There are a few things that you may not be used to when driving in New Zealand so please make sure you arrive here well informed.
www.drivesafe.org.nz is a fantastic place to start learning about driving in New Zealand and is available in German, English, Chinese and French. Make sure you watch the videos, they may seem long at 7 minutes but that is drop in the ocean if it saves your and your families lives.
We have links to Driving safe – Indian Customers and Driving safe – Chinese Customers – take a peak.
When you collect the car you will receive a Yellow Folder and it will contain brochures on driving in New Zealand, it’s a good idea to read these before heading out on the open road.
Test your driving skills in New Zealand
Put yourself in the driver’s seat using the AA’s new Visiting Drivers Training Programme and experience what it is like to drive on New Zealand roads. Complete a series of driving tasks and test yourself on New Zealand’s road rules. If you pass the tests, get a certificate to prove your skill.
What’s different about driving in New Zealand?
We drive on the left hand side of the road and our vehicles seat the driver on the right.
Always drive on the left hand side of the road in New Zealand. If you’re used to driving on the right hand side of the road, this can be a challenge to remember especially when pulling out into traffic. Remember – if you are driving, you must be seated in the middle of the road – your front seat passenger will be the on edge of the road. In fact your front seat passenger is an important part of the driving experience, they must be alert at all times to make you aware of any dangers on the road – driving in New Zealand is a team sport!
Never drive when you are tired and take regular breaks.
It doesn’t matter what country you are driving in, it is extremely dangerous to drive when you are tired. Visitors to New Zealand might be tired because of jet-lag, early starts and late nights, or because they had a long day driving the day before. Because driving in New Zealand can be very different to other countries, you need to be well-rested and alert – tired drivers are dangerous drivers.
Many roads have varying conditions, and can be narrow, windy and cover hilly terrain.
New Zealand’s diverse terrain means roads are often narrow, hilly and windy with plenty of sharp corners. Outside of the main cities, there are very few motorways. Most of our roads are single lane in each direction without barriers in between. You will also encounter gravel roads. It’s important to allow plenty of time, go slow and pull over in a safe place if traffic wants to pass from behind you. Take plenty of breaks so that you stay alert.
It’s easy to underestimate drive times when looking at a map.
Maps don’t show how narrow and windy roads can be. What might look like a short trip can take a long time. For example: Hokitika to the town of Haast, a popular drive for visitors stopping to see New Zealand’s glaciers, is 278km (172mi) on the map and may look like a short 3-hour drive. However, drivers should allow for up to 4 hours’ of driving time because of the windy road. This is common all over New Zealand –always allow for more time than you think you’ll need. Utlize the AA’s time and distance calculator to work out timings.
Weather-related hazards are commonplace.
In New Zealand, you might experience four seasons in one day. It’s possible to start your day off with blue sky and sunshine, but arrive at your destination in rain and hail. Because of this, weather related hazards on the road can occur at any time. Always check the weather forecast before departing, and adjust your plans accordingly. If you’re driving in the South Island in winter, spring or late autumn, snow is a possibility – ensure that you’re carrying chains if a cold snap has been forecast. Most rental companies will provide you with chains and demonstrate how to fit them. Read our winter driving tips.
Winter roads can be treacherous.
Snow, ice and fog can be common in winter, especially in the South Island and around mountain passes. Ensure you’re clued up on the weather forecast for the region that you’re driving in, leave large following distances and make sure you’re travelling with snow chains (and know how to fit them).
Not all New Zealand rail crossings have automatic alarms.
Only half of the 1,500 rail crossings in New Zealand have automatic alarms. When red lights are flashing it means a train is coming so stop and only proceed once the lights have stopped flashing. Other crossings have a ‘Railway Crossing’ sign and give way or stop signs only. If you see this, stop, look both ways and only cross the track if there are no trains approaching.
In addition to the above, it’s a good idea to get familiar with important New Zealand road rules before your arrival.
- Stay on or below the legal speed limits indicated on road signs. The maximum speed on any open road is 100km/h. The maximum speed in urban areas is 50km/h. Adjust your speed as conditions demand.
- When traffic lights are red you must stop. When traffic lights are amber you must stop unless you are so close to the intersection it is unsafe to do so.
- Drivers and passengers must wear seat belts or child restraints at all times, in both front and rear seats.
- Do not drink and drive. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime in New Zealand.
- Signposting follows standard international symbols and all distances are in kilometres (km).
- Driving while using a hand-held cellphone is illegal in New Zealand.
- It is illegal to pass other cars where there is yellow line instead of a white line marking the middle of the road. The yellow line indicates that it’s too dangerous to overtake.