Australia at a Glance
Driving in Australia
Did you know that Australians travel around 200 billion kilometers in their vehicles annually? The wide open spaces and the stunning landscapes are just some of the reasons why driving in Australia is so popular. Due to the vastness of the country, speed and distance are measured differently in Australia.
The size of the continent also makes owning a car imperative for many expats. Going from one state capital to the other may take more than a day (!) by car, so there are several things that you must be prepared for. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to purchase a car in Australia if you plan on staying for longer than three months: local cars are often more robust and better suited for the Australian weather.
However, purchasing and registration rules vary by state/territory. Make sure to check with the responsible motoring group of the Australian Automobile Association. If you are not originally from a country with left-hand traffic, it will be easier for you to adjust to driving in Australia if the steering wheel is positioned properly.
There are over 820,000 kilometers of roadways in Australia, about 356,000 of which are paved. Toll roads have begun to be implemented in larger cities such as Sydney or Melbourne, with the trend leaning towards automatic payment via electronic sensors. These can be purchased at the local motoring club. They are generally more convenient than paying in cash for toll roads as they minimize waiting time.
Toll road fees for driving in Australia can be expensive, with over seven Australian dollars for using such a road. However, when considered properly, you save yourself stress as well as money for added fuel: toll roads usually get you to your destination faster.
Please keep in mind that on some roads, gas stations may be up to hundreds of kilometers apart. Fuel is neither expensive nor cheap, as your impression of local prices will vary, depending on your country of origin. An expat from Saudi Arabia may find gasoline ridiculously pricey, while a person from Norway may be delighted at the cost of driving in Australia. Currently, in February 2013, it is at the selling price of between 1.32 and 1.60 AUD per liter in the various metropolitan areas.
The Australian Outback
Thanks to its size, Australia can be seen as an avid driver’s paradise; however, this aspect can make driving in Australia very dangerous, especially in rural and remote areas. In the outback, you may find yourself going for hours without seeing another car. It is essential to have enough drinking water and fuel, as well as emergency provisions – such as blankets and matches – in case your car breaks down in a desolate area.
Overall, Australians are very good drivers; yet accidents are unavoidable. A large percentage of all accidents happen on rural roads. They usually have a higher speed limit, causing drivers to forget that braking and swerving become more difficult at higher speeds. Dust, animals, and fatigue are the other causes of accidents on rural roads.
Slow down while driving through dusty areas, especially with oncoming traffic in sight. Avoid driving at night since this is usually when wild animals become active. If you are driving great distances, we recommend stopping every two hours to avoid falling asleep or getting tunnel vision.
Not only do accidents happen more frequently in the countryside, but car breakdowns also tend to occur among people driving in Australia’s rural regions. To avoid this as best as you can, you should check road conditions and the weather online or via radio before you set out for the outback. Dust can impair visibility and cause head-on collisions while rain makes most roads unnavigable.
If your car does break down, never leave it to go seek help elsewhere: another vehicle will pass you sooner rather than later. It is also a good idea to invest in a car mobile with an antenna for driving in Australia, as most mobiles do not have service in remote regions.