Whether this is your first time driving in a new country, or you’re a seasoned pro at it, each country has it’s own unique laws and rules of the road. This article covers all the driving tips we wish we’d known before climbing behind the wheel on our New Zealand road trip.
Drive on the Left
For some, driving on the left will be a new experience. It can be a bit unnerving the first time you sit behind the wheel facing the other direction. Our recommendation is to go slow that first day, and perhaps stay on back roads versus heading straight to the motorway. That way you can get comfortable without having to worry about merging at highway speeds.
As a tourist you’re required to carry a valid driver’s license when operating a motor vehicle. If you’re license is in English, then that will suffice. If it’s not in English, then you’re also required to carry an accurate English translation to provide law officers.
Wear Your Seat Belt
The law requires everyone to wear a seat belt when the vehicle is in motion. This includes people in the front and back seats.
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Hands Free Driving
New Zealand requires hands-free driving, so don’t answer your cell phone when behind the wheel. Texting while driving is also illegal.
Let Faster Vehicles Pass
As a general courtesy, it’s always a good idea to give way for faster vehicles approaching from the rear. This is especially important for tourists in campervans. They are big vehicles and you’re likely going to be driving under the speed limit on windy roads and through inclement weather. Don’t be a jerk; pull over if you notice someone quickly approaching, or if a train of cars starts to pile up behind you.
Passing Other Vehicles
If there’s a dashed center line on the road, it means it’s okay to pass. Of course, look ahead and make sure it’s safe to do so before maneuvering.
Never cross a solid yellow line. This indicates that it’s too dangerous to overtake another vehicle. If there’s a double solid yellow line, it means passing is not allowed for either direction of traffic.
Since New Zealand boasts many curvy roads, you won’t always see a pedestrian crossing until you’re upon it. That’s where the warning sign comes into play. These are typically painted as a white diamond on the roadway indicating that a pedestrian crossing is ahead, and that you should slow down in preparation.
Always approach railway crossings with caution. There are multiple types of railway crossings in New Zealand, so make sure you know what to do in each situation:
- If you see red flashing lights it means a train is approaching. Do not attempt to drive across the tracks. Stop and only proceed after the lights stop.
- If there is a stop sign instead of lights, approach the tracks and look both ways to ensure a train isn’t approaching before driving on.
- Some crossings only have a “give way” sign posted. In this instance slow down, look both ways and be prepared to stop if you see a train approaching.
Give Way Signs
You’ll find that “give way” signs (a.k.a. yield signs) are more common than stop signs in New Zealand. While unusual at first, we came to love them as it means you don’t always have to come to a complete stop. Instead just check for oncoming traffic and merge when it’s safe to do so.
Regularly (but not always) the signs are accompanied by an upside-down triangle painted on the road.
New Zealand is riddled with bridges. What makes them unique though is that many are one-lane versus two. This means you have to watch for and give way to oncoming traffic.
When approaching the bridge you’ll see a sign which indicates who has the right of way (the small arrow must give way to the bigger arrow). Once you know who has the right of way, check for oncoming traffic and proceed accordingly.
Many public parking spots come with a time limit. Check your surroundings when parking, and if you see a sign with the letter P on it. Any number listed under the P is the amount of minutes you get of free parking. Staying longer could risk a parking ticket.
Additionally, you can be fined or have your car towed if you park on the wrong side of the road. The only exception to this is if it’s a one-way street, where you’re allowed to park on either side of the street.
Watch Out for Speed Bumps
Speed bumps are generally well marked in New Zealand with cross hashings painted on them. If you’re driving a bigger vehicle, make sure to slow WAY down before going over them. Otherwise you could risk having your stuff go flying. Seriously, slow down.
Personal Story: One time we approached a speed bump and didn’t slow down enough before going over it. This caused the back of our vehicle to buck upwards and send all of our personal effects (including laptops), crashing through the cabin. Thankfully everything survived with only a few new dings, but there was an agonizing couple of minutes where we thought our laptops were broken beyond repair.
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Speed Limit Signs
Speed limit signs are indicated by a red outlined circle with the approved speed listed inside. These speeds are based on kph (kilometers per hour) vs mph (miles per hour).
One thing we loved about New Zealand is how they have speed limit signs posted as you approach an intersection. This confused us at first, because you typically want to slow down (if not come to a complete stop) before entering a new road so you can ensure it’s safe. We later learned this sign is to tell you the speed limit of the road you’re about to turn onto. This way you know how fast the cars are currently traveling and what speed you should reach while merging.
No Free Turn on Red
In New Zealand you do not get a free turn on red. If the traffic light is red, you must stay at a complete stop. Only when there’s a green arrow pointing the direction you’re headed can you legally turn.
Read the Bill Boards
Although this isn’t a rule of the road, we did enjoy all the billboard PSA’s (public service announcements) that New Zealand has for drivers. They’re some of the most eye-catching and funny we’ve encountered on our travels.
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