Driving in New Zealand offers an incredible opportunity to explore the country’s stunning landscapes and diverse attractions. However, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable driving experience. In this article, we present 12 essential rules for driving in New Zealand. From understanding road signs and speed limits to navigating unique driving conditions, these guidelines will help you navigate the roads with confidence. Whether you’re a local or an international visitor, following these rules will contribute to a positive and memorable journey across the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand.

1. Drive on the Left Side of the Road

In New Zealand, vehicles drive on the left side of the road. This means that the driver’s seat is on the right-hand side of the vehicle, and overtaking is done on the right. As an international visitor, it’s crucial to adjust to this driving orientation to ensure safe and efficient traffic flow. Take extra care when turning at intersections and roundabouts, and always look in the correct direction for oncoming traffic. Familiarize yourself with left-hand driving before hitting the road to avoid any confusion or potential accidents.

2. Observe Speed Limits

Speed limits are strictly enforced in New Zealand to ensure road safety. The maximum speed limit on open roads is usually 100 km/h, while urban areas typically have speed limits ranging from 30 km/h to 60 km/h. In some areas, reduced speed limits may be in effect due to road conditions or specific zones. Pay attention to speed limit signs and adjust your driving accordingly. It’s important to drive at a safe and appropriate speed for the conditions, including adverse weather, winding roads, or heavy traffic.

3. Wear Seat Belts at All Times

Seat belts are mandatory for all occupants of a vehicle in New Zealand. Both the driver and passengers must wear seat belts or suitable restraints at all times while the vehicle is in motion. Ensure that everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained, including children who should be secured in age-appropriate car seats or booster seats. Seat belts significantly reduce the risk of injury or fatality in the event of a collision, so it’s crucial to prioritize the safety of yourself and your passengers by wearing seat belts correctly.

4. Give Way to the Right

In New Zealand, the general rule at intersections without traffic lights is to give way to vehicles approaching from your right. This means that if you arrive at an intersection simultaneously with another vehicle, the vehicle on your right has the right of way. Be attentive and look out for any signage or road markings indicating a give way or stop requirement. It’s important to exercise caution and always give way to oncoming traffic when entering an intersection to prevent accidents and ensure a smooth flow of traffic.

5. Follow Alcohol and Drug Laws

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is strictly prohibited in New Zealand. The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers aged 20 years and over is 50 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood (0.05%). For drivers under 20 years of age, the limit is zero. It’s important to refrain from consuming alcohol or drugs before driving, as impairment can significantly affect your judgment, reaction time, and ability to operate a vehicle safely. Be responsible and designate a sober driver or use alternative transportation if you plan to consume alcohol.

6. Use Hands-Free Devices for Mobile Phones

Using a mobile phone while driving without a hands-free device is illegal in New Zealand. It’s essential to prioritize your focus on the road and avoid distractions caused by mobile phone usage. If you need to make or receive a call, use a hands-free device or pull over in a safe and designated area to use your phone. Texting or reading messages while driving is also prohibited. By adhering to these rules, you contribute to a safer driving environment for yourself and others on the road.

7. Understand Roundabout

Etiquette Roundabouts are common in New Zealand, and understanding the correct etiquette is essential for smooth traffic flow. When approaching a roundabout, give way to vehicles already in the roundabout and wait for a safe gap before entering. Keep to the left lane if turning left or going straight ahead, and use the right lane if turning right or going straight ahead from the left lane. Signal your intentions to other road users by using your indicators. Be aware of pedestrians and cyclists when exiting the roundabout, and always obey any signage or road markings.

8. Be Prepared for Unpredictable Weather

New Zealand’s weather can be unpredictable, especially in mountainous or coastal areas. It’s crucial to be prepared for changing weather conditions and adjust your driving accordingly. Carry warm clothing, a waterproof jacket, and suitable footwear in case of adverse weather. Be cautious of icy or wet road surfaces and reduce your speed if necessary. Pay attention to any weather advisories or warnings and plan your journey accordingly. In extreme weather conditions, it may be necessary to postpone or modify your travel plans for safety reasons.

9. Stay Alert for Wildlife on the Road

New Zealand is known for its unique wildlife, and encountering animals on the road is not uncommon, especially in rural or forested areas. Be vigilant and watch out for wildlife, such as possums, rabbits, or birds, crossing the road. Reduce your speed if you spot animals nearby, as they may dart into your path unexpectedly. Take extra care at dawn or dusk when animals are more active. If it’s safe to do so, flash your headlights to warn other drivers of wildlife on the road. By staying alert, you can help protect wildlife and prevent accidents.

10. Keep Left on Single-Lane Bridges

In rural areas, you may come across single-lane bridges, especially in remote or scenic locations. When approaching a single-lane bridge, always give way to oncoming traffic and adhere to the “keep left” rule. If you notice a bridge sign indicating that you have right of way, proceed with caution but be prepared to yield if necessary. Exercise patience and communicate with other drivers using hand signals or indicators to coordinate passage on the bridge. This practice ensures a safe and efficient crossing for all road users.

11. Take Breaks and Rest When Fatigued

Long drives can be tiring, and driver fatigue poses a significant risk on the road. It’s crucial to take regular breaks, especially on extended journeys. Rest areas and scenic spots are conveniently located throughout New Zealand, providing opportunities to stretch your legs, have a snack, and rejuvenate. If you start feeling drowsy or fatigued, it’s essential to find a safe place to pull over and rest. Avoid pushing yourself to continue driving when you’re tired, as it impairs your concentration and reaction time. Your safety and the safety of others should always be the priority.

12. Respect Cyclists and Pedestrians

Cyclists and pedestrians share the roads in New Zealand, and it’s important to respect their rights and safety. Give cyclists ample space when passing and always check for approaching cyclists before opening car doors. Yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and zebra crossings, allowing them to cross safely. Be patient and considerate, especially in busy urban areas or tourist spots where foot traffic may be higher. By showing respect and awareness towards cyclists and pedestrians, you contribute to a harmonious coexistence on the roads and promote a safer environment for all road users.


Driving in New Zealand can be an exhilarating experience, allowing you to witness the country’s natural beauty and explore its diverse regions. By familiarizing yourself with these 12 essential rules for driving in New Zealand, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge and awareness necessary for a safe and enjoyable journey. Always drive on the left side of the road, adhere to speed limits, wear seat belts, and abstain from driving under the influence. Follow give way rules, respect roundabout etiquette, and be prepared for unpredictable weather and wildlife encounters. With these guidelines, you can confidently embark on your New Zealand driving adventure.