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Driving in New Zealand – Road Safety Tips

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Driving in the South Island of New Zealand can be a new experience for some drivers – especially if you are an international visitor. At times our roads can be very quiet, which makes it all the more easier to revert to driving on the wrong side of the road, cut corners or get caught out by one lane bridges. What’s more you may come across livestock on the road or find yourself abruptly on an unsealed gravel road.

With these factors in mind, we have put together some information that will assist you when driving in and around Canterbury.

Are you coming to New Zealand on vacation and hiring a car, RV, motorhome or campervan? These 66 questions are the essential Road Code rules you need to know to help keep yourself safe on NZ’s roads.  Click here and take the quiz.


Keep Left

Driving in New Zealand is done on the left hand side of the road. Please make sure you’re confident about driving on the left hand side of the road before you commit yourself to a self-drive holiday.


The Climate in this region is extreme – ranging from sizzling hot summers to cold winters.  Driving conditions will vary depending on the season of your visit. It’s most important to understand a little bit about our roads, rules and regulations prior to your visit.  Road chains will often be needed in winter when driving over the Mountain Passes e.g.; Burkes Pass between Geraldine and Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Rental Cars

It’s important to ensure the vehicle you rent is tuned for driving in this region. Check for the following:
  • Air conditioning for summer driving
  • Road chains for winter driving
  • Tires with good tread
  • Warrant of Fitness – 3 months old maximum
  • Current registration
  • Road maps

Speed Limit

Speeding fines are very high for driving in excess of the speed limit.
  • Open Roads = 100kmph
  • Most Urban Roads = 50kmph
These limits are strictly enforced and large fines are imposed. Anyone caught driving at more than 50 km/h over the speed limit is immediately disqualified from driving. If you drive while disqualified the Police will impound your vehicle.

Driver Licenses

Anyone holding a Visitor’s Permit, who has a current international driving permit, or a current drivers license issued from another country, can drive here under their permit/license for 1 year from the first date they enter New Zealand.


Main roads in New Zealand may often be narrower than an international visitor is used to.  The undulations coupled with the angle of the sun and the fact that we drive on the left hand side of the road can make driving here very different from driving in another country.
State Highway 79 has a one way bridge just north of Geraldine that motorists need to be aware of, please follow the instructions on the signs to give way correctly.
For your own safety stick to the sign posted speed limits. Bus and camper vans are common on this route. Keep an eye out for the increasing number of cyclists using this road.

Seat Belts

New Zealand law requires everyone in a car regardless of where they are sitting to wear a safety belt.

Wandering Livestock

Farming is the largest industry in Waitaha/Canterbury. Drivers need to be alert to the possibility of wandering livestock on the roads.  If you encounter Livestock, SLOW DOWN, immediately, pull over and be ready to stop if necessary. Don’t sound your horn or make a noise to frighten them. When a farmer is present, follow their directions. If you see wandering stock on the road and there is no farmer around, go to the nearest house and tell them. If there are stock on the road that are being moved, there will be signage to alert you before you encounter them.

Drinking and Driving

Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a very serious offence in New Zealand.  Those caught face Criminal Court action and a penalty, fine or imprisonment. The safest limit is not to drink at all if you are driving.

Driver Fatigue

Much of the Waitaha/Canterbury road network is changeable, from long straight passages of road to narrow winding areas, this may cause a trip to take longer than expected.  Preventing Fatigue:
  • Get a good nights sleep before leaving on a trip
  • Never fight fatigue, if you are tired pull over and stop
  • Take regular breaks
  • Plan an overnight stay on a longer journey
  • Never drive more than 6-8hours in a day
  • If possible, share the driving
  • Avoid driving at night
  • Eat well balanced meals and drink water regularly during your trip.

Keep in mind that there are great places to stop along any of New Zealand’s roads, so take your time, grab a cup of coffee along the way and drive safely-  we can’t wait to see you, so make sure you get here in one piece!  For New Zealand Road Rules view the latest road code.


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