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Did you know? 13 things that are illegal when driving in Australia

As you hit the road, whether for a holiday road trip, commuting or everyday errands, most of us will do our best to follow the rules of the road. We know we need to strap on our seatbelts, stop at red lights, avoid speeding, and stay off mobile phones. But there's more to road rules than the obvious. In fact, there's a long list of obscure laws many Australians haven't heard of – and often, they differ from state to state.

If you think the police won't bother enforcing them, think again. In early 2019, a Sydney driver was fined when he left his car unlocked while going to buy a meat pie at a service station, while in the last 5 years over 100 people were fined in Queensland for hitchhiking.

So what should you do to stay safe on the roads and avoid breaking the law? Here are 13 unexpected illegal activities to keep in mind:

1. Throwing apple cores and banana peels out of the car window

Sure, they're biodegradable, but you can still be fined for littering. In Queensland, the crime of "dropping injurious matter on a road" can cost you $533 and two demerit points.

2. Improper use of a horn

Some motorists only seem to use their horns improperly. But honking goodbye to your family as you drive off after dinner, or beeping at the car who just cut you off is actually illegal. Officially, you're only supposed to use your horn if you're warning other road users (or animals) of your approach. In the past five years, more than 800 people have been fined for improper use of a horn in NSW.

3. Not winding up your windows

In Queensland, if you're more than three metres away from your car, your windows need to be up with a gap no greater than 5cm. It may sound trivial, but people have been fined for this.

4. Leaving your key in your ignition

You’ve most likely seen someone quickly ducking out of their car to get a coffee or pick up their takeaway dinner and leaving the car running with the key in the ignition. While it's convenient, it's not the smartest thing to leave your key in the ignition unattended - in NSW it’s a traffic offence which will cost an individual $114. Around 1,000 people a year receive this fine in NSW.

5. Using your phone to pay at a drive-through

We all know the danger of using a mobile phone while driving, but what if you want to pay for your lunch at the drive-through window with your phone? Turns out the law is strict and still applies to drivers who are stationary at a drive-through. Depending on which state you’re in, you could be fined up to $534 and be at risk of losing up to five demerit points – that’s one costly meal! To avoid a fine you must have your engine switched off and your handbrake on before using your mobile phone.

6. Having people or animals on your lap

Children must always be seated in proper child restraints. Animals should be seated or restrained in an appropriate area of the vehicle. The RSPCA can also issue fines under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. If an animal, for instance a dog, is injured in a car because it was unrestrained, owners could face up to six months’ jail and fines of up to $5,500.

7. Driving at night when the light on your registration plate isn't working

Australian law states that rego plates need to be visible 24/7, so check your light before setting off at night.

8. Driving with a bike rack covering your license plate

Your license plate needs to be clearly visible from both the front and the rear of your motor vehicle.

9. Not giving way to horses

It's actually illegal not to give way to a hard-to-control horse, or a horse that refuses to move. If a rider raises a hand and points to his or her horse, you must steer the car as far to the left as possible, turn off the engine and wait until the horse is far enough away that you're in no danger of startling it. So don't horse around!

10. Leaving your fog lights on

Fog lights, both front and rear, should only be used in rain or fog, or when your vision is impaired by smoke or dust. Once you can see clearly, they need to be turned off or you could cop a fine.

11. Driving with an unregistered trailer

This one can cost you up to $686, so don't forget to register your trailer!

12. Attempting to speed up while you're being overtaken

As frustrating as it is, this is unfortunately a common behavioural trait that occurs on our roads when a person decides to accelerate as another driver attempts to overtake them. This behaviour constitutes another obscure traffic offence. Drivers engaging in this behaviour in NSW can incur a $344 fine and two demerit points, while in Victoria the fine is $330 and two demerit points.

13. Don't splash the pedestrians!

We've all seen it in the movies where pedestrians get intentionally splashed by drivers on a rainy day, and as entertaining as it may be in the moment, it's another traffic offence! However, in NSW, it's only a traffic offence to splash those who are waiting for a bus at a bus stop, but any other individual is exempt from this rule. So avoid those puddles - don’t risk the hefty $187 fine.

Shine Lawyers - we're here to help

If you or a loved one have been injured while out on the roads, you may be entitled to compensation. Our team of motor vehicle accident claim experts can guide you through the legal process to help you get your life back on track. Get in touch today for an obligation-free consultation.

To find out more about road rules and the differences between each state, please check your local state or territory government transport department

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 6, 2020.

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