If you’re visiting New Zealand and you’ve not done much right-hand-drive driving, this is the guide for you.
First, remember these three things:
- Stay to the left
- Give way to the right
- When in doubt, accelerate
Stay to the left
Most obviously, we drive on the left hand side of the road. While you’re here, you should do the same.
One easy way to remember where you should be, or to figure out where you should be after you’ve turned on to a different road:
- Keep your body in the middle
This rule applies for left-hand-drive cars in drive-on-the-right countries as well.
Give way to the right
Rather than “yield”, we “give way”. It’s the same thing.
Whenever you perform any turns or merging, look out the window closest to you. That’ll be your right. If there’s a car coming at you, give way; let them go first. This applies at roundabouts and merges of any sort.
When in doubt, accelerate
At some point, you might make a mistake. Don’t panic; it’s common. For example, you might look left, then right, then left again, then pull out. But that’s wrong; traffic comes at you from the right.
If you’ve done this, and as you pull out, a bus comes bearing down on you, accelerate. Get out of the situation as soon as you can; don’t stop (believing). The bus won’t slow down its journey.
More often than not, a solid white line separates you from oncoming traffic, as opposed to the yellow lines you are likely used to. Just stay left, and be sure you can see the road signs facing you. If you see the backs of road signs on your side of the road, pull off immediately, then panic and count your lucky stars. Now get on the correct side of the road.
Solid white lines are also used to designate bicycle lanes, which will usually be marked with bicycle icons as well.
At a give way, there will be a white line across the road. That means to wait for other vehicles to go through the intersection before you do.
On the sides of the road, you’ll often see dashed yellow lines. Don’t park there. Your car will explode.
This indicates that a zebra crossing is coming up. Pedestrians have right of way in zebra crossings, so you are required to stop. Additionally, crossings are marked by big orange circles on posts, or sometimes orange balls. (There will be no actual zebras. Sorry.)
Give way. The white triangle means you’re to give way when merging. There will be a solid white line across the road where you should stop, if there’s an oncoming vehicle. Remember to look to your right, or out the closest window.
This will be a bus stop. Don’t park there. The bus will crush you.
Some general tips
This applies when crossing a road on foot as well. It’ll be the reverse of what you’re used to, so start repeating it to yourself every time you come to an intersection. Say it now.
- Look down the centre of the car when reversing
Car parks (parking lots) are treacherous for new-to-right-hand-drive drivers. Generally, whenever you reverse, focus your attention down the centre, just as you would normally. But you’ll be looking over your other shoulder to do so.
Also, note that traffic will be coming at you from your left when you reverse. So, when you reverse, first look out the window furthest from you. (When in doubt in a car park, best not to accelerate.)
It’s generally acceptable to cross a road wherever whenever as a pedestrian, unless otherwise posted. Don’t be alarmed if you see people standing in the middle of the road waiting for traffic to clear. (This happens mostly around beaches, pizza joints, and liquor stores. You’ll find yourself doing the same in such desperate times.)
Unless it’s a bike lane or there’s a dashed yellow line, it’s fine to park on the side of the road. Roadside parking can get a bit anarchistic, especially in busy spots.
In car parks (parking lots), look for signs that say “Pay and Display”. This means you must display a parking pass, which you can purchase at a nearby machine. Do so.
Blue signs that say, for example, P60 mean it’s OK to park there for that number of minutes.
Most of the road signs will be familiar, with the notable exception of the speed limit sign. Speed limit signs are circles with a red border. The number in the middle is the speed limit, usually 50 km/h in towns, 100 km/h on the motorway. There are exceptions to this general rule, of course, so be careful.
The link above will show you some of the most common signs.
In this case, you might be tempted to turn left on a red light. Don’t.
Furthermore, if there is a red arrow, even when there is also a green light, you are not allowed to turn; this is to protect pedestrians, usually. (Be patient. We all get there sooner or later.)
Use your turn signals appropriately.
Generally, you can take one of three “exits” of the roundabout (though there are exceptions in more complicated roundabouts).
If you’re taking the first exit, signal left.
If you’re taking the second exit (that is, going straight), don’t signal.
If you’re taking the third or later exit, signal right. Also signal out of the roundabout.
While generally encouraged in the US, especially when carrying a firearm (am I remembering this correctly?), drinking and driving laws are tight in New Zealand. Last I knew, the legal limit in the US was 0.08 whatevers per whatever. Here, it’s 0.025 whatevers per whatever. Proceed with caution.
There’s no need for probable cause or any of that malarkey you might be used to. If you choose to use a vehicle on a public road, the police can pull you over, chat with you, test you for drugs and alcohol, offer sage advice about the temperatures of convenience food products, etc.
The police do not carry guns. Neither should you. It’s really unnecessary, especially while driving. Studies show that shooting at other cars from a moving car is horribly inaccurate and ineffective. Better to simply ram the cars that annoy you. You’ll be driving a rental anyway, so just say “oops”, pay the deductible, and be done with it.
(Protection, you say. Like, what if I’m car-jacked? Let’s say someone wants to car-jack you. Do they: a) sneak up to the car with a weapon in hand; b) announce themselves as a car-jacker, weaponless, and wait for you to ready yourself for a fight?
The answer is a). Now, unless you drive with a gun ready in hand, you’re out of luck here. Imagine, the car-jacker sneaks up to the window and waves a gun around. Do you expect to pause the action, reach over to the glove box, retrieve your gun, do whatever needs to be done to ready it for action, wave it back at the car-jacker and make a threat so credible that the car-jacker backs off apologetically and moves on to the next car? Hardly. What will happen, instead, is when you reach for anything, you’ll get your face shot off.
Furthermore, a gun offers no protection UNLESS you use it to kill whatever is threatening you. I wish everyone would drop the whole “I need it for protection” bullshit, because what you really need is to kill things with it. If gun owners would say “I need a gun so that I can KILL people who threaten me” I’d have a tad more respect for their position; at least that would be honest. Protection: nope.
The point is: you don’t need guns to drive in New Zealand.)