Most of us know our basic ABC of road rules and driving offences. Don’t speed. Wear a seatbelt. Leave your phone alone.
But did you know that waving goodbye to Gran while tooting your horn could cost you a whopping $724 in New South Wales?1 Or that up in sunny Queensland, tossing a can out of your car could attract an eye-watering $619 penalty?2 Meanwhile, over in South Australia, the seemingly harmless act of forgetting to switch off your indicator (who hasn’t been there?) could leave you $346 and two demerit points poorer.3
To help prevent your road habits from denting your bank balance (and potentially impacting your car insurance premiums), we’ve rounded up the most surprising driving offences across Australia, and asked Griffith University road safety expert Associate Professor Darren Wishart to explain the logic behind some little-known road rules.
“No matter how obscure or unnecessary a traffic offence might first appear to the average road user, it’s very rare that there’s a road rule in Australia that doesn’t carry some kind of safety implication,” says Dr Wishart.
Think before deciding to honk your horn in New South Wales
An inconsiderate driver cuts you off when switching lanes. Or nabs that park you’ve been patiently waiting for. Best not sound off about it in NSW. While every state and territory observes some version of Rule 224 of the Australian Road Rules – using horns and similar warning devices4 – hitting your horn unnecessarily in NSW carries a particularly loud fine of $362 three demerit points.1
“This rule is in place to prevent unnecessary use of horns that create potential for road rage and disputes, and distract from the correct functions of horns,” says a Transport for NSW spokesperson.
“Drivers are only permitted to use their vehicle’s horn when necessary to warn other road users or animals of the approach or position of the vehicle, or as part of an anti-theft or alcohol interlock device.”
Adds Dr Wishart: “If people honk the horn to express their dissatisfaction with other drivers, the likely scenario is that the other driver might respond aggressively. There are occasions when it has even resulted in death.”5
Other New South Wales driving offences you might not be aware of
- Increasing speed while being overtaken – 3 demerit points; $362 fine1
- Holding up traffic in the fast lane by not keeping left – 2 demerit points; $362 fine1
- Limb protruding from a vehicle – 3 demerit points; $362 fine1
Find a searchable list of traffic offences and fines in NSW here.6
Leaving your car parked with the windows down in Victoria
Think twice before cracking your windows on a steamy day in Victoria. You might wind up even hotter under the collar. That’s because, if you leave your parked car with the windows rolled down by more than 2cm in the Garden State,7 you could be up for an on-the-spot penalty of $192 for failing to secure your vehicle.8 Sound heavy-handed? It makes sense when you consider the bigger picture (and most Australian states and territories enforce similar laws).
“This legislation around vehicle security is primarily a crime prevention strategy and, while not directly a road safety issue, consider what often happens when a vehicle theft occurs. The offender drives in a risky manner with very little care about other motorists on the road,” says Dr Wishart.
Other Victorian driving offences you might not be aware of
- Cyclist failing to leave an intersection asap – $481 fine8
- Riding an electric scooter on a footpath – $192 fine8
For a complete list of traffic offences and fines in Victoria, visit the VicRoads website.
Driving a hire car with more than 7 passengers on K’gari in Queensland
If you get caught behind the wheel of a rental carrying more than seven passengers on South East Queensland’s K’gari (formerly Fraser Island), you’ll be in line for a fine of $464 and 3 demerit points.2 Same goes if that hire vehicle has your bags or camping equipment strapped to the roof. Driving offences don’t come much more specific than this. And for very good reason.
“This legislation was informed by the number of multi-passenger, rollover crashes that were occurring on K’gari,” says Dr Wishart.9
“As a World Heritage-listed tourist magnet, we were seeing many people hiring 4WD vehicles in larger groups without having any real training or education on how to drive on a beach. If you have a combination of driver inexperience in this environment and plenty of luggage on the roof rack, which raises the centre of gravity, there’s an increased risk of a crash resulting in multiple injuries or fatalities.”
Other Queensland driving offences you might not be aware of
- Using a mobile phone other than in a parked vehicle – 4 demerit points; $1,161 fine2
- Failing to give way to a bus leaving a bus stop – 3 demerit points; $278 fine2
- Depositing or dropping injurious matter on a road – 2 demerit points; $619 fine2
Find a full list of traffic offences and fines in Queensland here.
Getting roundabout lanes wrong in South Australia
Make sure to brush up on your roundabout rules in the Festival State. If you get rumbled entering a roundabout in the incorrect lane, not only do you risk a car accident, you could be up to $522 and three demerit points poorer.10 With roundabout confusion a common affliction country-wide, according to Dr Wishart, it could be time to revisit that driver’s handbook.11
“I’ve been running driver risk-management workshops for years and always start with three road rule questions about intersections and roundabouts. About 20% to 30% of every group gets it incorrect,” he estimates.
Other South Australian driving offences you might not be aware of
- Failing to cancel an indicator signal after turning – 2 demerit points; up to $346 fine10
- Causing hazard to a person or vehicle by opening a vehicle door, leaving a vehicle door open or getting in or out of a vehicle – 3 demerit points; $313 fine10
- Tailgating/failure to keep a safe distance behind other vehicles – 1 demerit point; $489 fine10
Find a full list of traffic offences and fines in South Australia here.
Driving with both headlights and fog lights on in Western Australia
Western Australia is no stranger to dust storms or heavy rains. But find yourself caught out driving in either on the road here and you’d be wise not to turn on your fog lights and headlights simultaneously. Driving a motor vehicle with both headlights and fog lights operating is an offence in WA and could earn you a fine of $100 and one demerit point.12
Other Western Australian driving offences you might not be aware of
- Failure to slow down to 40km/h when approaching a stationary ambulance attending an incident with flashing lights – 3 demerit points; $300 fine12
- Wilfully producing smoke/burnout – 3 demerit points; $100 fine13
Find a complete list of traffic offences and fines in WA here.
Leading an animal while driving in Tasmania
Tempted to take your dog for a walk while you take it easy behind the wheel in Tassie? Leading a recalcitrant horse home in a hurry? Think again on both counts. On the Apple Isle, leading or tethering an animal while driving a moving vehicle – or your passenger doing so – could earn you a fine of around $147.14
Other Tasmanian driving offences you might not be aware of
- Driver stopping in a taxi zone – approximately $98 fine15
- Driver stopping at side of the road with continuous yellow edge line – approximately $147 fine15
Find a complete list of traffic offences and fines in Tasmania here.
Looking at your passenger’s phone in the Northern Territory
Don’t be tempted by that friend sharing a funny photo in the NT. Or let your front seat passenger take a FaceTime call while you’re driving. Both could put you in the frame for a hefty fine of $500 and three demerit points.16 In line with other states, it’s illegal for a driver in the Top End to have a visual display unit screen or television receiver in their car if any part of the screen is visible to the driver.17 This anti-distraction rule applies to all screens that aren’t securely mounted and/or being used as driver’s aids.
Other Northern Territory driving offences you might not be aware of
- Failure to produce licence on request – $100 fine16
- Failure to obey yellow traffic light – $100 fine16
- Driving with an expired licence within two months of expiry – $200 fine16
Find a complete list of traffic offences and fines in the Northern Territory here.
Parking near a postbox in the ACT
As snail mail continues to lose social currency, you might be forgiven for not noticing that shiny red box beside your parked car.18 But that won’t get you off the hook for a $132 fine if you’re booked for stopping "near a postbox” in the ACT.19 This law is derived from the lesser-known Australian Road Rule that states: “A driver must not stop on a road within 3 metres of a public postbox”.4 The only exceptions are if you’re dropping off or picking up passengers or mail; or on a stretch of road governed by a parking control sign.4
Other Australian Capital Territory driving offences you might not be aware of
- Not removing the ignition key – $213 fine19
- Driving a motor vehicle with passenger body part outside vehicle window/door – $213 fine19
- Reversing a vehicle further than necessary – $213 fine19
Find a complete list of traffic offences and fines in ACT here.
Remember, the cleaner your driving record, the less risk you’re deemed to present out on the road, which could be a real benefit when getting a car insurance quote.
Note: Information in this article is relevant as of September 2023 and by its nature will change over time. Check relevant Government websites for updates if this information is important to you.
Article by guest writer Amanda Dardanis
1 Information provided by Transport for NSW, 15 August 2023. Rules and penalties valid in NSW as of this date.
2 Source: Qld Government – Demerit points schedule
3 Source: SA Police – Expiable Offences & Fees – Traffic 2023
4 Source: Australasian Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee – Australian Road Rules 2021
5 Source: 9News – Tamate Heke found guilty of unlawful striking causing death over road rage attack
6 Source: NSW Government – Search offences and penalties
7 Source: Vic Government – Road Safety Rules 2017
8 Source: Vic Government – Fines and Fees 2023-24
9 Source: news.com.au – Two boys flown to hospital after car rollover on K’Gari
10 Source: SA Police – Expiable Offences & Fees – Traffic 2023
11 Source: Government of SA – The Driver’s Handbook
12 Source: Government of WA – More road rules and penalties
13 Source: Government of WA – Driving offences (speeding, alcohol and traffic)
14 Source: Tas Government – Traffic Offences
15 Source: Tas Government – Traffic Offences – Full List
16 Source: NT Government – Traffic offences fines and demerit points
17 Source: Drive – Is it illegal to look at my passenger’s phone while driving?
18 Source: Guardian – No love for letters: Australia Post’s daily deliveries under review as traditional mail declines
19 Source: ACT Government – Road Transport (Offences) (July 2023)