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Playing by the rules: driving in different states of Australia

4 minute read

Motor vehicle accident

After you’ve been driving for a while, you may start to feel like an expert when it comes to the rules of the road. Yet it can take a road trip to discover that the laws aren’t the same wherever you go; driving in different states in Australia can present new scenarios. A Queenslander or Victorian may be surprised to see a sign announcing a mobile speed camera when they venture to New South Wales. While a New South Welshman may be not be aware that they need to drive just 25km/hour in a South Australian school zone. So, just what are some of the differences when it comes to road rules?


All states have agreed that 110km/hour is the top speed for dual carriageways, except for the Northern Territory. For a short time, people in the Top End were allowed to drive as fast as they liked on certain stretches of road, but that has now changed and the limit has been set at 130km/hour. This is still 20km more than the rest of the country!

Across the country, school zones have a speed limit set at 40km/hour, except for South Australia where the limit is 25km/hour. Something to also remember in South Australia is that this speed limit is not only enforced during set times, but also when a child is in the vicinity.

In Victoria, speed limits are generally lower and stricter than other states. In this southern state, you can be fined doing just a couple of kilometres over the speed limit. So be aware of this, even when you are on the highway.

Across most of the country, hidden speed cameras are the norm. Yet, in New South Wales, signage is still required to alert drivers of the location of both mobile and fixed speed cameras. Although, there are murmurings that this may soon change and NSW will fall in line with the rest of the states.

U-turns and hook turns

In all states, except Victoria, it’s illegal to perform a U-turn at traffic lights unless sign posted. In Victoria it’s the opposite, i.e. legal to perform a U-turn at traffic lights unless sign posted.

Also in Victoria, there are some intersections in Melbourne where you’re required to make a hook turn. A hook turn is essentially a right-hand turn performed from the left-hand lane. This can be confusing to people from out of state. VicRoads have put together a video explaining how to complete this unique turn. Look out for signs that indicate when a hook turn is required.

Double demerit points

Driving in different states in Australia during holiday periods and long weekends can mean that drivers will receive double the amount of demerit points for offences. These have been introduced to encourage safe driving during times when the road toll is higher. States and territories that enforce double demerit points are NSW, Western Australia and ACT. Each year the police force in these areas will release the days when double-demerit points will be enforced, so if you’re driving near a public holiday it would be worth checking if they’re in effect.

There is a popular misconception that Queensland doesn’t enforce double demerit points, but in fact they do, and they are enforced all year round. In Queensland, if a driver commits an offence from the same group of offences twice within a 12 month period, they will incur double demerit points.

The groups of offences where double demerit points are incurred are seatbelt offences, mobile phone offences, helmet offences and speeding offences that breach the speed limit by 21km/h or more. So if you are fined for using a mobile phone and lose four demerit points, you will lose eight demerit points if you are caught using a mobile phone again within 12 months.

Mobile devices

Using a mobile device while driving is prohibited across the country. New South Wales has always led the way in policing the use of phones while driving, so it's unsurprising that the state is launching world-first technology to capture drivers who flout the rules. Brought in at the end of 2019, the technology will eventually be rolled out around the country.

Queensland isn’t lagging though, in early 2020 the state is introducing some of the toughest penalties in the world for using a mobile device while driving. These include a $1000 fine and four demerit points.

Educate yourself

Ignorance is never an excuse for disobeying road rules. When you’re driving in different states you should find out what the local rules are. When you're driving, always look out for street signs that may indicate speed limits or different rules. Even if you think you know the rules in your own state, rules do change so always be sure to keep up-to-date, especially at the start of a new year when rules do tend to change.

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