Road rules – and facts you didn’t know you didn’t know
When we jump in our car and start the engine, most of us feel pretty confident we know what we’re doing. But is that confidence misplaced?
Checking out these more unusual Aussie road rules and common misconceptions may help you avoid being pulled over on a technicality.
Can I sound my horn while driving?
Horns blare constantly in city centres, and it’s not unusual to hear one driver give another a blast of their car horn if they’re frustrated by their driving.
But did you know your car horn only has one legal use – to warn another vehicle (or animal) that you’re there1? Other than that, it’s best to practice restraint to avoid breaking the rules – even if you want to give your mate a toot and wave goodbye.
NSW: Fine of up to $349 and five demerit points2.
QLD: Maximum fine of 20 penalty units3 (from 1 July 2021, one penalty unit is $137.854) meaning the total fine could be up to $2,7575.
VIC: One penalty unit6, which from 1 July 2021 is $181.747.
TAS: Fine of $130 (0.75 penalty units)8.
ACT: Fine of up to 20 penalty units9. One penalty unit is currently $16010, meaning a total potential fine of $3,20011.
SA: Fine of $29312.
WA: One penalty unit13, which is currently worth $5014.
NT: Sounding the horn illegally is subject to a ‘general penalty’ which carries a maximum of six months imprisonment or a fine of 20 penalty units15. One unit is currently $15716, so the maximum potential fine comes in at $3,14017.
Can I leave my car window open while I’m not in the car?
Short answer: no – at least not if you’re more than three metres away. If you’re venturing more than 300cm away from the vehicle, road rules require the windows to be secured (a gap of up to two centimetres is considered secure in most states18, while in Queensland five centimetres is fine19) and the vehicle has to be locked20. This is part of regulations introduced to reduce the opportunities for car theft.
NSW: Fine of $116 and two demerit points21.
QLD: Driving without due care and attention gets you a $551 fine and 3 demerit points22.
VIC: Three penalty units23 – which from 1 July 2021 is $181.7424. Total fine, $545.2225.
TAS: Fine $8726.
ACT: ACT does not include this in their rules around vehicle security27.
SA: In SA this rule does not apply28.
WA: A fine of one penalty unit applies29 – this is currently $5030.
NT: In NT this rule does not apply31.
Can I eat or drink while driving?
While there’s no legislation that specifically bans eating or drinking at the wheel32, the act of eating and drinking is linked to other rules – such as having complete control of the car and driving with care and attention. Stay safe and avoid the potential for a fine by parking for that coffee break.
NSW: Negligent driving can come with a $464 fine and three demerit point33.
QLD: Careless driving (without causing death or grievous bodily harm) attracts a maximum penalty of 40 penalty units (from 1 July 2021, one penalty unit is worth $137.8534, so the fine would equate to $5,51435) or six months imprisonment36.
VIC: From 1 July 2021 a penalty unit in Victoria is $181.7437.
Careless driving in Victoria (first offence) can result in up to 12 penalty units ($2,180.8838), or up to 25 ($4,543.539) for a subsequent offence40.
TAS: Fine of $173 and three demerit points for driving without due care and attention41.
ACT: Negligent driving (without causing death or grievous bodily harm) brings a fine of up to 20 penalty units42 – one penalty unit is currently $16043, meaning a total potential fine of $3,20044.
SA: For non-aggravated offences, a fine of up to $2,500, plus three demerit points45.
WA: Up to 12 penalty units46 – $600 (one penalty unit is currently worth $5047).
NT: Up to 20 penalty units or two years imprisonment48.
Can I wear thongs or heels while driving?
Contrary to popular belief you can. There’s nothing in the Australian Road Rules that specifically prohibits wearing thongs or heels to drive a car49. Whether it’s a good idea or not is open to debate, however!
Choosing a comfortable shoe that fits correctly, with good grip and doesn’t hinder control of your vehicle can help keep everyone safe and make sure you aren’t breaking any rules.
Can I use my mobile phone to pay in a drive-through?
If you’re in Victoria it’s illegal, unless you apply the handbrake and turn off the engine. This came to light in a Facebook post50 from Victoria Police, and is an example of regulations struggling to keep up with technology changes.
In NSW, you can use the digital wallet function of the phone with the engine running if you’re in a car park or drive-through51, and in Queensland you can use your phone to pay for goods and services if you’re ‘safely stopped’52. There are all sorts of rules around your mobile phone and digital driving licence in states that offer it.
If you’re caught using your phone to pay at a drive-through in Victoria, you could be fined $545 and get yourself four demerit points53.
At a roundabout, do you only have to give way to traffic from the right?
No – at a roundabout the road rules stipulate you must give way to all traffic in the roundabout54 – that’s why it’s so important to slow down at the give way line. If a slower vehicle enters the roundabout from a driver’s left and doesn’t give way, for example, it could cause an accident.
NSW: Fine of $349 and three demerit points55.
QLD: Failing to give way, fine of $413 and three demerit points56.
VIC: Failing to comply with roundabout requirements: three demerit points and 1.75 penalty units57 – $31858. (From 1 July 2021 a penalty unit in Victoria is $181.7459).
TAS: $173 fine and three demerit points60.
ACT: $491 fine and three demerit points61.
SA: Fine of $559 and three demerit points62.
WA: $150 fine and three demerit points63.
NT: Up to 20 penalty units ($157 per unit64) or two years imprisonment65.
Don’t get in a state! Here are three state-based quirks to contend with
South Australia – the five second rule
In SA, if you’re moving from a stationary start you must signal for at least five seconds before pulling out66 – otherwise, you could face a $437 fine and two demerit points67.
Victoria – performing a hook turn
To turn right at a junction, you typically need to be in the right lane. Not at some Melbourne junctions, however. Sometimes you need to be in the left lane to perform a ‘hook turn’68.
Western Australia – how many potatoes?!
And finally, did you know it’s an offence in Western Australia to drive a vehicle that’s carrying more than 50kg of potatoes, unless you’re a member of the Potato Corporation or an agent69?
This regulation doesn’t fall under WA road rules – it forms part of the Marketing Potatoes Act 1946. If you’re found guilty, you can face a maximum fine of $2,000 for the first offence, and $5,000 fine for subsequent potato infringements – as well as a further penalty up to twice the value of the potatoes!
Of course – no matter how many rules you’re aware of – accidents can happen. Making sure you’ve got the right insurance in place can help protect you and your car if something goes wrong.
5 $137.85 x 20 = $2757
11 $160 x 20 = $3200
17 $157 x 20 = $3140
25 3 x 181.74 = $545.22
35 $137.85 x 40 = $5514
38 $181.74 x 12 = $2180.88
39 $181.74 x 25 = $4543.50
44 $160 x 20 = $3200
58 1.75 x $181.74