How to Drive Safely on New Zealand Roads

Posted by:
2 Nov 2017

Beautiful New Zealand is often explored by road, our most common mode of transport. As a visitor, familiarizing yourself with our different road rules and conditions is important to keep you and others safe on the road. Here, we’ve compiled some essential facts and resources to help you drive safely in New Zealand.


Keep left at all times

The main difference between driving in New Zealand and much of the rest of the world is that we drive on the left side of the road. This means the driver sits on the right side of the vehicle, closest to the middle of the road. Because most of our roads have just two lanes –one going in each direction – which are only separated by a painted white line, it’s vital that you stick to the left side of the road to avoid a collision with oncoming vehicles. Drivers also share the road with bicycles (both in cities and rural areas) so make sure you also pay attention to what is around all sides of your vehicle by regularly checking your rear-view and side mirrors.


Driving times are greater than they appear on maps

New Zealand is a mountainous country with a huge variety of road types spanning from multiple-lane urban motorways to narrow and unsealed gravel roads in rural areas. Many of our roads twist around and up and over steep hills. Much of the time the road won’t allow you to safely travel at the open-road speed limit of 100kph so you shouldn’t expect to cover a 100km distance in one hour. Keep this in mind when you’re looking at a map and judging how long a trip will take. A good example of this is the drive between Queenstown and Wanaka – the towns are only 67.2km apart but the trip takes just over an hour due to the road winding up and over the Crown Range.


Speed limits

In New Zealand there are different speed limits for different sections of road. In built-up urban and residential areas the speed limit will usually be 50kph. Open roads normally have a speed limit of 100kph, but road signs will alert you to tight corners that require a lower speed. Pay attention to speed limit signs and remember exceeding the speed limit is dangerous and can result in a fine or prosecution. Take your time and remember you’ll often need to drive slower than the speed limit to stay safe and comfortable.


Belt up, stay alert and stay safe

New Zealand’s busy roads require a lot of concentration from the driver. Don’t let the stunning scenery or your mobile phone distract you from the important task of driving safely with your eyes on the road. If you need to use your phone, pull over and stop, or get a passenger to do it for you. If you find your eyes paying more attention to the landscape than the road, pull over, stretch your legs and have a good look.

Because driving on our roads can be tiring for the driver, be sure to take lots of breaks to stay refreshed and leave yourself plenty of time to complete your journey. Don’t drive tired, and if possible, share the driving with your travel buddies who have the correct driver’s licence.

Everyone in the vehicle must wear a safety belt so make sure belting up is the first thing you do each time you get in the car. If you don’t wear your safety belt you could receive a fine, or worse yet, crash with nothing holding you in your seat.


Who can drive in New Zealand?

When visiting NZ you can drive for up to 12 months on your current driver’s licence from your home country or an IDP (International Driving Permit). After 12 months you will need to convert to a NZ licence. If your current licence isn’t fully written in English, you’ll need an English translation or an IDP. Learn more about who can drive on NZ roads here.

If you plan on renting a vehicle in NZ, the common legal age to do so is 21. Buying a used car is a good option and you can find something reasonable for under $3,000NZD. Be sure to inspect the vehicle closely, ask questions about its history and make sure it’s road legal (current Warrant of Fitness and Registration). If you buy a car, it is essential that you get insurance – this needs to be done separately, as it does not come with the registration.


Have fun learning the road rules

A fun way to get your head around New Zealand’s road rules is to get a bunch of friends together and quiz each other with these driving test questions. They’re broken down into modules and are available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Dutch. Keep score and introduce some prizes to make it more fun.

New Zealand is a wonderful country and exploring it by road can be the experience of a lifetime. Watch the videos below to see what NZ driving looks like, download a multilingual Driving in New Zealand brochure here, and visit to learn more about staying safe and legal on NZ roads.



Seat Belt by tyle_r under CC BY-NC 2.0

Driving... towards The Remarkables by CameliaTWU under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Taramakau Road Rail Bridge by Bernard Spragg. NZ under Public Domain