Five road rules you’re probably getting wrong

Moving Well | Jade Thrupp | Posted on 03 April 2019

The most commonly misunderstood road rules explained.

So you think you’re a great driver? You might be able to power through a P-turn and parallel park like a pro, but how well do you really know the road rules? There are more than 500 pages of them and as RACV’s resident road rules expert, senior engineer roads and traffic Emily McLean has trawled through every page. Here she explains five road rules many of us are getting wrong. 


What you’re doing wrong: 

If you’ve ever merged onto a freeway, fuming that the non-merging drivers won’t let you in, you’re not alone. But you might be one of the many drivers getting this rule wrong.

A miniature toy car is pushed along a table alongside toy traffic signs.

What’s the rule? 

Emily explains there are two different rules depending on the line markings, but that drivers should show courtesy regardless of the lines on the road. “A ‘zip-merge’ occurs when two lanes of traffic join and there’s no dashed line. Here, the vehicle in front would go first, regardless of whether they’re on the left or right.” 

Where the vehicles cross a dashed line, like on a freeway entry ramp, the vehicle crossing the line must give way to cars already in the lane.


What you’re doing wrong: 

If, like most people, you think when you enter a roundabout you need to give way to the right, that’s not the rule.

What’s the rule: 

As it turns out, roundabouts are actually quite straightforward. “You need to give way to any vehicle already in the roundabout and any trams entering or approaching the roundabout,” Emily says. “In most cases those vehicles already in the roundabout will be on your right. However, in some cases, such as smaller roundabouts, vehicles that have entered to the left or on the opposite side of the roundabout may mean you cannot safety enter and have to give way, as they are already in the roundabout.” 

And when exiting the roundabout, Emily explains that you should indicate, just as you would at an intersection.


What you’re doing wrong: 

Like roundabouts, the rules concerning U-turns are quite simple but leave many drivers perplexed. “People often write in assuming that, when making a U-turn, they don’t have to give way to drivers turning left out of a slip lane or side street,” Emily says. 

What’s the rule: 

“The simple rule for U-turns is give way to everyone,” says Emily. “No exceptions.” 

Turning on a multi-lane road   

What you’re doing wrong: 

Line markings on multi-lane roads are another common cause of confusion for drivers making turns. “People often don’t realise that the line marking on the road indicates which lanes they can turn into, or if they must turn into a specific lane,” Emily says.

What’s the rule? 

Essentially, if you are travelling in a lane with arrows painted on the road, you must travel in the direction shown by the arrows and you must follow any line markings indicating how the turn is to be made. But, Emily explains, “If there are no line markings, you can turn into any lane. In most cases, it’s safest to just stay in the same lane and change lanes once you’ve made the turn.” 

Passing a stationary tram

What you’re doing wrong: 

Most of us know we’re supposed to stop at the rear of a stationary tram to let passengers get on and off safely. But what about if there are no passengers about, is it okay to creep forward alongside the stationary tram? 

What’s the rule:

Whether drivers need to stop before passing depends on whether or not the tram is stopped at a safety zone, explains Emily. 

“If a tram is stopped in a safety zone, a driver must drive to the left of the safety zone at a speed that is safe for pedestrians who may be crossing the road,” she says. 

‘If it’s stationed at a tram stop without a safety zone, a driver must always stop before passing the rear of the tram. Once the doors have closed and there are no pedestrians crossing the road, you can drive past the tram at 10 kilometres per hour or slower.’ 

A good rule of thumb is to proceed with caution. “Remember pedestrians might be in a rush for the tram and can suddenly appear,” Emily says.

And one most of us are getting right … 

Reversing out of driveways 

Among the stream of queries and questions Emily receives, every so often someone will write in insisting that it’s illegal to reverse out of a driveway. “People are adamant about it,” Emily says. “We get a letter about it at least once every six months.”

What’s the rule: 

This one is a bit of an anomaly, says Emily. Simply stated: it’s not a road rule. Drivers are permitted to reverse out of the driveway. “Maybe it’s an old rule and that’s what people were taught? But I haven’t got to the bottom of this one.”

Image: Getty Images