A guide to understanding Australian road and traffic signs
We’re lucky to have so much freedom to travel by car in Australia. However, to keep our daily travels and longer road trips safe, we need to understand road signs. Essentially, traffic signs are there to help us follow Australian road rules, and they’re designed to keep both drivers and pedestrians safe on the roads.
There are national guidelines for Australian road signs, meaning they’re similar no matter which state you’re driving in. But states and even local councils can use less-common signs for traffic conditions unique to their area.
In Australia, there are three main types of road sign: Regulatory, Warning and Information. In this article we’ll explore what they mean, and also provide you some unique state-by-state tips for your holiday driving.
Regulatory road signs are perhaps the most important because they relate to specific road rules. You can usually identify a regulatory sign by its colour. Most feature either red or black text on a white background. Keep an eye out for these signs, because if you don’t obey them, you can be fined or even have your licence suspended or cancelled. Here are some of the most common regulatory signs.
- Speed signs: These warn drivers of the maximum speed you can drive. They’re in place for everyone’s safety and ignoring them can result in heavy fines. Pay special attention to road works areas, as the speed limit usually decreases for the safety of workers.
- School zones: The common Australian speed limit in a school zone during peak drop off and pick up hours is 40km/h. However, in some states, there are a few variations. Victoria, for example, follows the rule of a 40km/h speed limit in a school zone during peak times; only if the assigned speed limit out of school hours is less than 80km/h. If the speed limit out of peak school hours is higher than 80km/h, then the school speed zone during drop off and pick up times is displayed as 60km/h.
- In South Australia, the school zone speed limit is 25km/h at any time there is a child present in the area. Pay special attention to these signs, as the speed limit only applies during certain hours of the day.
- Stop signs: This means you must come to a complete stop and give way to all traffic. There’s no excuse for missing it because it’s a big red sign with white letters.
- Give Way: These signs mean you don’t need to completely stop if there’s no traffic. You do, however, need to be ready to stop. So, you should always approach a give way sign with caution.
- Traffic flow signs: There are several road signs to help control the safe flow of traffic. These include restricted turn signs, ‘Keep Left’, ‘One Way’ and ’Two Way’ signs and ‘No Entry’.
- Parking Signs: If you don’t want costly fines from parking inspectors, you need to follow these signs. ‘No Parking’ means exactly what it says. ‘No Standing’ means that you can’t even stop there for a short amount of time. There are also restricted zone signs for buses, taxis or loading zones.
- Clearways: A clearway is a dedicated no-parking area during peak times of the day. You may see cars parked there at other times, but only during the hours stated on the sign.
Warning signs are in place to warn you of an upcoming hazard or road condition that requires some extra caution. While not giving any mandatory instruction, these signs are in place for everybody’s safety and should always be taken seriously. Warning signs will usually be yellow with black writing.
- Permanent warning signs: These signs let you know about upcoming conditions. It could be winding roads, sharp turns, livestock or wildlife warnings, traffic lights or any other condition that requires attention.
- Temporary warning signs: Temporary road signs alert drivers of a temporary hazard. This might be fallen rocks or trees, roadworks, floods, or other road incidents like crashes. Keep an eye out for temporary warning signs advising of upcoming lane closures, so you have plenty of time to merge.
Information signs make it much easier for us to get around as safely and easily as possible.
- Speed cameras: Most states display warnings where there are speed cameras in use, especially permanent 24 -hour cameras.
- Speed ahead: These white and black signs warn you of a change in speed ahead, giving you a chance to start slowing down.
- Guides and route markers: Particularly helpful for long journeys, these signs tell us where to exit highways and freeways. Route markers are also in place to direct us onto major driving routes like highways and tourist drives.
When driving in a new area, it’s extremely important to follow all road signs. However, some states have some unique signs you might not see every day in your hometown.
For example, one of the most confusing road rules Victoria has is the ‘hook-turn’. You may also see these ‘Right Turn from Left Lane’ signs in parts of Queensland. Basically, it means to turn right, you need to wait in the far left-hand lane until the light changes or traffic is clear.
Queensland also has some unique signs to watch out for. Under QLD road rules you’ll see ‘Through Traffic Keep Left’ signs, meaning you must be in the left lane if driving through an intersection.
In NSW and the ACT, keep an eye out for ‘No Stopping’ and ‘No Standing’ signs. These are much the same and can be used interchangeably to make sure that a vehicle does not stop at any time, in the signed area.
For drivers approaching roundabouts in Western Australia, watch for their ‘Roundabout Directional Lane’ signs used at larger roundabouts with multiple exits.
For more information on the road signs in each individual state, you can find the links below.
- New South Wales
- Northern Territory
- South Australia
- Western Australia
Safety on the roads is everybody’s responsibility. By staying alert and following all Australian road and traffic signs, you can do your part to make the roads a safer place.
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25 Nov 2020