Driving on New Zealand roads

Tips and must know rules for New Zealand roads

Some basic rules & regs to keep you safe

To drive in New Zealand you must hold a valid driver's license in full English.

If your license is not in English it will need to be accompanied by an approved English translation or an international driver's license or international driving permit. However, we recommend carrying an international driver's license anyway to ensure there are no hiccups when you arrive. This is also a requirement of you rent a car in New Zealand and all rental companies will require this. If you plan to stay in New Zealand longer than 12 months you must apply for a New Zealand driver licence. Visiting drivers can use their own licence or an international permit.

In New Zealand we drive on the left hand side of the road.

If you’re used to driving on the right in your home country then change can be confusing especially when pulling out at intersections. A handy tip to help you remember: The road center-line should always be at your right shoulder.

You must wear a seat belt at all times.

It is illegal to not wear a seat belt, and this rule is strictly enforced. Not doing so can result in a hefty fine.

Talking on a mobile phone while driving is illegal.

You may only use your phone to place a call if it is completely hands-free and mounted securely to the vehicle. Writing, reading or sending text messages while you are driving is also illegal.

Drinking & driving - don't do it!

Random breath testing is carried out frequently and heavy penalties apply for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Our advice is to familiarise yourself with New Zealand's road rules before taking the wheel

Driving times and distances    

The distances we have quoted in your itinerary are approximate and based on the most direct route. The driving times quoted are based on an average of 80 kph without stops. please be aware the times are a guide and you may take a little longer to travel the distances, particularly if you want to enjoy the scenery and take photos.        

Driving on the highways

Drive on the left at all times. On multi-lane highways, if you are driving slower than speed limit, keep to the far left slower lane. On a highway  you must not:

  • Walk or cycle       

  • Stop your vehicle (unless in an emergency)       

  • Make a u-turn

Always indicate for at least 3 seconds before changing lanes. If you need to make an emergency stop, signal your intention and stop your vehicle as far as practicable to the left. Turn on your warning lights until help arrives.

Overtaking vehicles

You must not pass another moving vehicle where a solid yellow line appears on your side of the centre line. On the open road, be patient and wait for passing lanes, which make it easy and safe to pass slower vehicles.

Speed Limits

On open road, the maximum speed limit is 100 kilometers per hour. In urban areas, the speed limit is 50 kilometres per hour unless a sign says otherwise. Exceptions occur such as driving around road works so be alert for signs (on the left of the road) that tell you to lower your speed. Speed camera are abundant and should you exceed the speed you will be liable, as the vehicle renter, to pay a heavy fine.

Road Signs

STOP: You must stop, and then give way to traffic approaching from the right or left.
GIVE WAY: Slow down; Stop if traffic is approaching from right or left, and give way to all traffic including those opposite if you are turning left.

What does a solid yellow line mean?

You must not pass another moving vehicle where a solid yellow line appears on your side of the center line.

Courteous Driving

You may be unfamiliar with the roads or simply being cautious. Don't hold up other traffic as this can cause other drivers to take risks. When it is safe to do so, pull off the road to allow other cars to pass.   

Country Driving       

Country roads can have hidden hazards. Be on the lookout for loose stones, ice and single-lane bridges. When you reach a scenic attraction, you MUST NOT drive and look at the same time. NEVER stop on a corner, no matter how tempting the view. Look out for livestock being herded along the roads, proceed very slowly.   

What to do in an Accident   

Stop and check if anyone has been injured. Give what practical help you can and call an ambulance. If Police Officers have not attended the accident, and injury is involved, you must contact the Police within 24 hours. If the accident involves damage to property (e.g. a farmer's fence) and the owners cannot be located, contact the Police within 48 hours  Fill in an accident report form. Include the name, address, vehicle registration number and insurance company of any other person involved. For your protection, you should not admit liability under any circumstances. Immediately notify the rental car company.