How to Drive Safe in New Zealand
Hitting the road by buying or renting a car is a great way to travel around New Zealand to allow you to be flexible and get off the beaten track. (As well as heaps of other reasons which we list in the 10 Things We Love About a New Zealand Road Trip). However, it’s equally important to be safe when driving. It could put a real downer on your trip of a lifetime if you were to get yourself into an accident. Luckily, we have compiled some driving safety tips for New Zealand.
Once you have read these bite-sized driving tips below, take a look at How to Drive in New Zealand for more in-depth driving literature.
1. Know Your Essential Road Rules
Sticking to the same rules as other drivers on the road is an obvious go-to for road safety in New Zealand. Drive on the left side of the road, respect one-lane bridge signage, know who to give way to, how to use roundabouts… There are quite a few essential road rules to know before you begin driving in New Zealand. There are bound to be some rules that are different from what you are used to, so check out The 15 Essential Driving Rules in New Zealand to get started!
2. Respect the Speed Limits
Drive below or at the speed limit. Speed limit signs are on the side of the road, usually with a red ring around a number. Speed is measured in km/h in New Zealand. The national speed limit for open roads is 100km/h.
3. Drive to the Conditions
Following on from point #2, be sure to reduce your speed when the conditions are rainy, icy, snowy, foggy, windy, etc. There are already plenty of hazards on the New Zealand roads, and extreme weather only makes them worse, so take care! On top of that, a lot of New Zealand roads are constantly being maintained and you are likely to find roadworks along your way daily. The speed limit along road works is 30km/h.
4. Be Careful When Overtaking
There are a lot of twists and turns in New Zealand’s roads, so only overtake when you can see clearly what’s on the road ahead. Yellow lines in the middle of the road, instead of white lines, indicate that it is unsafe to overtake. Passing lanes appear frequently on New Zealand’s roads, so you can always wait until the next passing lane to overtake.
5. Going Super Slow (or Have a Convoy of Vehicles Right Behind You)? Find a Safe Place to Pull Over and Let Them Pass
While it’s perfectly Ok to drive slower than the speed limit if the conditions are rough, you’re on winding roads or you’re simply driving a slow vehicle like a campervan, etc, note that you can actually get fined in New Zealand if you hold up traffic for an unreasonable duration. That’s right, although Kiwis have a reputation for being a friendly and relaxed bunch, that can change once they are on the road! If you’re driving slowly and/or have vehicles right behind for a while, find a safe place to pull over and let them pass. That way, you reduce the risk of some tailgater trying to overtake you in an unsafe place.
6. Slow Down Before Corners
New Zealand has a lot of corners. Because you never know what’s hiding on the other side of a corner, always slow down and observe the recommended speeds signposted on turns and bends. The recommended speeds are displayed in diamond-shaped signs with an arrow signalling the shape of the turn, and sometimes again on yellow signs on the bend of the corner. The recommended speed is marked in black under the arrow sign.
7. Don’t Talk on Your Phone While Driving
Not only it is illegal to use a hand-held phone while driving, but it’s also extremely unsafe! Set yourself up for hands-free instead.
8. Be Careful on Gravel Roads
Getting off the beaten track can actually bring you to some horrifically beaten tracks! But for most of New Zealand’s gravel roads (or unsealed roads), they are pretty well maintained. You can drive on most gravel roads with a 2WD vehicle, just note that you’ll need to drive at a much slower speed than on tar-sealed roads, as you have less traction. Remember to keep left and slow down when approaching oncoming traffic, as dust can obscure your vision and loose stones can chip your windscreen.
Tip: Check that your chosen rental company allows you to travel on gravel roads as part of the rental agreement. Some don’t, which can be a bit of a bummer for accessing some amazing places in New Zealand.
9. Wear Your Seat Belt
A bit of a no-brainer, but just in case, make sure you wear your seatbelt. It is a legal requirement. Even if you drive like a boss, someone could still crash into you. Note that children under seven years old need an approved child restraint (booster seat).
10. Be Aware of Alcohol Regulations
It is illegal to drive with alcohol in your system if you are under 20 years old. Over 20 years old and it is 250 micrograms per litre of breath. It’s difficult to say how many drinks that is equivalent to, as there are other contributing factors. The best resolution to take is don’t drink and drive!
11. Look Out for Animals on the Road…
… to slow down for, not hit. Once you’ve slowed down, proceed slowly and if there’s a farmer, listen to their instructions.
12. Take Extra Care When Driving in Winter Conditions
Snow and ice are slippery. Duh! If you have to drive to ski fields or over mountain passes during winter (June, July and August), hire or buy some snow chains. They are usually available with car and campervan rentals.
13. Take Your Time
The New Zealand roads are winding and often just two-way with one lane in each direction. It very often takes much longer than expected to cover a certain distance compared to back home. Make a plan before departure and check the average driving time for your trip. Don’t plan according to the distance. If in doubt, ask a local or your accommodation provider, they will also be able to tell you more accurate driving times.
For more tips on travel time and navigation, take a look at Travel By Car: How to Plan a Road Trip in New Zealand.
14. Don’t Drive Fatigued
It’s as simple as if you’re tired, you’re more likely to crash. If you’ve just arrived in New Zealand after a long flight, make sure you get some quality sleep before hitting the road. Try to keep your driving to about two hours maximum and try to share the driving with someone else, if possible. Drink plenty of water (don’t worry, there are public bathrooms in plenty of places). Finally, take regular breaks along the way. Besides, there is a lot to discover along the roads of our wonderful country so consider breaks as an invitation to check out that view or some stunning waterfalls.
15. Enjoy the View Safely
New Zealand’s scenery is pretty stunning, but be sure to keep your eyes on the road; not the scenery! If you want to stop to view the scenery and take photos, pull over at a safe place that is completely off the road.
More Driving Safety Tips for New Zealand
For more driving safety tips for New Zealand, check out How to Drive in New Zealand. Plus, check out these articles to help you stay safe on the road:
- The 15 Essential Driving Rules in New Zealand
- 10 Ways to Relax on a Road Trip
- 10 Things We Like About a Road Trip in New Zealand
Finally, find out how to plan a road trip using Travel by Car: How to Plan a Road Trip in New Zealand.