Road transport in Australia

Road transport in Australia

Road transport is an essential element of transport in Australia due to the large land area of the country and low population density in considerable parts of the country. Related to this, rail transport has not been sufficiently developed for a lot of the freight and passenger requirements in most areas of Australia. Almost every household owns at least one car, and uses it most days. [cite web
url =
title = Where are we now?
accessdate = 2007-02-03
publisher = Australian Automobile Association


kilometres) on the Hume highway from Sydney to Melbourne]

Funding and responsibility for Australia's road network is split between the three levels of government; Federal, State and Local. The Federal government provides funds under the AusLink programme for several funding programs including:
*National Projects
*National Network Maintenance, essentially the National Highway, comprising the main freeways and highways linking the major cities of Australia [cite web
url =
title = National Projects
Publisher = Australian Government Department of Transport and Regional Services
accessdate = 2007-02-18
*Roads to Recovery Programme - provides funding allocations to councils in each State or Territory. [cite web
url =
title = Roads to Recovery Programme Funding Allocations
Publisher = Australian Government Department of Transport and Regional Services
accessdate = 2007-02-18
*Black Spot Programme (improvements to high accident risk spots) [cite web
url =
title = Black Spot Programme Funding Allocations
Publisher = Australian Government Department of Transport and Regional Services
accessdate = 2007-02-18
*Strategic Regional Programme
*Innovation and Research
*Funding for Local Roads

Other highways and main roads linking regional centres are funded by the respective state governments. Local and minor roads are generally funded by the third tier of government, local councils.

The Business Council of Australia in its Infrastructure Action Plan, estimated that in 2004, road infrastructure was under funded by AUD10 billion.cite web
url =
title = Infrastructure to sustain growth (PDF linked)
format = PDF
publisher = Business Council of Australia
accessdate = 2007-02-19

Roads and highways

Different standards of roads are generally called by various names. With wide variations in population across the nation, the name of a road does not always reflect the construction or capacity of a particular road.

Freeways, motorways, expressways and tollways

Freeways are major roads with more than one lane of traffic in each direction designed for higher speed operation. They have barriers or wide median strips separating traffic travelling in opposite directions, and grade-separated intersections without roundabouts or traffic lights in the main route. Some toll roads are called motorways or tollways to avoid perceived difficulties with charging people to use a "free"way. Most Australian capital cities have one or more freeways across, past, or leading to them.

The Southern Expressway in southern Adelaide is a single carriageway of a freeway, and operates in one direction at a time, carrying traffic in the direction most in demand. It is closed to change direction twelve times per week (not Friday or Sunday nights). This is the only road in Australia (and probably the world) which operate like this. When limited-access highways began to be built in Sydney in the 1950s, beginning with the Cahill Expressway, they were provisionally named expressways, but in the 1960s Australian transport ministers agreed that they be called freeways. The Cahill Expressway has kept its original name, possibly because some of it is substandard.


There is a national highway network linking the capital cities of each state and other major cities and towns. Each state maintains a network of roads connecting most of the towns in the state. Highways and major roads include Metroads, National Routes, State Routes and routes numbered according to the Alphanumeric Route Numbering System.

Some highways in remote areas of Australia are not sealed for high traffic volumes and are not suitable for the whole range of weather conditions and following heavy rains they may be closed to traffic.

Minor roads

Local governments maintain the vast majority of minor roads in rural areas and streets in towns and suburbs.


Urban minor roads in Australia are generally sealed, have a 50 km/h speed limit and most are illuminated at night by street lighting. [cite web
url =
title = Minor Roads Lighting Solutions
publisher = Philips Electronics
accessdate = 2007-02-18


Many rural roads are not sealed but are built with a gravel base or simply graded clear and maintained from the available earth.


Driving on minor outback roads off a sealed road can be dangerous, and motorists are generally advised to take precautions such as:
*seek local advice
*ensure that someone is aware of your travel plans
*if you break down, stay with your vehicle
*be aware of animals such as kangaroos, especially at night
*never travel without an adequate supply of drinking water [cite web
url =
title = Driving in the Outback
publisher = Sydney Online
accessdate = 2007-02-18

Failure to observe these precautions can result in death. [cite web
url =
title = Australian Outback Survival
publisher = Outback Australia Travel Guide
accessdate = 2007-02-18


The Spirit of Tasmania is a service operated by TT-Line with two ocean-going ferries providing a "road" link between Tasmania and the mainland. There is also a Searoad ferry service across the opening of Port Phillip connecting Sorrento and Queenscliff. Kangaroo Island is connected to Cape Jervis by the SeaLink service.

Many of the road crossings over the lower Murray River are provided by government-operated cable ferries.

Road rules

Vehicles in Australia are right-hand drive, and vehicles travel on the left side of the road. The laws of the road belong to each state, but have been mostly harmonised so that drivers do not need to learn different rules as they cross state borders. [cite web
url =
title = Australian Road Rules
accessdate = 2007-02-03
publisher = South Australian Department for Transport Energy and Infrastructure
] The usual speed limits are 100 km/h outside of urban areas (110 km/h on some roads where signposted). Major routes in built up areas are 80 km/h and 60 km/h, with streets generally limited to 50 km/h, often not separately signposted. Until the end of 2006, major highways in the Northern Territory had no speed limit, but now the maximum speed there is 130 km/h where signposted on the Stuart, Barkly, Victoria and Arnhem Highways, with a default of 110 km/h on all other rural roads where not otherwise signposted. [cite web
url =
title = Changes to road rules on 1 January 2007
accessdate = 2007-02-03
publisher = Government of the Northern Territory

Speed limits are enforced with mobile and fixed cameras as well as mobile radar guns operated by police. Heavy transport operators must record their driving time in a log book and take regular rest periods and are limited in how long they can drive without longer sleeping time.

If two roads with two lanes each way meet at a roundabout, the roundabout is marked with two lanes as well. Traffic turning left must use the left lane, and traffic turning right must approach in and use the right lane, travelling clockwise around the island in the centre. Traffic going straight through may generally use either lane. Vehicles must indicate their intended direction when approaching the roundabout, and indicate left when passing the exit before the one they intend to leave on. Vehicles entering the roundabout must give way to vehicles already on it.


Typically, the first stage of licensing is gaining a learners permit. The minimum age to get this in most states is 16, and it requires:

*Special L plates to be displayed, typically displaying a black L on a yellow background
*Reduced blood alcohol limits compared to unrestricted drivers (acceptable BAC varies by state)
*A fully-licensed driver to be in the car with the learner at all times, who must also be under the legal alcohol limit (0.05 BAC in most states)
*Some states will impose maximum speeds for learner drivers (for instance, New South Wales learners are limited to 80km/h)

After a set period of time (usually between three and six months), and often a certain number of hours practice, the learner driver is eligible to go for their licence. In most states, there's also an age limit (which ranges from 16 1/2 to 18, depending on state) Most states including NSW, QLD, WA, Tas and ACT it is 17. When a new driver gets their licence (which typically involves a practical driving test and a computerised test involving a hazard perception section and possibly some multiple choice questions), they will get a restricted licence known as a probationary licence or provisional licence, which typically lasts for up to three years. These drivers must display special plates (typically with a White P on a Red background, but the inverse applies in New South Wales). This has earned them the name P Platers. Some restrictions placed on these drivers include (dependent on state):

*Reduced blood alcohol limits compared to unrestricted drivers (acceptable BAC varies by state)
*Automatic transmission only if licence test taken in an automatic vehicle.
*Limits on power/performance of cars (certain states only)
*Fewer demerit points to be accrued before licence is suspended.
*Speed limitations (certain states only)

Recently, some states have installed a two-stage probationary licensing system, where the first year of a licence has extra restrictions (and often a different coloured plate) to the later years.

Special licences exist for:

* Cars (which typically enables people to drive a car with up to 12 seats, and up to 4.5 tonnes GVM)
* Light Rigid trucks and buses
* Medium Rigid trucks and buses
* Heavy Rigid trucks
* Heavy Combination trucks
* Multi Combination trucks (B-doubles and road trains)
* Motorcycles

Heavy vehicle class licences require drivers to have experience at lighter licence classes. In some states, a car licence is acceptable for motorcycles with limited engine capacity.



Three manufacturers currently build cars in Australia. They are all subsidiaries of foreign companies, but manufacture models designed specifically for the Australian market. They are:
*Ford: Falcon and Territory
*Holden: Commodore
*Toyota: Camry and AurionThese are all relatively large cars developed specifically for Australians. Smaller cars sold in Australia are all imported, as are four-wheel drives.

The distance travelled by car in Australia is amongst the highest in the world, behind the US and Canada. In 2003, the average distance travelled per person by car was 12,730km [ cite web|url= |title=Transport in Australia |accessdate=2008-10-06 |date=2008-04-13 |work=International Transport Statistics Database |publisher=iRAP ] .


Most long-haul road freight is carried on B-double semi-trailers. These trucks typically have a total of 9 axles and two articulation points. Normal semitrailers usually have a tri-axle trailer towed by a twin-drive prime mover. In the remote areas of the north and west, three- and four-trailer road trains are used for general freight, fuel, livestock and mineral ores. Two-trailer road trains are allowed closer in to populated areas, especially for bulk grain and general freight.

From July 2007, The Federal and State governments approved B-triple trucks that are allowed only to operate on a designated network of roads. A B-Triple is said to carry the load of five semi-trailers. B-Triples are set up differently to conventional road trains. The front of their first trailer is supported by the turntable on the prime mover. The second and third trailers are supported by turntables on the trailers in front of them. As a result, B-Triples are much more stable than road trains and handle exceptionally well.

The largest road transport companies are Toll Holdings and Linfox, but there are many others, including owner-drivers with only their own truck.


:"Main category: "

Buses in Australia provide a variety of services, generally in one or more of the following categories:
* route services, following a fixed route and a published timetable, operated by government or private companies
* school services, transporting students to and from school, often under a government-subsidised scheme
* long distance services, providing intrastate and interstate travel between major towns and cities
* tourist services, operating one-day and extended tours to popular destinations
* charter services, offering buses for hire to transport like-minded people to a chosen destination
* shuttle services, providing point-to-point transport, eg airport to hotels
* private vehicles, maintained by companies, schools, churches or other organisations to transport their members.

Many aspects of the bus industry are heavily controlled by government. These controls may include age and condition of the bus, driver licensing and working hours, fare structure, routes and frequency of services.


Trams were used in most Australian cities until the 1970s. The Melbourne Tram system remains an integral part of inner city commuting. Their cars intersect with others and large volumes of commuters have ready access to this form of transport. The Melbourne system is the third largest in the world. Tram and Light Rail systems are being reintroduced to some cities, such as Metro Light Rail in Sydney. The only remaining tram route in Adelaide is the Glenelg Tram, which is being extended in 2007.


Motorcycles account for around 3% of vehicles in Australia. [cite web
url =
title = Motorcycle Use In Victoria
accessdate = 2007-02-03
publisher = Parliament of Victoria


:"Main category: "

In the late-19th and early-20th centuries - the bicycle was used extensively in the outback and countryside of Australia as an economical means of transport. In the urban areas the bicycle found wide usage where workers were living in reasonable proximity to their places of work - this can be seen in the extent of bicycle racks at Midland Railway Workshops for example.

Currently bicycles are used by a minority of the population in most Australian cities, however some youths or unlicensed drivers use them for shorter distances. They are used for recreation, exercise and commuting. Most cities have developed bicycle usage strategies, while some, such as Canberra and Perth have extensively promoted bicycle usage and constructed an extensive network of cycleways that can be used by cyclists to travel large distances across the city. The recreational use of bicycles has been supported by local and state governments producing publications and websites that encourage recreational and more lately utility usage. Considerable numbers of tourists and enthusiasts utilise road and off-road routes that have been marked or signed for bicycle tours. Good examples are the Mawson Trail in South Australia and the Munda Biddi Trail in Western Australia.

Road naming

Each state has independent systems for the naming of roads.Roads in New South Wales are named in accordance with section 162 of the The Roads Act 1993. Australian Standards AS 1742.5 - 1986 and AS 4212 - 1994 provide a list of road suffixes (such as Alley, Circle, Mall, Street) which are routinely accepted by the Geographical Names Board. [ "Guidelines for the Naming of Roads"] , Geographical Names Board of New South Wales 3 October,2003. Accessed 16 May,2007.]


The Australian commonwealth government has had a number of statutory authorities relative to roads including: -
* Commonwealth Bureau of Roads (Australia)

State governments have co-ordinated through: -
* National Association of Australian State Road Authorities.


ee also

* Road transport in Victoria

Further reading

* National Association of Australian State Road Authorities (1987) "Bush track to highway : 200 years of Australian roads" Sydney.ISBN 0855882077

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