6 Road Rules You're Probably Breaking

5 May 2016
You may think you’re a great driver. After all, you’ve been driving for years – it’s all those other idiots on the road who cause problems. Well, today we’re tackling that myth.

In March 2016 alone, 112 people were killed in traffic accidents on Australia’s roads, according to the national bureau for transport (BITRE, 2016).  The vast majority of these people were drivers, passengers, or motorbike riders. There were also a shocking number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed on our roads. Each of these people had family and friends who will grieve their loss.

Thankfully, the numbers of road deaths has decreased by 29% over the past decade (BITRE, 2014). But to Canstar, 112 people lost on the road is still too many.

So we’ve taken the data from industry experts such as RACQ and the Department of Transport in each state and territory, and collated a list of the most commonly-broken road rules that can cause accidents. We’ve also listed the fines and demerit points you would face if you were caught out doing the wrong thing (in NSW specifically, under the Road Rules 2014).

1. Both hands on the wheel at all times

We’ve seen an amazing variety in the ways people steer their vehicles. One-handed, half-handed, using the palm of one hand, using a single finger, or even no-handed using the knees. None of these methods are effective in an emergency situation.

What the law is

You must keep both hands on the wheel at all times unless changing gears or indicating. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving an automatic or a manual – the law is the same across Australia.

At all times, keep your hands at the 9 and 3 position. When turning the wheel, shuffle your hands so that you don’t end up tangled with one arm over the other.

Do not grip the steering wheel from behind. The back of your hand should be facing you when your hand is on the wheel.

Also, you cannot have anything between you and the wheel, whether that’s a baby, dog, cat, or bag of chips.

Why should we do this?

If you consider a car crash, you’ll understand why this is important. First, your ability to swerve your vehicle accurately – to get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, or out of the path of an out-of-control pram – depends on you having a firm grip with both hands on the wheel.

Secondly, ever since the airbag was invented, people have been breaking their wrists and arms by having them in odd positions when the airbag activates. Paramedics say that because of the force of the airbag, the bone fragments from your wrists and arms can then end up lodged in strange and life-threatening places of your body.

Finally, if you are gripping the steering wheel from behind rather than gripping it normally from in front, the airbag can dislocate your shoulder, making it very difficult for you to get out of the car.

What it would cost you?

Fine of $425 to $531 depending on the situation, and 3 to 4 demerit points depending on the situation.

2. Indicate when changing lanes, merging, or using roundabouts

Not indicating when merging or changing lanes is a pretty easy way to get your car written off. Not indicating on roundabouts is another good one.

What the law is

Indicate left when exiting a roundabout. Indicate left if you are taking the first exit of a roundabout, since this is effectively the same as turning left. Indicate right when turning right or doing a U-turn on the roundabout, then indicate left to exit. Do not indicate when going straight, but still indicate left to exit.

Why should I do this?

If other drivers, pedestrians and bicycle riders don’t know where you’re going, they cannot avoid you easily and safely. After one accident, a paramedic friend told me they had to scoop certain body parts of a motorbike rider up off the road, so the surgeons could reattach them later. The motorbike had not indicated that he would be changing lanes, so someone else merged into that lane at the same time and took him out. (If that story doesn’t make you indicate more carefully, nothing will.)

What it would cost you?

Fine of $177 and 2 demerit points.

3. Keep a safe distance from the car in front

What is a “safe distance” from the car in front? Do you know how far back to be? Frankly, I don’t think many people do. Until I began taking the train, my morning commute was filled with people tailgating my car – and I’m not a slow driver, either.

What the law is

A safe distance depends on the conditions. Drivers should have 3 seconds between their car and the car in front. If you’re driving in rain, gravel, or dim lighting, make that 4 seconds.

Executive director of NSW’s Centre for Road Safety, Bernard Carlon, says most drivers don’t follow this because they think it is excessive. So why is it necessary?

Why should I do this?

Research shows it takes 1.5 seconds for the driver to react to a hazard appearing, and another 1.5 seconds to respond by braking. Drivers simply cannot prevent a crash if they have less space in front of them.

What it would cost you?

Fine of $425 and 3 demerit points.

4. Keep left over 80km/hr

Drivers are often confused about when they need to keep left, and we all know that confusion leads to people simply not trying to follow the rule at all.

What the law is

Drivers must keep left when the speed limit is more than 80km/hr, unless they are overtaking, turning right, avoiding an obstacle, or driving in a special purpose lane. Some states such as NSW also allow you to drive in the right hand lane if you are stuck in congested traffic.

And in case you didn’t know, you cannot go over the speed limit even when you are overtaking. Speeding is never allowed.

Why should I do this?

Keeping left is partly a safety matter and partly a courtesy matter. Keeping left means faster drivers – hopefully not speeding drivers – can overtake you when necessary, preventing hazards and road rage accidents.

What it would cost you?

Fine of $248 to $319 depending on situation, and 2 to 3 demerit points depending on situation.

5. Don’t go mobile – Bluetooth is no excuse

It’s been the law for a long time that you simply cannot touch your mobile phone while you are in your car. But so many people still do it that the state governments in most states and territories of Australia have been on a crack-down campaign to train people out of this fatal habit.

What the law is

You cannot touch your mobile phone at any time while in control of a vehicle. This means when you are in the driver’s seat and the keys are in the ignition. The vehicle’s engine does not have to be running and the vehicle does not have to be moving. Contrary to what most people appear to think, a mobile phone cannot be used when you’re stopped in traffic or sitting at a red light.

And you can’t say, “It’s on Bluetooth, it’s all good.” Using hands-free doesn’t make it distraction-free. Bluetooth users are 4 times more likely to cause a car crash that puts them in hospital (Queensland Police and QUT).

If you are using a Bluetooth system to use your mobile phone while driving, your mobile phone must be secured in a holder, and the phone must be voice-activated. But if you have to touch the phone at all, whether that’s to turn on Bluetooth, end a call, make a call, or adjust your mobile phone holder, then you’ve broken the law. There are very few phones even now that are capable of being fully voice-activated to do these things, and that means most people who touch a mobile phone in the car are breaking the law.

Why should I do this?

The fact is that “driver distraction” is one of the main causes of accidents (Queensland Police and QUT). Doing something other than driving with your hands is the cause of 71% of truck accidents, 22% of car crashes, and 46% of near misses reported to police.

What it would cost you?

Fine of $319 to $425 depending on the situation, and 4 demerit points, with double demerits.

6. Fog lights – turn ’em off

Using headlights and fog lights – is it okay to use them if you’re just driving to the shops for the morning grocery run?

What the law is

High beams may not be used if your car is less than 200 metres away from another vehicle, whether that vehicle is driving in front of you in the same direction, or coming towards you.

Fog lights may only be used if driving in fog, mist, or extreme rain that restricts all other visibility. If you live in low-lying or coastal areas, we’re thinking that means you probably never have an excuse to use your fog lights.

Many European cars come with the fog lights attached to your ordinary lights, so you’ll need to turn them off manually. If you don’t know how to turn them off, contact your car’s manufacturer. Their phone number will be in your user manual or on Google.

Why should I do this?

If you’ve ever driven towards an oncoming truck with its fog lights blaring from cabin to exhaust, you already know how difficult it is to stay in your lane when your vision is obscured. On a dark country road, coming around a corner, the results could be disastrous.

What it would cost you?

Fine of $106 and 1 demerit point.

Think you know your road rules? Take the Quiz

Think you’re pretty well covered on the road rules we’ve mentioned? You might be surprised at the other rules you’ve forgotten since you left your L plates behind!

Take this quiz designed by the Department of Transport, SA, at mylicence.sa.gov.au. There are a couple of questions that talk about South Australia, but these questions use the same rules that apply in most states and territories of Australia, so it’s still a good test no matter where you live and drive.

Other places to go for a road rules refresher for your state or territory are:

What if I do have an accident?

What you’re covered for depends on the type of car insurance you have. For example, comprehensive car insurance can help you repair your car, while CTP or Green Slip will only help you repair someone else’s car. Let’s do a quick refresher on the insurance you need.

CTP (Compulsory Third Party) / Green Slip

  • Required by law in all states and territories.
  • Covers you for compensation claims if you injure or kill someone in a motor vehicle accident. Specific conditions vary from state to state.
  • No cover for cost of repairs to your car or the other driver’s car, or any other property damaged in the accident.

Third Party Property

  • Optional.
  • Covers you for damage to other people’s vehicles and property, as well as legal costs involved, typically up to $20 million.
  • No cover for damage to your car if an accident is your fault.

Third Party, Fire and Theft

  • Optional.
  • Covers you for damage to other people’s vehicles and property, as well as legal costs involved, typically up to $20 million.
  • Covers you for damage or loss to your car caused by fire or theft.
  • No cover for damage to your car if an accident is your fault.


  • Optional.
  • Liability cover for damage to other people’s vehicles and property, typically up to $20 million.
  • This is the only type of policy that covers you for accidental damage to your car, regardless of who caused the accident.
  • Covers you for damage to other people’s vehicles and property, as well as legal costs involved, typically up to $20 million.
  • New-for-old replacement is available with some insurance providers if your car is written off within its first 2 years.
  • A 2-wheel trailer attached to your car may also be covered for accidental damage, depending on your insurance provider.
  • Optional cover is usually available for emergency roadside assistance and towing.
  • No cover if you were intoxicated (drunk or high on drugs) at the time of the accident.
  • No cover if someone else was driving your car and they are not listed on your policy as a “nominated driver” (with most insurance providers).

So are you covered? If not, the comparison table below displays some of the policies currently available on Canstar’s database for a 30-39 year old male seeking cover in NSW without cover for an extra driver under 25. Please note the table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest) followed by provider name (alphabetical) and features links direct to the providers’ website. Use Canstar’s car insurance comparison selector to view a wider range of policies.

Photo: iStock | Holger Mette