Driving on Australian Highways

Date Posted: June 4, 2020

road train on highway

Australian highways are some of the world’s most isolated and deserted. Long distance driving on unfamiliar roads presents some harrowing challenges: breakdowns with no assistance, animal strikes and of course, getting lost with no phone reception.

With these tips, you’ll turn those challenges into victories as soon as you hit the road.

Firstly, how fast can you drive?

Here are the maximum highway speed limits per state and territory:

Location: Max Speed When Signposted 
ACT 100kph
NSW 110kph
NT 110 / 130kph*
QLD 110kph
SA 110kph
TAS 110kph
VIC 110kph
WA 110kph

*The NT has the highest speed limits in Australia – only on sections of certain highways such as the Arnhem Highway.

Animals

Many people around the world think of ‘animals’ when they hear ‘Australia’. It’s not surprising why.

Did you know there are an approximate 50 million kangaroos in Australia? That’s around two per citizen!

Understandably, you’ll see some roadkill on the sides of highways. Sadly, many animals and people are killed by road accidents on Australian highways. Avoid driving at dawn and dusk as this is when they are most active. At night, where safe, keep your headlights on, not your high-beams. Kangaroos and other animals often freeze when blinded by bright lights. Cover the brake when visibility is poor or limited like at the crest of a hill or on winding sections of road.

Note that animal crossing and warning signs are not tourist attractions. They are placed where animals are likely to wander due to food and water sources, so drive carefully at these locations

Facilities

They can be pretty scarce. Petrol stations and general stores can be few and far between in some areas of Australian highways like the Nullarbor Plain between SA and WA and the Stuart Highway in the NT. Make sure you’re prepared by taking extra water, food and fuel. Plan your route carefully and always fill up with petrol when you can. Note that some outback petrol stations charge high prices.

Tailgating

A big no-no on Australian highways. Tailgating is driving too close to the vehicle in front of you. As per government recommendations, you should leave AT LEAST a 3-second gap between you and the car in front of you. Leave even more in foggy, wet or icy conditions. Remember: ‘only a fool breaks the 3-second rule’.

Rest Stops

Most states do an excellent job with rest stops on Australian highways. They are strategically placed to allow drivers to rest every few hours. You’ll become familiar with the ‘Stop, revive, survive’ signs posted along Australian highways. These government maintained rest stops vary in size and facilities. They range from simple parking bays parallel to highways to large areas with lookouts, BBQs, toilets and picnic tables with segregation from road noise. Others include fast-food outlets, petrol stations, car wash facilities and even motels. 

Overtaking

Keep left unless overtaking is law on Australian highways. If you’re towing a caravan, make sure to keep in the left lane when you can and allow people to overtake, since you’ll probably be travelling slower than most cars. Common highway courtesy dictates that when being overtaken, slow down a little and keep left as much as is safely possible, allowing the other vehicle sufficient room.

Australia’s famous road trains are semi-trailers with several trailers attached. Of course, they are huge and you’ll need to keep your distance. Road trains are limited to outback roads and aren’t common on primary Australian highways. When overtaking a long truck or road train, keep your lights on and allow up to a minute of visible and clear road, making sure to signal. If being overtaken, maintain a constant speed and allow as much room as possible.

Tollway or Freeway?

Australia is pretty generous with paying for road use. Only three states have tollways which need paying for. They are in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and most of the paid roads are near cities and aimed at commuters. The tolls are paid via an e-tag fitted in vehicles or bills are sent via recorded number plates. Of course, there are fines for unpaid use.

Keen to get on the road and explore Australia? Makes sense, domestic travel is one of our fastest growing industries.

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