Driving In New Zealand & Traffic Rules

Driving In New Zealand – Road Rules


Before you begin your motorhome holiday in New Zealand, it’s good to learn what’s different about driving a motorhome or car in New Zealand compared to Europe or USA.

For example, they drive on the left hand side of the road, not all railway crossings have active warnings, safety belts are compulsory, and it’s illegal to use a cell phone while driving. It’s very easy to underestimate travelling times in New Zealand. Distances may seem short on paper, but our roads can be narrower than you’re used to, cover hilly terrain, and vary from motorways to unsealed gravel roads.

What should you know before driving in New Zealand?

If you’re used to driving in the city, you should take care when driving on New Zealand’s open country roads. We have a good motorway system but weather extremes, the terrain and narrow secondary roads and bridges require drivers to be very vigilant.  Driving a campervan / RV / motorhome in New Zealand is not difficult but it helps to learn a few things before you arrive jet-lagged. Overseas drivers are twice as likely to be ‘at-fault’ in an injury or fatal accident in New Zealand. So please learn some of the rules.

Unless in a one-way street, it is unlawful to stop (and especially to park) on the right hand side of the road – as well as being especially dangerous for those drivers coming from countries where folks drive on the right!

Most of New Zealand’s roads are single carriageways with only one lane in each direction, few median barriers, and few passing (or overtaking) lanes. When passing lanes do exist they are often fairly short. Passing lanes may sometimes be legally used by vehicles overtaking in the opposite direction too (but only when the lane is clear- traffic on the same side of the centre line as the passing lane has right of way.

As a rule of thumb, most New Zealand driving instructors used to say that if, in a collision, the other car would hit your driver’s side door (right hand side of the car), you should give way.

It is important to note that anyone behind a give way sign must give way to any cars on roads without the give way sign. Failure to give way will result in around a $150 fine.

Traffic Rules New Zealand

Always drive on the left-hand-side of the road.

Always keep 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 to the prevailing conditions.

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.

Do not pass other cars where there are double yellow lines – these indicate that it’s too dangerous to overtake.

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 and strictly enforced by police, with severe penalties for offenders.

Signposting follows standard international symbols and all distances are in kilometres (km).

Test out your knowledge of New Zealand’s road rules on the Driving Tests website.

Road signs in New Zealand

New Zealand Road Signs generally follow international conventions. There are three types:
Regulatory signs must be obeyed by law and have a red border or background. Red on a road sign indicates there is a road rule that will be broken (and fine) if the sign is disobeyed.
 – STOP signs require a vehicle to come to a complete standstill at an intersection and not proceed until the way is clear. Stopping is mandatory, no matter what time of day or the traffic conditions. New Zealand has almost no multi-directional stop intersections, instead using roundabouts.
– GIVE WAY signs require a vehicle to give way or yield to all other vehicles. Drivers do not need to stop but must be prepared to.
– Warning signs should be obeyed for safety reasons, are yellow (permanent) or orange (temporary) with black borders and text/symbols.
– Information signs, which give information, normally have a blue, green, or brown background with white borders and text/symbols. This includes many parking signs, and fines may be imposed by the local council, rather than the police, if parking limits are exceeded. Rectangular blue signs with a white border that read Pxx (where xx is a number) indicate the maximum amount of time that a vehicle may remain parked in that area. Road Signs in New Zealand

Road markings

– White broken centreline: these are standard road centrelines. Normal driving rules apply.
– White solid centreline: indicates lane crossing is unsafe. Typically are used near on-ramps, off-ramps, in lane endings and on some multi-lane roads.
– White solid roadside lines: these are used to mark the outer road boundaries and parking spaces
– White diagonal bars in the road centre: these are median strips used to give separation to traffic. You may only drive on a median strip if you are turning right to exit the road, never to overtake another vehicle.
– White or yellow perpendicular bar(s) at intersections: these are limit lines that vehicles need to stop behind to remain clear of crossing or turning vehicles (i.e. buses). When at signalled intersections, you will also need to ensure you are behind them to trigger traffic signal sensors.
– White diamond shape in road: pedestrian crossing ahead
– White X in road: railway crossing ahead
– White triangle in road: Give Way intersection ahead
– Yellow solid centreline: this indicates passing is prohibited due to decreased forward visibility or other hazards in the road. Typically the centreline will also double up. Where both sides are yellow, no passing is permitted in either direction. If one lane has broken white lines (for example opposite a passing lane), drivers in that lane may pass using the normal overtaking rules.
– Yellow broken centreline: this indicates a solid yellow line (unsafe to pass) ahead. Drivers must not commence a pass and if mid-pass, ensure they are back in their lane before the solid yellow.
Yellow broken roadside lines: roadside parking is prohibited. These are used for clearways, no stopping zones and no parking zones.
– Yellow criss-cross pattern: stopping on these is not permitted under any circumstances. They are to prevent congestion or keep emergency accessways clear.
– Yellow circle and/or triangle in road: this designates a fire hydrant. Parking within 0.5 metres is prohibited.
– Green or red lane surface: these are transit lanes reserved for buses and/or cyclists. Sometimes they are only in effect during certain hours – refer to roadside signage.

Speed Limit in New Zealand

The speed limit on the main highways and motorways is usually 100 km/h for cars, but only 90 km/h for buses, trucks and vehicles towing trailers. Some semi-rural roads have 70 km/h or 80 km/h limits, especially approaching and leaving urban areas. The Auckland Harbour Bridge and the Central Motorway Junction in Auckland have an 80km/h limit.

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