Safe Driving in New Zealand

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While beautiful, New Zealand roads can be dangerous if not prepared, with conditions changing in very short notice.

Apex Car Rentals is committed to ensuring you have a safe and enjoyable driving holiday in New Zealand. Please make sure to read the Driving in New Zealand guide below or visit the DriveSafe website for further information.

DriveSafe Videos

You can also watch a short 6 minuite safe driving video from the following links:



It’s easy to underestimate travelling times in New Zealand.

Distances may seem short on paper, but New Zealand roads may be narrower than you’re used to, cover hilly terrain and vary from motorways (freeways) to unsealed gravel roads.

If you’re tired you’re much more likely to have a crash. Here are some tips to help you stay alert.

  • Get plenty of rest before a long drive.
  • Take a break from driving every two hours.
  • If possible, share the driving with someone else.
  • Avoid large meals and drink plenty of fluid.
  • If you begin to feel sleepy, stop at a safe place and try to have a short sleep for up to 40 minutes.
  • If you’re feeling very tired, find a place to stay overnight.
  • New Zealand has beautiful, spectacular scenery. If you stop to view or photograph it never stop on the road. Always pull off the road to a safe area.


If you are relying on a GPS for navigation, plan and map your route before you start driving.Front seat passengers can help the driver by operating the GPS and providing directions for them.


If you are arriving on a long-haul flight, consider staying overnight in that destination. That will ensure you are fresh and ready for the drive ahead.


It’s easy to underestimate New Zealand driving times. Take plenty of breaks and give yourself additional travel time to rest, eat, and stretch your legs. Plan to drive for only 1 - 2 hours at a time to break up your journey.

Rest Area

Rest Area Sign
New Zealand roads have plenty of rest areas in more remote regions. You can spot them coming up with this sign.


Snow and ice can make roads even ;more hazardous, particularly around mountain passes. Rental vehicle companies will often supply chains if you’re likely to be driving in these conditions – make sure you know how to fit them before setting out.

Winter Driving

Slippery Surface Ahead Sign
Look out for this slippery surface sign in wet or icy conditions – slow down and avoid braking suddenly.


Avoid unsealed roads if possible. If you need to drive on them, remember they can be very narrow. Reduce your speed and slow down even further when approaching bends, corners or oncoming traffic (as dust could obscure your vision and loose stones could chip your windscreen).

Gravel Road

Gravel Road Sign
Hard braking can result in the car sliding off the road out of control. A maximum safe speed is no more than 50 km/hr and you will need to slow to 30 km/hr or less for bends and down hill. Many New Zealand roads have gravel verges, please make sure you do not get your wheels into these verges, you can very easily lose control.



All occupants of the vehicle must wear their safety belts, this includes all children. By law, everyone in the vehicle must wear a safety belt or child restraint – whether they’re in the front or back.

It is law in New Zealand that all children under the age of seven or 148cm remain in a child seat or booster seat at all times while travelling in the vehicle for their own safety.


Don’t drink or use drugs and then drive – the laws against this are strictly enforced in New Zealand and penalties are severe.


In New Zealand you may not turn left at an intersection when the traffic signals are red.


Drivers must not use a hand-held mobile phone when driving, unless the device is completely hands-free or mounted securely to the vehicle – and touched infrequently and briefly. Writing, reading or sending text messages on a mobile phone while driving is also illegal.


Cyclists have the same rights as drivers on New Zealand roads. Always slow down near cyclists, pass slowly and only when safe, and try to leave a space of 1.5 metres. Indicate in plenty of time and respect cycle lanes.


In general, if you’re turning, give way to all vehicles that are not turning. Always use your indicator when turning. Please be very careful at all road junctions and roundabouts, correct use of traffic lanes and signalling is essential.

Give Way

Give Way Sign
This sign indicates that you must give way to any oncoming traffic unless you have enough time to safely proceed.


In New Zealand we drive on the left hand side of the road. Please keep left at all times. If you drive on the right side of the road in your own country, please remember to keep left when pulling out onto the road – it’s easy to forget where you are!

Wrong Way

Wrong Way Sign
Take special care at complex intersections or motorway on ramps – look out for ‘WRONG WAY’ signs!


Be aware of speed limits and adjust your speed to under the posted speed limit at all times. New Zealand has narrow, hilly, winding roads. At times you may need to drive at a slower speed due to road, weather or traffic conditions.

Open Road

Open road Sign
This sign indicates the default rural speed limit of 100km/h applies but the road is unlikely to be suitable to travel at that speed. You may need to drive at a slower speed.

100km Road Sign

100km Speed Limit Sign
On most of New Zealand's main rural roads, the speed limit is 100km/h unless a sign says a lower speed applies. The speed limit is generally 100km/h on motorways.

50km Road Sign

50km Speed Limit Sign
In urban areas, the speed limit is usually 50km/h unless a sign says otherwise.

35km Corner Sign

35km Corner Speed Limit Sign
You will notice recommended maximum speed limits for some corners. You must not go around the corner exceeding this limit.

Excessive speed is not tolerated by the NZ Police. If Apex or the Police receive reports of such behaviour from other road users, the Police will stop you and the car may be taken off you with no replacement car and no refund.


Most roads in New Zealand have a single lane each way, and some provide passing lanes at regular intervals – these should be used where possible when overtaking. You must not cross a solid yellow line on your side of the centre line to pass a vehicle, as this indicates it’s too dangerous to overtake.

Try and keep overtaking to an absolute minimum, this manoeuvre accounts for a significant number of vehicle accidents.

Dangerous overtaking is not tolerated by the NZ Police. If Apex or the Police receive reports of such behaviour from other road users, the Police will stop you and the car may be taken off you with no replacement car and no refund.

Passing lane

Passing Lane Ahead Sign
New Zealand has periodical passing lanes on its state highways, these are signed posted in advance. It is always better to wait for one of those so you can pass as safely as possible.


A number of roads in New Zealand have one-lane bridges where vehicles travelling in one direction must give way to vehicles going in the other direction. Any of the signs below show that you are approaching a one-lane bridge. Slow down and check for traffic coming the other way. The smaller red arrow shows which direction has to give way.

Give Way

Give Way Sign
This sign show you must give way to traffic coming the other way across the bridge.

Right of Way

Give Way Sign
This sign indicates that you must give way to any oncoming traffic unless you have enough time to safely proceed.


Watch out for farm animals on the road, particularly in rural areas. When you see them, slow down and do not sound your horn – it may startle them. You may need to stop and let the animals go past or move slowly up behind and follow the farmer's instructions.

Animals on the Road

Animals Ahead Sign
In some areas it's common for animals to cross the road. When you see the following sign be prepared to slow down.


In New Zealand, you can be fined or towed away for parallel parking on the wrong side of the road. You may only park in the direction of traffic flow on your side of the road (ie on the left side) unless it is a one-way street. You cannot park on the side of the road if there are yellow dashed lines.

No Parking

No Parking Sign
This sign indicates that you cannot park in the area around the sign.


Only half of New Zealand’s 1500 public rail crossings have automatic alarms. If red lights are flashing, stop and only proceed once the lights have stopped flashing.

Railway Crossing

Railway Crossing Sign
Other crossings have railway crossing and give way or stop signs only. When you see a stop sign at a crossing, stop and only cross the track if there are no trains approaching. When you see a give way sign, slow down and be ready to stop and only cross the track if there are no trains approaching.


This guide is available in English, and has also been translated for the following languages that you can download separately below: