What Side of the Road Does Australia Drive On?

By Teo Spengler
What Side of the Road Does Australia Drive On?

Australia is bigger than it looks on the globe; in fact, it's just about the size of the continental United States. So if you want to venture there, a car would definitely come in handy. But driving in a foreign country always has a few kinks. It's best to get answers to all your questions before you stand in line at the car rental agency in Sydney.

Q: What side of the road do cars drive on?

A: Australia is one of the countries where cars drive on the left side of the road and pass on the right. It's odd for Americans who are used to driving on the right and passing on the left, but Australia is not alone. In fact, 75 countries fall into the left-hand-drive category. That means that the steering wheels on rental cars are on the right-hand side, so the driver is closest to the center of the road.

The right/left divide among nations is said to have begun in a custom from centuries ago. British horseback riders started the trend of left-side riding to keep their right hand available to wave to friends or draw a sword to face enemies. Many of the left-side driving countries were once English colonies or associated with Britain.

Q: How can I get used to left-side driving?

A: You just need practice on rural roads and an automatic transmission car. Fortunately, most rental cars in Australia are automatic, so you won't have to get used to shifting gears with the "wrong" hand. If possible, pick up the car from an agency on the outskirts of town, rather than face immediate city driving. In fact, try to avoid city centers altogether.

Remember that all exits should be on the left. If you are parking, it should be on the left. Repeat to yourself the saying some car rental companies pin to the inside of the car: "Alive left; dead right."

Q: Do I need an international driver license?

A: You do not in most states. Your valid U.S. license is all that you will need to drive in Australia as a tourist except in the Northern Territory. There you will also need an International License.

Q: Are other driving rules similar to the U.S.?

A: Many other rules governing driving in Australia echo U.S. rules. For example, don't phone or text while you drive using a handheld device, or you risk a ticket. You and every passenger in your car must wear a seat belt, or you risk a ticket and fine.

Q: How about drinking and driving?

A: Australia tickets you if your blood alcohol is at or higher than .05 percent. Very serious penalties apply. Police conduct random stop-and-test activities, so don't risk it.

Q: Are cattle or deer on the roads?

A: The wildlife you have to look out for most on Australian roads? Kangaroo. If you happen to hit a kangaroo, you are legally obligated to check the pouch to see if it contains a baby. If so, you must keep it warm and take it to the nearest ranger or rescue center.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.