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Playing by the rules: driving in different states of Australia

4 minute read

Motor vehicle accident

Irrespective of how many years’ experience you have driving on the road, driving in a different state can present new challenges.

Here we explain how the road rules can differ from state to state, across; speed, U-turns, mobile phones and when double demerit points apply.


Maximum speed limits

In all states, 110km/hour is generally the top speed for dual carriageways (unless signed otherwise), except for when you’re in 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 to a maximum of 130 km/hour along the Stuart, Barkly, Victoria and Arnhem Highways.

School zones

Across the country, school zones have a speed limit set at 40 km/hour, except for South Australia where the limit is 25 km/hour.  

It’s important to note that in South Australia the school zone speed limit is not only enforced during set times, but also when a child is in the vicinity.

Speeding penalties and cameras  

In Victoria, speed limits are generally lower and stricter than other states. You could be fined for doing just a couple of kilometers 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. Drivers are also made aware of the installation of a speed camera via local media and the Centre for Road Safety website.

U-turns and hook turns

In all states, except Victoria, it’s illegal to perform a U-turn at traffic lights unless signed otherwise. However, in Victoria it’s the opposite, i.e. it’s legal to perform a U-turn at traffic lights unless signage indicates it’s prohibited. 

There are also 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 for interstate and international drivers who haven’t experienced this before.  Therefore, when driving in Melbourne, it’s important to 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.  

Where do double demerit points apply? 

States and territories that enforce double demerit points are NSW, WA and ACT. This also means that double demerit points in VIC, TAS, NT or SA do not apply.  

When do double demerit points apply? 

Each year the police force in these areas will release the days when double-demerit points apply , so if you’re driving near a public holiday, check your local Government website for details. 

Double demerit points in QLD 

There is a popular misconception that double demerit points in Queensland doesn’t apply, 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 relate to:  

  • seatbelt offences 

  • mobile phone offences 

  • helmet offences 

  • speeding offences that breach the speed limit by 21 km/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 in every state. Leading the way in policing the use of phones while driving has been New South Wales, so it's unsurprising that the state launched world-first technology to capture drivers who flout the rules. Brought in at the end of 2019, the technology is now present in NSW, QLD, VIC, ACT, TAS with the remaining states to come.

Although each Australian state penalizes offenders for mobile phone use, Queensland has the toughest penalties in country. These include a fine of over $1,000 and four demerit points.

Educate yourself on the road rules

Ignorance is never an excuse for disobeying road rules and can put others at serious risk. When driving in different states, spend the time to find out what the local rules are.

When driving, always look out for street signs that may indicate the speed limits or different rules. Even if you think you know the rules in your own state, rules do change from time to time, so always be sure to keep up-to-date.

If you or someone you know has been injured on the road as a driver, passenger or pedestrian, or even suffered psychological injury as a witness – contact our team of experts today.

With a no-obligation consultation, you can find out your rights and begin your journey to protecting what matters with the right help.

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