Driving - Road Rules & Safety

Driving in New Zealand is not difficult but there are a few surprises: the following hints should help you have a safe trip.

  • Driving is always on the left-hand side of the road. 
     
  • When traffic lights are red you must stop. When traffic lights are amber you must stop unless you are so close to the intersection it is unsafe to do so. 
     
  • Always keep on or below the legal speed limits indicated on road signs. The maximum speed on any open road is 100km/h. The maximum speed in urban areas is 50km/h. Adjust your speed as conditions demand. 
     
  • Don't underestimate driving times. Although distances may seem short, New Zealand roads often include hilly, narrow or winding terrain, which slow down your journey. If you're used to driving in the city, take care when driving on the open country roads, and watch out for single-lane bridges. 
     
  • Get plenty of sleep before a long drive. Take regular breaks - one every two hours and when you get sleepy. 
     
  • Never drive if you are feeling tired, particularly after you have just completed a long-haul flight. 
     
  • New Zealand accepts the national drivers' licences of all other countries for tourists staying less than 12 months. You must carry your licence while driving. 
     
  • Check rental agreements before hiring a car; you must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in New Zealand. Also consider paying extra to remove the high insurance excess. 
     
  • You must always wear a safety belt, both in the front and back seats - it's the law. 
     
  • Do not drink and drive in New Zealand - drinking and driving laws are strictly enforced. 
     
  • Most open roads are single lane each way, except for motorways coming into larger cities (Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch). Before overtaking, make sure you will have at least 100m of clear road in front of you until you have finished. Do not pass on double yellow lines - these indicate that it's too dangerous to overtake. 
     
  • Road conditions are variable. Off the main highways some roads may be unsealed and extra care needs to be taken. A few of these roads are not safe for vehicles and insurance does not cover them - ask your rental car company to mark these roads on your map before setting off. 
     
  • In winter some roads may be treacherous due to ice or snow, particularly around mountain passes. Look out for signs indicating slippery surfaces in winter and drive slowly - do not brake suddenly on ice. In some cases chains may be required (rental cars usually come with chains supplied). Make sure you're familiar with how to fit them. 
     
  • Helmets for cyclists and motorcyclists must be worn at all times.


     

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