How to Drive Like an Australian

14 Mar

The sign is supposed to read “Don’t drive like a wanker.” Get it? W + anchor = wanker. Only in Australia!

You may think that driving is the same no matter where you go in the world, but you would be wrong. Every place has its own unique driving culture, including Australia. Here’s how you can fit in if you’d like to drive in Australia.

Australian driving tends to be based around two premises. The first is that any car you are driving is too big for the road. The second is that the road is made solely for you. When in doubt, default to either or both of these assumptions.

One of the trademarks of Australian driving is treating lane markings as suggestions, rather than hard and fast rules about where you car should be on the road.

Always let your passenger side wheels ride right on or just over the line. Not only does this convey to other drivers that you believe your car to be too big to fit on the road, but also that you are selfish. After all, you wouldn’t want anybody to be able pass you and beat you to that red light.

A common Australian tactic to prevent other drivers from "budging" in front of you (or "passing", as it is known in the civilised world), is to take up more than one lane, as seen here.

A common Australian tactic to prevent other drivers from “budging” in front of you (or “passing”, as it is known in the civilised world), is to take up more than one lane, as seen here.

In the same vein, you should never let other people get around a tram. When passing a tram, be sure to drive slowly, right next to the tram until the absolute last possible moment you have to actually pass it. Then quickly cut around in front of it and laugh because all the fools behind you cannot pass the tram and must bottleneck into a single file line behind it. Meanwhile, you are home free and have an open stretch of road to yourself. And heck, you can take it a step further by applying this passing etiquette to pretty much any other road situation. Like on the motorway.

On the motorway, if you are going slower than most people, be sure to hog the right lanes so that people are forced to pass you on the left. You can make this even more fun by ignoring the lane markings (see above) and taking up two lanes.

Another thing you can do is when you see that someone is trying to merge on, refuse to move over for them, even if the lane next to you is completely clear. It’s always fun to try to cause an accident and what better way to do it than by playing chicken with someone whose entrance lane is merging into yours?

Where you are from originally, it might be common practice to move your vehicle completely into the near lane to make a turn. That’s just simply not how it’s done in Australia. You must never move more than halfway into the near lane, even if it is a dedicated turn lane (which are very rare) to make a turn. Remember: your car is SO BIG that you can’t possible make that turn without swinging out and also, it’s perfectly acceptable to make everyone behind you slam on your brakes while you slowly negotiate that dangerous street corner with your oversized sedan. If you want to make it convincing, try to manage to hit the curb anyway, despite having made an overly wide turn.

These decorative signs add so much character to the street!

Also, those signs saying “no right turn”? Yeah, just feel free to ignore those. They are only there for decoration.

Then there’s the use of turn signals. In Australia, signalling your intent is incorrect. It’s always better to leave other drivers guessing for as long as possible. You must wait to put on your signal until after you have begun whatever move you are wanting to do.

Please remember that the road was made just for you. Be as selfish as you like and pay no attention to other drivers. A good way to do this is to intend to make a right turn and pull up to a red light in the right lane (which will usually be demarcated for right turners and for those going straight). Then wait until a bunch of cars get behind you and let them think you will be going straight. When the light turns green, THEN you can put on your right blinker and block the entire intersection for the duration of the green light and cackle with insane glee at all the poor sops behind you who can’t get around.

How a “keep clear” zone is theoretically supposed to work. (Click to view larger image.)

Often in Australia, you will find that certain intersections are marked as “keep clear” zones, indicating that drivers should not block the intersection if they need to stop. This is so that people can continue to make right turns in or out of said intersection. Believe it or not, most Aussies are pretty good about following the “keep clear” rule when they come to a stop. (Don’t ask me why this is the one road rule they choose to obey- I really don’t know.) The problem here comes from people who are turning onto the main road from a side street.

Here’s what you should do if you are ever trying to turn left onto a main road from a side street and find that the other drivers have conveniently left the “keep clear” box open: Pull into the box just enough to claim your place in line, but not so much that anyone behind you wanting to turn right can get through. When the line starts moving, pull forward so slowly that the right turner behind you doesn’t have a chance to sneak through the line before the other cars start to close in. After all, he’s probably not in any hurry to get anywhere.

Yeah, that sign for a bike lane? That’s just for decoration, too. Notice how skillfully this driver manages to block the cycling lane to get revenge on any cyclist who might try to pass him. Well done, sir!

There are often a lot of bicycles and motorcycles sharing the road. This can cause some Aussie drivers to become very angry in heavy traffic when they see that someone on a pushbike is moving faster than they are. Try to be a true-blue Aussie yourself by sharing in the communal rage of your fellow drivers and cooperating with them to block the offending two-wheeled vehicle. Do this by once again ignoring your lane marking and drifting into the bicycle or parking lane so that the offender either can’t get through safely at all or must slow way down to avoid hitting your mirror. After all, if you have to sit in traffic, so should everyone else! Take it up a notch by driving onto the sidewalk to block pedestrians. The only thing more insulting than a cyclist moving faster than your car is a pedestrian moving faster than your car!

Lastly, when driving in Australia, pretend every day is a lazy Sunday and you have nowhere important to be. Drive slowly, leisurely. Spend more time looking at your surrounding than at traffic or road hazards. Expect people to be forgiving of your mistakes while being completely intolerant of theirs. In general, adopt a laid-back attitude to driving. If you are never in a rush, you won’t mind the traffic so much and you’ll find it’s easier to ignore the honking behind you.

30 Responses to “How to Drive Like an Australian”

  1. ilovethedangerindistance March 14, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    I love this. You’ve seriously described Australian driving to a tee.
    How half the people on our roads get licences is beyond me.

    The only thing I think you forgot to mention is that it’s vital to forget that green = go every so often.
    At least once every trip it’s important to get so caught up in the moment that you just sit idly for at least 1 minute whilst the light in green. Ignore the honks behind you; it’s only when everyone behind you starts moving around you that you should you actually look up, see a green light and start moving forward.
    You’ll find it’s actually one of the most effective ways to piss everyone off simultaneously.

    • housewifedownunder March 20, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      I find that I honk my horn a lot more often here than I ever did in America. Even though most American drivers are completely distracted by their cell phones, I still find that Australian drivers are a lot more apt to just sit at a green light and then proceed so slowly through the intersection that only a few cars can get through. That is one thing that drives me nuts that I didn’t mention in the post. Especially during peak hour when you will already sit through several turns of a light before you can get through. I feel like the people at the front of the line should be more considerate of people waiting behind them and get through as quickly as possible.

  2. Miss Y March 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

    Yeah, I don’t really like the generalisation of this is how ALL Australians drive. That would be like me saying all Americans are really bad in the sack (or bad in bed for those who need interpretation), just because of one bad experience.

    Now that being said it doesn’t matter what country you visit, there is always idiot drivers to be had and the Australian way to deal with it is to have a bit of a yell when someone wrongs you, honk your horn and then get over it.

    • housewifedownunder March 20, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      It’s meant to be humourous. Lighten up. πŸ˜‰

      • Gina July 14, 2013 at 2:49 am #


  3. Cosette March 14, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    I come from Miami, which is one of the worst driving cities in the U.S. Nevertheless, I find it challenging to drive here albeit for wholly different reasons.

    Compared to Miami, I find Melbourne drivers to be generally more courteous, suffering less from road rage, and just pretty good drivers all around. I love that new and bad drivers come with warning signs (L and P plates). But I find driving here to be much more nuanced than driving in Miami.

    For example, in the image with the black car driving on the yellow line, that line is not actually marking a driving lane. Yellow lines provide information about trams. Apparently, you can just sorta drive anywhere as long as you’re not in the tram’s way.

    Regarding your last photo with the car in the bike lane, cars are allowed to drive in the bicycle lane for up to 50 meters before turning or when parking.

    One thing I find really curious is that you can park where you drive during certain hours. So, you’re driving and suddenly have to move over because there’s a car parked on the same “lane” just up ahead.

    It’s funny; Australia has a ton of road rules, but when I’m on the road, I feel like there are hardly any rules at all and people just drive all over the place. I’ve been here almost a year now and I’m not comfortable driving here at all.

    • housewifedownunder March 20, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      Miami does have a lot of terrible drivers. The whole state of Florida in general is bad for that and I wonder if it’s because you’ve got so many retirees who are too old to be driving and tourists who are unfamiliar with the area. But I don’t think Melbourne drivers are more courteous. Road rage seems to be a big problem in Australia. My hypothesis on that is that because of the way the roads are designed here, it’s a lot harder to get away from someone who is being annoying or dangerous. In America, you rarely lack for opportunities to pass such people, but here you are just stuck with them for the whole way.

      I know the yellow lines are about trams, but I still think it is common sense that if there is space for vehicles to move in two lanes, it is selfish to drive in a such a way that no one can pass you. People here do that so that no one can get in front of them. Like there might be a tram a few cars ahead and they don’t want the left lane to fill up or else they won’t be able to merge into it in order to pass the tram. Or they want to wait til the last second to decide whether or not they want to move over to make a turn or claim a parking spot. There is no reason other than selfishness to drive like that.

      And yes, cars can occupy the bike lane for specific reasons, but not to block cyclists. I don’t know how much you cycle on the road, but I do a fair bit and I encounter this a lot. There is a stretch of road near me that is single thoroughfare with bike lanes and it is extremely busy because of a lot of truck traffic coming off the motorway. It takes ages to move between lights. So I’ll be whizzing along on my bike in the bike lane and some car up ahead will see me coming and suddenly maneuver his car into the bike lane at an angle to prevent me from passing or make me slow down. He’s not parking or turning. He’s just being an asshole. My husband also notices the same thing, as he rides a motorcycle to and from work along a very congested stretch of road and he says cars always try to block him to keep him from moving to the front of the line.

      I definitely don’t like how you can park in driving lanes here. It creates major jams because of bottlenecks. I don’t mind it so much on residential streets, but I don’t think it should be allowed on major roads. You shouldn’t be able to use a taxpayer funded road as your own personal parking space and cause traffic problems for everyone else. If you want a parking space, buy a place with a driveway or garage; otherwise, get rid of your car.

  4. Lotta March 14, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Oh! You forgot tailgaiting! That is what freaks me out the most about Australian drivers!!!

    • housewifedownunder March 20, 2013 at 11:58 am #

      Sorry! I actually don’t notice it too much other than on the motorways. And I admit that I do it because leaving too big a gap between you and the car in front only invites people to cut you off. I’d rather take my chances tailgating a driver who is predictable (since I have a big car, I can usually see if people further up the line are braking) than risk being cut off by someone who isn’t going to signal his intent and force me to slam on my brakes.

    • RRichard June 15, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

      I find complaints of tailgating quite bizarre, having lived in DC for a decade. A “safe following distance” in DC/NY would be considered extreme tailgating here.

      Not to mention that 95% of the cars don’t seem to be fitted with indicators and the speed limit is more of an indication of how fast to drive when it’s snowing – people routinely do 40kph over the limit on I-495.

      Plus the roads are better in Melbourne than they are anywhere on the east coast US! No “no merge areas”, few potholes, roads that were designed by someone who has driven a car, etc.

      • housewifedownunder June 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

        Ha, so true! The first time my husband came to visit me in America, I was on a business trip in the Baltimore/Dc area and I took him on the 495 during peak him. He was the most nervous passenger EVER! He kept telling me not to tailgate, so finally I said, “Watch what happens if you don’t tailgate in this traffic”. And of course, as soon as I backed off, people started cutting us off left and right. Leaving any space between you and the car in front of you is seen as an invitation for someone else to squeeze ahead of you.

        I do think the overall road design here is actually pretty bad, but I suppose if you compare it to East Coast metropolitan roads, they do look good by comparison! What I can’t stand is the draconian enforcement of ridiculously low speed limits via use of speed cameras that are strategic placed to catch people in “slow down” zones as a revenue generator.

  5. Theo March 14, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    2nd image car on tram lines : it’s obvious the driver took the photograph (unless the car is a left hand drive) FYI it’s against the law to operate a mobile phone whilst driving unless the phone is sitting in a specially designed cradle.

    • housewifedownunder March 20, 2013 at 11:59 am #

      Funny how no one obeys that law. πŸ˜‰

      Actually, I took that shot and I was stopped in bumper to bumper traffic, so no risk to the cars around me. But the person had been driving that way for quite a while and I figured it’d be a good example for this blog.

  6. MontgomeryFest March 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    This is hilarious! I like the thought that your car is too big! In Brussels, we have a priority to the right, where on most streets cars on small side roads that are hidden by parallel parked cars and tight spaces can just swing out right in front of you. And, no, of course they don’t look to see if a car is 2 inches away….that’d be silly! Near death adventures in foreign lands!

    • housewifedownunder March 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      Belgian drivers deserve their red number plates! They are pretty scary drivers, even worse than the Polish, imo.

  7. astimegoesbuy March 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    I agree with Lotta – tailgaiting freaks me out the most here in Australia, but I had to laugh when I read the part about waiting until you are changing lanes to use the directional, the Fashion Mister does that and it makes me insane! And one other one, in Australia if you are on a single lane road the person in front of you will drive 10k below the speed limit until you get to a double lane and move over to pass them – then they will speed up to 10k over the speed limit to make you PROVE how much you want to get around them!

    Thanks for the giggle!

    • housewifedownunder March 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

      Yeah, I wonder if people here just don’t know how to use cruise control! Or are they just personally offended that you want to drive faster than them? :-p

  8. Helen March 15, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    It is funny but I think there are different driving styles between states. I live in South Australia. On a recent trip to the eastern states, it was observed most of the drivers seemed to have no problems with speeding, and cutting other drivers of. I have not noticed this so much here, but we have random speed cameras all over the place, which has helped. Also my observation in that Melbourne drivers are constantly in a hurry, while here I Adelaide we are more relaxed. This could be because we have a smaller population.

    • housewifedownunder March 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

      I’m in Melbourne and I think everyone here drives way too slow!

      I hate the speed cameras, though. There are definitely times where speeding isn’t inherently dangerous or is actually safer than driving the speed limit (i.e. passing someone quickly). Speed limits are a lot lower here than in America and I find that driving slowly makes me a bit complacent and I tend to be less focused on the road. When I drive in America, I generally have little regard for speed limits and drive as fast as I feel is safe for the traffic and road conditions. And in those cases, I find I am hyper-alert to everything going on around me and more ready to react than I am when I’m mindlessly cruising along at a “safe” speed along with a bunch of other people who are also not paying much attention.

  9. Emily March 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    This is hilarious! YOU LIVE IN MELBOURNE!! They are terrible. I promise not all Australians drive like that. We get so frustrated because it seems like you cross the border from NSW and suddenly people drive like they found their licence in a cereal box.

    A quote from a recent blog post of mine: “The roads and driving conditions are only made worse by the Canadian drivers. This isn’t a grumpy expat comment, Canadians have told me on multiple occasions that Canadians suck at driving. I’ve never corrected them. I mean, would you correct a Victorian when they said people in Victoria couldn’t drive?”

    • housewifedownunder March 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

      Heh, I’ve actually heard Sydney drivers are worse than Melburnians, but I haven’t been there yet to check for myself. I like your quote about the Canadians! They are bad drivers in a way that is very similar to how Minnesotans are bad drivers. One day, I might write a post on all the ways Minnesotans drive like idiots (for example, not looking before merging onto a highway and expecting everyone else to just get out of their way).

  10. SAMB April 1, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    To be honest, it kind of sounds like you’re just a bad driver. You pick and choose what road rules you want to follow (you say you tailgate and speed), you’re unable to conform to the driving around you (which is very important), and you’re impatient and angry. Those things don’t equal the makings of someone fit to drive at all, let alone judge others’ driving.

    I agree that the things you outline in your article are annoying, but if you’re in a rush to get somewhere then that’s your fault, you should have left earlier. Almost everything you name in your article is just an annoying thing that people do, but I’m willing to bet that when you’re in a bad mood you react dangerously (swerving around people, tailgating etc), which turns just a hassle into a potential safety risk.

    As for your complaints about people driving slowly, not everyone likes to tailgate. In the inner city there should be AT LEAST 2 seconds between you and the car in from of you, and 3 seconds on the highway/freeway. In Australia now we learn that if someone is tailgating you you need to increase that gap between your car and the car in front of you by an extra second or two. That means that when you tailgate someone, you’re forcing them to go slower. And then you’re complaining about it. Good job.

    Safety comes first. Relax a bit and realise that you would probably only get to your destination a few minutes quicker even if everyone was driving the way you want them to. Some people are new at driving and they need patience, not road rage.

    This all comes from someone who has years of driving experience and I am 100% up to date with the road laws, as I take road safety very, very seriously.

    • housewifedownunder April 3, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

      As I told another poster: chill out, it’s meant to be humourous.

      Not that you actually know anything about my driving that would qualify you to make any sort of “bet” on it, but I’m actually a very experienced driver with a completely clean driving record and over a quarter million miles to my name in the just the past five years, which is more than most people drive in 15-20 years. My previous job had me driving all over the USA and in about a dozen different countries, usually averaging 500 miles per day, in every kind of traffic situation imaginable. I’ve also read the VicRoads handbook cover to cover, so I do know the local law. You’re not the only person in the world who is “up to date” on road laws.

      Anyone who has driven enough in a variety of different situations will know that following the road rules to a T is not always the safest or wisest course of action. Weather, road conditions, other drivers, etc all demand that you work these things out for yourself a lot of the time. But if you are as experienced a driver as you say you are, then you probably ought to know that.

  11. Hailey April 8, 2013 at 5:28 am #

    If those things bother you, don’t drive in China. They kill each other by the busload.

    • housewifedownunder April 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      We have plenty of Chinese drivers on the roads here. They scare me! :-p

  12. Pupeski May 12, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Drae Ma’am-

    You’re in Melbourne. They’re positively civilized down there. Try Queensland drivers…terrible. Jakarta better.

    • housewifedownunder June 15, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

      I have heard that Queenslanders are a bit nuts in all areas of life. One of these days, I really must go see for myself. πŸ™‚

  13. Gina July 14, 2013 at 2:59 am #

    Oh dear, I haven’t stopped laughing all through this post!! The things people say about each other! We live in Melbourne, and my hubby was a bus driver for 13 years. He has also ridden motorcycles for 50 years, so he has experienced the very worst of our drivers in that time! He reckons Sydney drivers are better than Melbourne drivers. I wouldn’t know. But my pet peeve on the roads are Toorak Tractors (4 wheel drives, or SUVs to you) – they are definitely the most selfish drivers of all.

    • housewifedownunder July 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

      Haha, “Toorak Tractors”! I love that term! I’m going to steal it. πŸ™‚ I pick up my babysitting charges from a school in Toorak that is located on a narrow residential street. It is a nightmare trying to navigate the school run because everyone there is driving these huge Land Rovers and they seem to have no idea how big their vehicle is or even have enough common courtesy to move over so that cars can pass from the other direction. I agree with you that they are extremely selfish drivers, and rude, too.

      • Gina July 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

        Glad you like it – you can use any suburb you want. We have Eltham Tractors too, but the name originated in Toorak because of the rich women who had to show they were as good as their husbands by driving cars as big as the ones their husbands drive. My husband calls this ‘penis envy’. (You can steal that too if you like, lol!)

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