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Driving in Australia

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Car Hire Australia - Driving in Australia

Hiring a car is a must if you want to explore Australia, the distances are vast, but driving through the bush and the outback is a truly great experience that is unlike no other.

If you are driving in the outback, be prepared for anything. There is little traffic, so it is unlikely that anyone will be able to stop and help you should you break down. There are few towns/gas stations etc, so motorists need to make sure that they carry adequate food, water and especially spare fuel. The interior of Australia is a true desert, so if your vehicle has no air-conditioning, you could suffer temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) Do not expect your mobile phone to work if you are in the outback - while efforts have been made to 'cover' the populated areas, large areas of the country do not have service.

Some two-way paved roads have only one lane paved, right down the middle. When approaching another car both of you are expected to move left off the bitumen onto the dirt at the side of the road, pass, and then move back onto the black. Be wary immediately after passing, as the other car will have stirred up a huge dust cloud which will lower visibility for several seconds.

Speed Limits in Australia

The road rules are strictly enforced in Australia, especially speed limits. The strictest place for road rule enforcement is Victoria - if you exceed the speed limit by any amount (even 1km/h) you can expect to get fined. This applies in the country areas of the state as well. Speed limits vary depending on road conditions, area and state. Speed limits are clearly signposted at regular intervals so keep an eye out for them.

In urban areas the speed limits change often enough to be very confusing even to locals. The general limit on a standard road is 60km/h, but in side streets and residential areas it has been lowered to 50km/h, and 'school zones' have a 20km/h limit during school hours. Permanent, automatic speed cameras are becoming increasingly common in all the capital cities, so be careful.

In country areas the speed limit varies from state to state. The Northern Territory is the only part of the country with NO maximum speed limit on the highways. In South Australia the maximum for country areas and major freeways is 110km/h but when you cross over into Victoria the limit drops to 100km/h, and police with speed cameras are often stationed just over the border to ensure that it is followed.

City Driving and Parking in Australia

Traffic in Australia's major cities can be as bad as in any city around the world. As in any other place, it pays to avoid, if at all possible, driving in or around the Central Business District (CBD) during peak times when everyone is trying to get from or to work. Major capitals usually have good public transport within the CBD itself, and this is preferable for short distances.

Cities often have council operated "side of the road" type parking that often involves a fee payable into the meter next to the spot (or more frequently these days, a machine a few spots down which operates for multiple spots). These spots will have a sign indicating the maximum amount of time you can park there (paying the appropriate fee), and at what times the fee operates. There will often be commercial parking lots which charge on an hourly basis, and their fee often depends on the time of day and week you are parking.

One additional hazard unique to driving in Melbourne's CBD and the inner suburbs are trams. Melbourne is known for its extensive tram (US speakers may know trams as streetcars) network. There are two tram-related rules which may not be immediately obvious. Normally, cars drive over the tram tracks, and there will be a dotted yellow lane marker left of the "tram lane". The dotted yellow marker means cars are permitted to drive in the tram lane. Sometimes, there will be a solid yellow line next to the tram lane. This indicates that cars are not permitted to drive in the tram lane. In this case, there is often a sign overhead, in the gantry above the road that indicates possible times when cars are not permitted to drive in that lane.

Australian Road Trains

Road trains are a special hazard on Australian roads. These leviathans can reach lengths of up to 50 metres, with up to three trailers, so treat them with care and respect.

Oncoming road trains should be given all the space they need. On asphalt roads you should slow down and drive partly on the road shoulder if possible. If they have to do that (but don't really count on it) they won't slow down and your car will be showered with dust and stones, possibly with a smashed windscreen as a result. If you drive a lightweight vehicle, be prepared to be rocked sideways as a result of the air displacement. On gravel roads you really should stop and pull as far left as possible to protect you and your car.

A road train coming up behind you should often be allowed to pass as well, since some drivers don't obey the posted speed limits. In many cases overtaking a road train is not a good idea. If you have to do it, be sure to choose a nice long stretch of straight road where you can make sure that there's no oncoming traffic for about 2 km. On gravel roads there's only one piece of advice: don't.

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