The New Zealand Driving Rules You Need to Know
Exploring New Zealand often involves a lot of driving. From Cape Reinga all the way down to Bluff, there are thousands of awesome sights to be seen and making your way around by car offers incomparable freedom. However, driving in New Zealand may be a bit more challenging than what you are used to. New Zealand’s roads are often narrower, windier and not as well maintained as what you may be used to. For instance, some of our main roads are gravel roads! With that, the road rules and laws can sometimes be a little different as well. So just to be safe, here is a quick reminder of the most important driving rules in New Zealand.
Remember, you need a valid driver’s license to drive in New Zealand which you can learn more about in our complete guide on How to Drive in New Zealand, as well as in Travel by Car: How to Plan a Road Trip in New Zealand.
1. Keep Left!
Drive on the left-hand side of the road in New Zealand. A bit like in the UK and Australia, New Zealand decided to go against the flow and have people driving on the left side of the road. This means that you need to check on your right when entering a roundabout.
Our tip: To be safe, take a second to watch the traffic and always check both sides.
An exception to this rule is the “slow vehicle lane”. If the left lane is signposted as a slow vehicle lane, then leave it free unless you are a slow vehicle, of course… If you have traffic right behind you, use the slow vehicle lane.
2. Seat Belt Fastened!
Everyone in your vehicle must wear a seat belt at all times. In New Zealand, it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that everybody abides by this rule. If somebody is caught not wearing a seat belt, both the driver and the offender will be fined. Note that children under seven years old need an approved child restraint (booster seat).
3. Respect the Speed Limit!
Keep at or below the speed limit. Like in most countries, the speed limit signs are obvious by bearing a big red circle and a black number in their centre. The basic speed limits in New Zealand are 30 km/h near roadworks and dangerous zones, 50 km/h in cities and towns and 100 km/h on highways.
Our tip: Remember, speed limits are “limits” and not a target. You should always drive at a speed that’s appropriate to the conditions.
4. 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.
5. Stop at Red Lights and Stop Signs
Stopping at red lights and stop signs is a basic driving rule all over the world. There is a big difference between “Stop” and “Give way” signs: you actually have to make the stop in front of a “Stop” sign. Failing to do so will put you in real trouble with New Zealand law enforcement.
6. Slow Down and Check for Traffic on Narrow Roads and One-Lane Bridges
A lot can hide around corners, bends and one-lane bridges. Many roads in New Zealand are narrow with pretty tight corners. If a huge truck or campervan is coming out of that very corner it will require skills to pass safely. Make sure to slow down and check if it is safe to pass.
One-lane bridges also feature as a priority system on New Zealand’s roads. On one-lane bridge signs, the side of the road indicated by the black arrow has priority. However, you must let the incoming traffic pass if they have already engaged on the bridge.
7. Pass with Care and Use Passing Lanes
Always check that it is safe to overtake a vehicle beforehand and only engage when you are 100% sure that it is safe. Passing lanes are frequent on New Zealand’s roads, especially on the North Island, so you can always wait until the next passing lane to overtake. Keep in mind that crossing a solid yellow line is illegal in New Zealand.
8. Don’t Drink and Drive
That seems obvious but a quick reminder does not hurt; drinking and driving is a crime in New Zealand. Heavy fines and even jail time can be given to offenders. That would be the worst way to cut your holiday short.
What is the Alcohol Limit in New Zealand?
For drivers under 20 years old, there is a zero alcohol limit in New Zealand. For drivers aged 20 and over, the alcohol limit is 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood or 250 micrograms per litre of breath.
9. Don’t Use a Handheld Phone While Driving
As in most countries in the world, it is illegal to use your mobile phone while driving in New Zealand. If you need to pick up that phone call or respond to that text, find a safe spot to stop on the side of the road – there is always a good place to stop a few minutes away. Alternatively, set up a system to use your phone hands-free while driving.
10. Know How to Use Roundabouts
If roundabouts aren’t common where you are from, then they can seem a little confusing when you first approach one. First, when approaching a roundabout, indicate left to show that you intend to exit left or right to show that you are going more than halfway around the roundabout to exit right. You don’t need to indicate if you are exiting the roundabout straight ahead, you still need to indicate to exit though! Most importantly, you must give way to all traffic that will cross your path from the right.
11. Know the Give Way Rules
Speaking of giving way, it’s also important to know where to give way for different scenarios. For instance, you know you need to give way to traffic approaching from the right on roundabouts. Additionally, you need to give way to vehicles if:
- you are turning right but the oncoming traffic isn’t,
- you are turning right and the oncoming traffic is also turning right,
- there is traffic at the top of a T-intersection and you are on the bottom of the T (think “top of the T goes before me!”),
- and vehicles are turning left if you are turning right.
It’s pretty confusing, so take a look at some diagrams over on the NZ Transport Agency website for examples.
12. Give Way to Pedestrians First When the Traffic Lights Turn Green
When at an intersection with a traffic light, you cannot turn left when the traffic light is red. Once the light turns green (including green in the direction you are turning), you must give way to any pedestrians crossing the road before turning.
13. Park on the Left Side of the Road
Parking on the side of the road must be in the same direction as the traffic flow. On a one-way street, you can park on either side of the road.
14. Know What to Do at Railway Crossings
For rail crossings, only around half of the crossings have lights. When lights are flashing, stop and only proceed once the lights have stopped flashing. Other crossings have signs. If a sign says stop, you must stop your vehicle and only proceed if there is no train approaching. If there is a give way sign, make sure to slow down as you approach the crossing so you are ready to stop in case a train comes.
15. Share the Road
Cars do not have priority over pedestrians, cyclists or animals. It’s the driver’s responsibility to watch out for pedestrians crossing the road, particularly at pedestrian/zebra crossings and intersections. For cyclists, slow down and pass slowly only when safe, leaving at least 1.5m (5ft) of space between the cyclist and the car. For animals on the road, slow down and proceed carefully. Do not sound your horn.
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More Driving Rules in New Zealand
That’s it for our list of essential driving rules in New Zealand. For a comprehensive guide written in different languages, check out this NZ Transport Agency Booklet for Overseas Drivers. Otherwise, here’s more helpful New Zealand road trip advice:
- How to Drive in New Zealand
- 15 Safe Driving Tips for New Zealand
- Travel by Car: How to Plan a Road Trip in New Zealand
Finally, for everything else to do with visiting New Zealand, head to The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.