Differences between driving in New Zealand and elsewhere

In many, even most, ways driving in New Zealand is a lot like driving anywhere else but there are a few surprises here.

Driving on the left
The biggest difference that you will encounter, at least if you come from the US, Continental Europe or anywhere else where folks get it wrong, is that in NZ people generally drive on the left hand side of the road.

This is not always the case, tourists sometimes forget, and drunks and fifteen year olds driving high powered Japanese sports saloons often have little control over such things. Add in the all too frequent over ambitious overtaking attempt and you can see that, even if you always keep to the left, you cannot rule out being involved in a head on collision.

Young Drivers
In New Zealand, a fifteen year old can get a driving licence. There is also no requirement for formal training as seen in countries such as Germany; instead, a young person can be taught by anyone who has a full licence.

The effect of licensing young people to drive under supervision is compounded by the general New Zealand attitude the everything will work out OK which leads to young people ignoring the restrictions on their licences and driving around on their own or with their friends as passengers.

In New Zealand, you do not need to have car insurance. Yeah, read that once again, slowly, it's true. Combine that with the young driving age and the availability of cheap used Japanese imports and you can see how it is that a 15 year old can get behind the wheel of a 300bhp Evo and kill himself, several of his friends and you.

There is a state run scheme, known as the ACC which will in theory provide you with compensation if you are badly hurt in a crash but you would be wrong to think that this means that being driven into by an uninsured driver will cover all of your losses, it will not.

Most people will take out some form of motor insurance - especially if they are driving a car worth enough money to hurt them should it be damaged, destroyed or stolen.

Priorite a droit
Of course, if you drive on the left, priorite a droit makes no sense at all but New Zealand has it anyway in a unique form that is designed to bamboozle the uninitiated. You are driving along a road and there is a side road off to your left. You wish to take this turning. In the UK, you would just do it but in New Zealand it is not so simple. Suppose that there is a car on the same road as you but travelling in the opposite direction. Now if the driver of this car wants to turn right into that same side turning then he has priority over you.

This only applies if you are turning, if you are going straight ahead, then you have priority, if there are two or more lanes going in your direction then, if any cars are going straight ahead they have priority over the right turner coming the other way so you are OK to turn left without giving way to the car that wants to turn right because he is busy giving way to the car that is going straight on.

A variant of this rule also applies if you want to turn right into a sidestreet which itself has no giveway or stop sign. In this case, you must giveway to a vehicle that wants to exit the sidestreet and turn right in front of you.

In theory, this rule speeds up traffic flow by giving an opportunity to people turning right off a busy road. The contrary view is that it creates confusion and causes accidents. Every now and then a campaign is launched to get a referrendum on the subject.

In Europe, if you crash your car, the chances are that somebody else saw it happen and is calling the police to report it almost before the dust has settled. New Zealand has a much lower population density and if you crash outside the city, you may not be noticed for some time. If your car left the road and was hidden by bush or terrain in an area with no cell phone coverage, you might not be found for months. Bad luck indeed.

If you are driving in remote areas, it would be a good idea to make sure that somebody knew where you were going and when you intended to arrive so that there would be some chance of an alarm being raised and searchers looking in the right place.

Driving NZ The jpoc guide to Driving in New Zealand
New Zealand The main jpoc guide to New Zealand
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