DRIVING IN AUSTRALIA
If coming from a country where you drive on the right hand side of the road, the first thing that will shock you is that we don't have a steering wheel on the driver's side of the vehicle. Walk around to the other side of the car, and slip behind the wheel on what you would consider the 'passenger side'. There you go. Step one successfully completed. Don't let yourself be taken aback when you see oncoming vehicles with no apparent driver, the driver is likely on the other side of the car.
When you reach your first corner, you will quickly notice - in a heart racing moment - that the windscreen wipers and the turn signals are reversed. This exlains why new arrivals to our country always have such sparkling clean 'windshields'... by the way, we call them windscreens.
When entering a stream of traffic, be sure to turn your head in the opposite direction to which you normally check for oncoming vehicles. Overlooking this small but important difference can have lasting repercussions on your enjoyment of our great country. On highways and motorways, remember that our slow lane is located on the left hand side. Failure to recognize this will certainly result in exposure to some rather colourful Australian slang.
Australia adopted the metric system in 1974, and our speed signs are posted in kilometres per hour. Attempts to convince a police officer that you believed the large '100' sign gave you permission to drive at 100 miles per hour... will fail. Just as attempts by one Cairns Unlimited team member to convince a South Carolina State Trooper that he assumed the sign on Interstate Highway 95 was a speed sign... also failed.
That same hapless Cairns Unlimited member (who shall remain nameless) also learnt a valuable lesson in Australian seat belt regulations, when relieved of $100 for allowing a passenger to not wear a seat belt. Yes, it is the driver's responsibility to ensure that all passengers are safely belted. Otherwise, the passenger and the driver will both pay a fine, and the driver will lose three points off his twelve point driving licence.
If coming from the United States, where the concept of large, raised concrete circles in the middle of intersections hasn't really caught on yet, your first approach to an Australian roundabout could be a real adventure. First, take stock of which side of the road you're driving on. That means you enter the roundabout to your left, and travel in a clockwise direction. BUT! Be sure to give way to all traffic already on the roundabout, that is, the traffic which will be approaching you from the right. Oncoming drivers, accustomed to our roundabout culture, will not expect you to lurch out in front of them, and will likely only stop if the impact of their vehicle and yours draws them to a halt.
Single lane roundabouts are a piece of cake, really. Once you've navigated one, you're an expert. But double lane or multi lane roundabouts can put the fear of God into even the hardiest Australian motorist. It's not unheard of for vehicles to circumnavigate large multi lane roundabouts dozens times, while the anxious driver searches for some safe access route to exit. Just make sure you have enough fuel to cover this eventuality.
Another little recognized phenomenon about driving in Australia is that our north and south are back to front from the northern hemisphere. Thatis to say, of course, that our winter sun arcs across the northern sky. If coming from the US or Europe, you might want to remind yourself not to try to navigate by the sun. And when you do find that you've driven for four hours in completely the wrong direction, you'll be thankful of that upcoming roundabout for making the inevitable Uturn. And be thankful that we don't have the sort of wild, amusement park style roundabouts that can be found in several parts of the UNITED KINGDOM.
Now, in many countries - and in some places in Australia - it is acceptable to make an 'inside turn' (that is, a turn where you don't cross the lane of traffic, which in our case would be a left hand turn) from a red light. Not so in Queensland. You must wait patiently for the light to turn green, unless specifically signed otherwise.
Oh, and don't be too reckless with the use of your car horn. We know that countries like Italy and Spain, and a number of DEVELOPING COUNTRIES it is customary to sound your horn for pretty much any reason, this behaviour is unacceptable in Australia. Legitimate reasons for sounding your horn on our roads include: warning another driver of a potentially dangerous situation (specifically if they are about to collide with you); alerting large roadside wildlife of your approach, which is generally fruitless; and signalling your appreciation of a particularly attractive pedestrian. In all other cases, resist the temptation to sound your horn.
Lastly, if you've been drinking, don't drive. The legal blood alcohol level is .05, which is reached by consuming two (285 millilitres) 'pots' of beer in one hour. Take a taxi.