds 0.5%, you are in violation of these laws. Penalties for drunk driving differ by state, with maximum fines exceeding AUD3,000 based on the severity of the offense. Therefore, it's advisable to avoid driving if you've consumed alcohol.

Seatbelt Regulations

Seatbelts have been mandatory in Australia since the 1960s. Modern vehicles are equipped with seatbelts for all seats, and their usage is compulsory.

The driver is responsible for ensuring all passengers, especially children, are properly restrained. Failure to wear seatbelts can result in penalties, and drivers are liable for passengers under 16 years old not wearing seatbelts.

For guidance on child car restraints, the Road Safety Commission's Child Car Restraint Calculator is a useful resource.

Parking Guidelines in Australia

In Australia, drivers typically encounter two main parking styles: Angle Parking and Parallel Parking. The angle for parking is determined by road markings, with some spaces requiring a 90-degree parking angle and others allowing 45 degrees.

For parallel parking, vehicles must face the same direction as traffic, maintaining a one-meter distance from other vehicles if there are no marked bays. Detailed parking laws can be found in Australia's Driver’s Handbook.

Vehicle Standards and Speed Limits

The Australian Design Rules, part of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act of 1989, set the standards for vehicle performance, occupant protection, lighting, exhaust emissions, and other safety-related aspects of all vehicle components. These rules vary based on vehicle type. For rented vehicles, it's advisable to check the design rules specific to the M-Category Passenger Vehicles.

Speed limits in Australia range from 10 to 110 kilometers per hour, with stricter enforcement during holidays like Christmas and Easter. Residential zones typically have a 50 km/h limit, suburbs and urban areas outside of towns have a 60 km/h or higher limit, and school zones enforce a 40 km/h limit during school hours.

Australia boasts a well-designed road network. Key rules include:

  • Slower vehicles should use the left lane on multi-lane roads.
  • U-turns are illegal at intersections unless specifically allowed.
  • Left turns on red lights are prohibited unless signs indicate otherwise.

Traffic Road Signs

Australian road signs generally follow international standards but include unique signs like kangaroo crossings, especially in the Outback. Understanding these signs is crucial for safe driving in rural areas.

Right of Way Rules

Understanding the right of way is vital for safe driving in Australia. This includes giving way at roundabouts, crossroads, T-intersections, and during U-turns. Special rules apply to buses and intersections with Stop and Give Way signs.

Overtaking Rules

Overtaking in Australia should be done with caution. It's permitted on the left on multi-lane roads and on the right when both vehicles travel in the same direction without crossing continuous white lines. Overtaking is not allowed at intersections, on continuous center lines, or without a clear view of oncoming traffic. A minimum distance must be maintained when overtaking cyclists.

Driving Orientation

Australians drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheels are on the right side of the car. This orientation can be unfamiliar to those accustomed to left-hand drives.

Additional Road Rules

Australia is known for its road trains, which can be extremely long and wide. Overtaking these requires extreme caution, a clear view of the road, and possibly communication with the driver via CB radio. Avoid overtaking on curves or hills, and be patient.

Penalties for unsafe overtaking include demerit points and fines. Understanding and adhering to these rules and guidelines is essential for a safe and enjoyable driving experience in Australia.

Driving Etiquette in Australia

Understanding Australia's driving culture and etiquette is crucial for a smooth and safe journey. Here's a guide to help you navigate various situations you may encounter on Australian roads.

Handling a Car Breakdown

Car breakdowns are common and can be stressful. If this happens:

1. Safely pull over, ideally off the road or in the emergency lane, away from traffic.

2. Turn on your hazard lights, and if visibility is poor, use parking lights.

3. Exit the car safely from the side, away from traffic, if possible. If not, stay inside with
your seatbelt fastened.

4. Stand clear of the road and don’t attempt to cross it. Call for roadside assistance or a
towing service.

5. Be patient while waiting for help.

Dealing with Police Stops

If a police officer signals you to pull over:

1. Slow down and safely pull over to the right, using your turn signal to indicate your

2. Turn off your engine and roll down your window.

3. Politely interact with the officer. You are required to show your driver’s license but are
not obliged to answer further questions.

4. If issued a ticket, accept it and address any fines as instructed.

Asking for Directions

Australians are generally friendly and approachable, making it easy to ask for directions. Start with a polite “Excuse me…” and proceed to ask your question. Formalities like "Sir" or "Ma'am" are not commonly used.

Australian police checkpoints are typically for immigration checks, DUI enforcement, or medical emergencies. Be prepared to show your driving license and answer questions relevant to the checkpoint's purpose.

Additional Driving Tips

Here are some additional etiquette and rules to ensure a smooth driving experience in Australia:

1. Use turn signals when changing lanes or turning.

2. Acknowledge fellow drivers with a smile or nod as a thank-you gesture.

3. Avoid tailgating and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.

4. Dim your high beams to avoid blinding oncoming drivers.

5. Merge cautiously and give way when necessary.

6. Park considerately, respecting other vehicles’ space.

7. Stay in the left lane unless overtaking.

8. Avoid using your horn unnecessarily, and refrain from using your phone while driving.

9. Do not drink and drive.

Other Australian Driving Rules

Be aware of these additional rules to avoid fines and ensure safety:

1. Do not throw litter outside the window of your car, including biodegradable items like
apple cores or banana peels. This is a crime punishable by the Australian laws.

2. Ensure your car windows are up if you are more than three meters away from your

3. Avoid leaving your car running with the key in the ignition.

4. Children and animals must be properly seated or restrained and not on your lap.

5. Keep your vehicle’s registration plates visible at all times.

6. Yield to horses on the road and turn off your engine if they are startled.

7. Use fog lights only during foggy or rainy conditions.

8. Ensure your trailer is registered before driving.

9. Do not speed up while being overtaken.

10. Avoid splashing pedestrians with water or mud, especially near bus stops.

Maintaining road etiquette and being aware of lesser-known rules are essential for a safe and courteous driving experience when driving in Australia.

Road and Driving Conditions in Australia

A vast country with an urbanized population, Australia is home to 24 million people, primarily along the coastline. Traveling between cities often entails long drives across miles of diverse roads. The nation's road infrastructure varies significantly, from urban thoroughfares to remote outback tracks, with varying surface types and amenities.

Road Accident Statistics

The rate of road fatalities in Australia has notably declined since 1970, falling from 3,798 deaths to 1,195 in 2019. This improvement is credited to stricter road safety regulations, enhanced transportation policies, and better driving practices. In 2019, Australia's road fatality rate was significantly below the global average, reflecting the effectiveness of these safety measures.

In Australia, the pickup truck, colloquially known as the "ute" (short for utility vehicle), reigns supreme. Its dual nature, combining the car's comfort and the truck's functionality, makes it a popular choice among various users, from farmers to outdoor enthusiasts.

Road Conditions Across Australia

Australia's road network, spanning over 900,000 kilometers, ranges from well-maintained city roads to rugged outback trails. While urban areas often face congestion, with Sydney and Melbourne being notable examples, rural and remote regions are characterized by unsealed roads demanding four-wheel drives.

Travelers should heed speed limits and road closure signs, particularly when navigating unsealed roads prone to variable conditions and hazards.

Long-Distance Driving

The key to safe long-distance driving in Australia is preparation and vigilance. Ensure you're well-rested before embarking on lengthy journeys, and plan to stop every 200 kilometers to rest and stretch. If possible, share driving responsibilities with a companion to reduce fatigue.

Driving Culture

Australian drivers, while not the worst globally, don't necessarily rank among the best either. Regarding road accidents, New South Wales leads in insurance claims, followed by Victoria, Queensland, and the Northern Territories.

Statistically, South Australians report the highest number of accidents per 1000 vehicles (8 claims per 1000), with the sequence continuing through Victoria, NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territories, down to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Climate Risks

Australia's diverse climate can present challenges, ranging from floods and bushfires to cyclones, making it crucial to consider the best time to visit Australia. Therefore, thorough trip planning, including determining the best time to visit Australia for favorable weather conditions, and getting regular updates on local weather are essential for a safe and enjoyable journey.

Be particularly cautious of flood risks, especially in the Outback, where heavy rains can cause rivers to overflow, making roads impassable. Contact the State Emergency Service (SES) or dial 000 in times of emergencies.

Wildlife on Australian Roads

One unique challenge of driving in rural Australia and the Outback is encountering wildlife and livestock on roads. This includes kangaroos, wombats, koalas, emus, camels, and cattle.

Given that many roads are unfenced, animals frequently wander onto them. To ensure safety, maintain a manageable speed to react promptly if an animal crosses your path. However, avoid sudden swerving, which could lead to more severe accidents, endangering both you and the animal.

The Top Road Trip Destinations in Australia

Australia is a complete travel package catering to diverse preferences and interests, offering a range of top destinations to visit in Australia. Whether you seek sightseeing, land adventures, or aquatic activities, Australia promises unique and unforgettable experiences at its top destinations. From the iconic Sydney Opera House to the majestic Great Barrier Reef, each location offers something special for every traveler.

The Great Ocean Road

This iconic Australian journey starts near Melbourne in Torquay and stretches 243 kilometers (151 miles) to Allansford, hugging the coastline. It's famed for the spectacular Twelve Apostles limestone stacks.

Grand Pacific Drive

Starting just 45 minutes from Sydney's CBD, this 140-kilometer (87 miles) route links the Royal National Park with the Shoalhaven Region. Its highlight, the Sea Cliff Bridge, elegantly winds along the coast for 665 meters (2,200 feet).

Nullarbor Plain

For a unique and expansive road trip experience, venture across the Nullarbor Plain. Spanning the borders of South Australia and Western Australia, this vast, flat expanse is one of the world's largest arid landscapes. The journey offers a sense of isolation and the opportunity to witness the stunning night skies of the Southern Hemisphere.

The Great Alpine Road

Explore the Australian Alps by taking a road trip along the Great Alpine Road. Starting in Wangaratta and winding through picturesque landscapes, this 308-kilometer (191 miles) route takes you to the Gippsland region. Enjoy panoramic views of the high country, charming alpine villages, and diverse flora and fauna.

Kangaroo Island

Accessible by ferry from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is a wildlife haven off the coast of South Australia. Go on a road trip around the island to discover pristine beaches, unique rock formations, and abundant wildlife, including kangaroos, koalas, and sea lions. The diverse landscapes, from rugged cliffs to eucalyptus forests, make for a captivating journey.

Get an IDP to Explore Australia

Australia is an ideal destination for memorable road trips, with its sprawling landscapes and diverse ecosystem. Grab your International Driving Permit (IDP), specifically an IDP for Australia, and embrace this country's outdoor adventures and delights. With your IDP Australia in hand, you're all set for happy driving, mate!

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