Visitors to our car rental depots report they find driving in New Zealand a remarkably stress-free experience. Traffic volumes are generally low, the roads are well maintained and car rental is inexpensive. If you’re unfamiliar with our roads, make sure driving your car rental in New Zealand is safe and enjoyable with our safe driving tips.
We highly recommend you visit the DriveSafe website for full safety information and useful resources.
New Zealand has had a unique give way rule since 1977 where traffic turning left at intersections must give way to all vehicles turning right. However, from 5am on Sunday 25 March 2012 the introduction of two new give way rules changed this. It is important to be familiar with the new rules before driving in New Zealand. Visit the NZ Transport Agency for more details.
For those used to driving on the right hand side, city driving can appear quite dangerous – especially at busy intersections. However, most accidents occur on country roads, where the driver simply forgets which side they should be on. For this reason many New Zealand rental cars have a left-pointing arrow attached to the dashboard.
The speed limit in built up areas is 50kph (around 30mph), with a few areas designated 70kph. Because traffic is relatively light (except for rush hours in Auckland!), not many Kiwi motorists have learned the advantages of making room for other vehicles where they are not legally obliged to do so. Lane changing can be more difficult than in other countries. You may also notice a slightly lower level of road courtesy than in other countries. Fortunately, this is not reflected in social situations, where Kiwis are genuinely hospitable and welcoming of visitors.
Open country speed limits are generally 100kph (about 60mph). When the road passes through a town, it reduces to 50kph. A plain white circular road sign with a black diagonal line across it indicates that the speed restriction is lifted, and that the 100kph limit applies. Hazardous bends are often marked with a lower speed limit. Many New Zealand highways and roads don’t have traffic barriers, so keep to the left unless overtaking and take care on hills and mountain roads where there may be sheer drops close to the side of the road. New Zealand roads are generally well signposted, with all highways given a one or two digit number. This number is shown on most maps, and on freestanding roadside shields. On the outskirts of most towns, or shortly after major intersections, large green signs display the distances to the next towns.
The NZ police enforce driving laws throughout the country, although city councils can issue parking notices in their patch. The police make extensive use of unmarked patrol cars, and speed cameras operate on open roads – either from static units or from unmarked vehicles parked on the side of the road. If you do get caught by a speed camera the Police will send a fine (which can be as much as $600) and New Zealand Rent A Car will also charge a processing fee. Blood alcohol limits in New Zealand are set at 80mg/100ml, although having any alcohol in your blood after an accident may affect the insurance cover on your rental vehicle – so check first. The best policy is not to drink at all if you are planning on driving.
Any car used on a New Zealand road needs a warrant of fitness (WoF) and registration. Getting a warrant of fitness requires a six-monthly mechanical inspection, and the annual registration ensures every vehicle has third party injury insurance cover. Car rental vehicles in New Zealand are subject to a more stringent safety inspection, called a Certificate of Fitness. Documentation for both of these requirements is affixed to the windscreen. NZ Transport Agency has more information on road safety in New Zealand as well as an online Road Code.
When you book or pick up your rental car from New Zealand Rent A Car, our friendly staff will be happy to provide you with maps and guides and to answer any questions you may have about how to get to where you want to go.
Take an online tourist driving theory quiz of essential Road Code rules you’ll need to know to help you stay safe while driving in New Zealand.