Driving Etiquette - Australia and New Zealand

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The Outback of Australia is really huge, and this has given rise to the important hand-waving rule. Because you might not see another car for hours at a time, it's polite and customary to wave at every car you see.

This is fine in the Outback, but when you get into a town it can be very hard not to continue with this practice. This, however, is not advisable as it can be very hard to steer when constantly waving. As you drive towards increasingly urban areas, you might like to bear in mind the following:

Melbourne Driving Etiquette

In Melbourne there are trams everywhere slowing down the traffic and generally annoying everyone which, whilst quaint, are adept at stopping you from getting to work on time. It's generally regarded as polite if when behind a tram that is stopping you also stop, and don't seize the opportunity to overtake on the inside lane to get in front of the slow moving annoyance. In fact, more than etiquette, this is a law which is aimed at stopping drivers from running over innocent pedestrians as they unwittingly disembark.

The problem with the above is that in Melbourne nobody wants to stop. Everybody seems to be running two hours late for everything, and as a direct consequence you can never swap lanes or take turnoffs. Also, you can't ask for directions whilst stopped in traffic, because everyone is too busy swearing into their mobile phones.

Driving etiquette in Melbourne can be summed up as follows: do whatever you damn well like (except running over pedestrians), just do it with conviction, otherwise those people swearing into their mobile phones will start swearing at you. And then you'll definitely never be able to change lanes.

Melbourne is also known for the most unusual and curious traffic manoeuvres - the hook turn.

Perth Driving Etiquette

The masterminds who designed inner-city Perth decided that what was really needed was a whole load of one-way streets and two pedestrian malls. Therefore, if you see drivers frothing at the mouth, with glazed-over eyes, and gripping the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands, they are probably trying to get to somewhere that is impossible to approach from that angle, and are now trying to find the Town Hall so they can drive their car straight through the front door to register their discontent.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the same masterminds have just reversed the directions of many of these one-way streets. It's now quite an adventure to drive in the city because the chances of ending up where you wanted to go are quite remote, so you can spend your time trying to wipe out those pesky bicycle couriers who flit about everywhere.

Thus, in Perth, few rules apply. When parking, particularly in the parallel parking bays along the beach-front (for example, in Cottesloe) park as close as possible to the car in front of you, to make it just that much harder for them to get out of the parking bay. This is especially important if you are the last car in the long line, and have plenty of space behind you.

New Zealand

Leaving aside the issues associated with motorways, which are pretty much the same everywhere, there are a few points to be made on the subject of driving in New Zealand1, particularly on the North Island2.

Legend has it that the North Island is the remains of a large fish hooked by a guy named Maui some years ago. If this is true, then it is clear both that he failed to eat most of it3, and that he subdued it only with great difficulty. The topography supports the view that the fish was very badly chopped up. Flat bits are few and far between.

North Island roads were originally constructed in sympathy with the landscape, or more likely in capitulation to it. Measure the distance between any two points, and this will be significantly less than an odometer registers for the actual trip. In some countries it is possible to find roads that stretch out, straight and dead flat, to both horizons. Not here. Here it is possible to read the speed warning for the next corner on exiting the previous one.

Settlements are not very far apart, and a lot of the local traffic travels at a relaxed pace, roughly 80% of the available limit. Interestingly, many drivers who steadfastly restrain themselves on the open road seem to find it difficult to slow their vehicles sufficiently to meet the lower speed limit applying in built up areas.

Some of the more important roads widen every now and then to provide an overtaking lane. This feature is sometimes useful, but as a general rule milk trucks, caravans, tractors and 80kmh speed demons will only be encountered after the extra lane ends. It is theoretically possible to overtake in other places, but a surprisingly large number of white crosses on the roadsides are testament to the consequences of misjudging such a move.

There are sections of road in which it is possible to achieve the speed limit. The authorities have identified all of these, and, aside from the corners being a little further apart, they may be recognised by the presence of signs warning of speed cameras. These signs are mostly diversionary, the ratio of signposts to camera units equating to unbackably long tote odds, but speeding through a stretch which is covered by a camera is best avoided.

New Zealand is largely agricultural and supports high concentrations of cattle and sheep. Many of these are road users. They have right of way. Sometimes they travel by truck, and if overtaking one of these transports it is generally advisable to go as wide as possible. If you can't overtake, keep a respectable gap between you. You have been warned.

The New Zealand health industry has been undergoing economic rationalisation for several years now. The health budget appears to be supporting more management consultants than medical practitioners. Drive carefully.

Elderly Driver Law

A visionary idea has been floated in New Zealand and is likely to become law, if it hasn't already. Some elderly motorists will be banned from driving on busy and unfamiliar roads under proposed driving licence changes. Transport officials say keeping older drivers within certain areas - such as their own suburb or town - would enhance safety and allow them to remain mobile. Thus, drivers unable to cope in heavy traffic or over long distances, but who feel comfortable driving to the local shops, can opt to sit for a new limited licence. The practical test would be done on roads with which they were familiar, rather than on busy motorways and in peak-hour traffic, as happens under the present system.

1For clarity of visualisation here, it should be noted that in New Zealand - as in other Commonwealth countries - the left hand side of the road, going forward, is the legal one on which to drive.2 It should be noted that this entry is based on North Island experience only: there are those to whom the distinction between driving on the North Island and driving in the South is significant.3Some Australians may disagree on this point!

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