Safety tips to drive in New Zealand

Safety tips to drive in New Zealand

Driving in New Zealand is one of the best ways to experience this magnificent country. Before enjoying the freedom of a New Zealand road trip, be aware that driving New Zealand’s roads is likely to be very different to driving in your own country. Follow these safe-driving tips!

Do you have a valid driver license to drive in New Zealand?

First things first, to drive legally in New Zealand you need to have a driving licence in English or a valid driver license with an English translation.

If your driver license is not in English, you can get it translated via one of the following ways:

However, the easiest way to make sure you have a valid English translated driver licence, which you can have ready before you arrive in New Zealand, is by getting an international driving permit issued in accordance with the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, or, if it applies to you, a translation document issued by a Notary Public Office in China.

One more thing, your driver licence must be valid for the duration of your stay in New Zealand. You can drive for a total of 12 months from entering New Zealand on your overseas driver licence, or a further 12 months if you leave the country and return during that time. After that, you will need to convert your licence to a New Zealand driver licence, which you can read a guide about it on BackpackerGuide.NZ.

Drive on the left side of the road

The number one rule when driving in New Zealand is to keep left. It’s a simple rule, but can take some getting used to in the beginning. Just keep your concentration and it’ll feel natural to you in no time.

This rule also applies when parallel parking. You can only parallel park in the direction of the traffic flow (left side of the road) unless you are parking on a one-way street.

Intersection Rules in New Zealand

When waiting at an intersection you must give way to vehicles that are not turning. If there is a STOP sign, you must stop your car completely and give way to all vehicles. Remember to always use your indicators to show which way you are going to turn.

At a traffic light, you cannot turn left if the traffic light is on red. Once the traffic light is on green, you can turn left but you must give way to pedestrians crossing the road.

The New Zealand speed limits

There are numbered signs on New Zealand roads to indicate the speed limit on that road. These are shown in kilometres-per-hour. Although the signs show the maximum speed you can drive, you will have to judge your driving speed depending on weather, road and traffic conditions.

In rural areas the speed limit is usually 100km/h and in urban areas it is usually 50km/h, unless stated otherwise. A white sign with a thick black line crossing through it indicated the “national speed limit”, which is 100km/h.

Overtaking other vehicles and cyclists

Most of the roads in New Zealand are single lanes. Only overtake another vehicle when you can clearly see the other side of the road is clear for the entire manoeuvre. Two yellow lines in the middle of the road indicate that it is too dangerous to overtake. Some of the busier roads in New Zealand have passing lanes, which should be used when necessary. If you have traffic behind your vehicle, make sure to stick to the left lane to allow traffic to overtake you in the passing lane.

When overtaking a cyclist, always slow down as you approach them. When it is clear to overtake them, pass slowly and safely giving them plenty of room – about 1.5 metres. Remember, cyclists have the same rights to the road than drivers of vehicles.

Whether it’s a cyclist or other vehicle, always indicate before you overtake.

Rail Crossings

Only about half of New Zealand’s rail crossings have lights. If these lights are flashing, stop the car before approaching the railway line and only proceed once the lights have stopped flashing. Other railway crossings only have signs. If a sign says STOP, stop the car completely then only proceed if it’s clear no train is approaching. If there is a give way sign, slow down as you approach the crossing, giving yourself time to check for approaching trains, then only proceed when it’s clear there is no train approaching.

One-lane bridges

Most of New Zealand’s bridges are just one lane. This means traffic coming in one direction must give way to traffic coming in the opposite direction. Signs indicate before a bridge which direction gets priority. A smaller red arrow on the left side indicated that you must give way to oncoming traffic. A sign with the larger arrow on the left hand side indicates that you have right of way.

Hazards on New Zealand roads

There are some potential hazards on New Zealand roads that you might not be used to. In rural areas, you might come across farm animals on the road. Slow down or even stop to let them pass. You can move slowly behind them or listen to the farmer’s instructions. Do not sound the horn at the animals.

Some of New Zealand’s roads are unsealed (gravel) roads. Reduce your speed when driving on them and slow down when passing oncoming traffic.

Finally, be careful when driving in wet and winter conditions. Signs indicate when the road could have a slippery surface, so slow down and avoid braking suddenly. If driving in snowy conditions, chains might be required. Make sure you know how to fit them before needing to use them.

It is illegal to drive in New Zealand if...

In New Zealand, it is illegal to drive while:

  • anyone in your car isn’t wearing a seatbelt,
  • talking or texting on a hand-held mobile phone, unless you are using a hands-free device,
  • and while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For drivers under 20 years old, there is a zero alcohol limit. For drivers who are 20 years old or over, the limit is 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood or 250 micrograms per litre of breath.

Don’t drive if you are tired

Finally, before making a long a journey, make sure you are well rested. It’s worth mentioning that the travel times are likely to be a lot longer than what you are used to at home. Roads are windy, covering hilly terrain, and can very between highways and gravel roads. You should take this into account when planning your travel time to avoid rushing or being fatigued. Ways to avoid feeling tired include:

  • Rest before a long drive.
  • Take a break from driving at least every two hours.
  • Share the driving with someone else. Remember, our Backpackers Motor Insurance allows you to have more than one driver insured on your vehicle.
  • Avoid eating large meals and drink plenty of water.
  • If you feel sleepy or your attention starts to wander, stop in a safe place and sleep/rest for about 40 minutes.
  • If you are really tired, find somewhere to sleep for the night.

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