How to Survive Driving in Melbourne

I had been driving in the UK with a full licence for over 35 years and considered myself to be a pretty good driver.  However, I was a little cautious about driving in Melbourne.  Firstly because I had lived in a village in the UK and the main hazards when driving locally were slow-moving tractors and escaped sheep. Secondly, I was nervous because I was swapping from manual to automatic transmission and I was a bit dubious that it wouldn’t feel like ‘proper’ driving.  OK, so I soon got over that second hesitation.  Driving an automatic car is what most people do here and I would say it is a huge help not to be thinking about changing gear when you are busy negotiating new roads, unfamiliar signage and busy road traffic situations.  Here are 6 tips for how to survive driving in Melbourne.

1. Watch out for Amber Gamblers

Traffic lights. Watch out for amber gamblers.

When I first came to Melbourne I was told that there is a fundamental difference between UK drivers and Melbourne drivers when approaching traffic lights.  UK drivers generally slow down and prepare to stop when they see the lights change to amber.  In Melbourne however, drivers see an amber light as a signal to speed up and get through as quickly as possible before the lights change to red!  That can’t be true, I thought, until the first time the traffic conditions meant that I had committed to going through a junction just as the lights changed to amber, and 5 cars followed me, almost parking in the boot!

2. Watch out for Weavers

You’ve got to love the Aussies.  Their ‘fair-go, get ahead’ attitude is commendable.  It definitely is part of the culture and it starts with the driving.  In traffic on any road with more than one lane, there is a need to get ahead.  You know how people do that dance with trolleys at the supermarket checkout when one line is shorter?  Well they do that here with cars.  There’s a gap, gotta get into it!  Let’s do the Melbourne weave.  I’m sure it’s the same in many cities across the world.  It just means that to survive any trip on city roads, you have to have eyes in the back of your head, fully utilise all your mirrors (of course you do) and be aware that cars will ‘under-take’ as well as over-take you.  Even on the freeways (motorways to UK readers).  That gets a bit unnerving when big trucks do that and you find yourself sandwiched in the middle of two monster-trucks, tanking along on either side of you.

3. Accept that U-Turns are OK

In fact they are a national sport!  We seem to be positively encouraged to make U-turns but there are rules.  Most multi-lane highways throughout the city will have special lanes and filter lights for making U-turns.  It’s a thing.  But not on freeways.  And not where there’s a solid white line up the middle of the road. There is also a thing called a P-turn, where you have to go through the intersection where you actually want to turn right.  At the next available intersection that you are allowed, you can turn right, and then turn left into the road you originally wanted to turn right into.  Makes sense?  Thankfully, the road markings and signage will tell you what to do.  

4. Avoid Hook Turns

Hook turns are a curious thing, to be found when driving in the CBD.  They are there to help traffic flow when the need to turn right across a tramline occurs.   You basically have to pull over to the left and wait until the lights in the road you wish to enter have turned green.  Of course, as you make the turn, be sure to check in your right-hand mirror that no amber gamblers have shot through the traffic lights behind you (see above).   It’s quite scary the first time you do one but, like everything else, as long as you keep your wits about you, it’s fine.    A lady once told me that for years when she went into the CBD she only ever turned left, so as to avoid hook-turns.  I don’t think she ever got to where she was going, so it’s probably best not to avoid hook-turns after all.

Watch this little video on hook turns from VicRoads to see how to survive driving in Melbourne.

5. Don’t park on the wrong side of the road. 

That is, when you are parallel parking you must park facing in the direction of vehicles on your side of the road.  Also, do not park on a nature strip (grass verge) and do not park within 3 metres of an Australia Post mailbox.  It goes without saying that common-sense and consideration play a big role in how you choose to park but do check out the rules here.

6. Do Report Injured Wildlife

You don’t have to get far out of the CBD to be very close to nature, in the form of parklands, reserves, river environments and golf courses for example.  It is not uncommon to see kangaroos , wombats and other wildlife living very close to residential areas and unfortunately there are occasions when these unique and wonderful creatures stray off course and get hit on our roads.  Please do report any injured wildlife to Wildlife Victoria T.(03) 8400 7300.  There is a link on their website for out of hours reporting and there is also an app called Snap Send Solve, which is free to download. If you are living in rural Victoria, many areas will have their own local wildlife rescue organisations. Be sure to check out your local area and know who to contact.

Stop sign.  Do report injured wildlife on Melbourne roads.

Happy driving everyone! Once you’ve figured out how to survive driving in Melbourne, stay safe and enjoy getting around our beautiful city.

Disclaimer:  this article is based on my observations.  Please do exercise care and caution when driving on Melbourne roads and be sure to check out the VicRoads website for up-to-date information on road rules and licence requirements.

The Melbourne Mum

Thinking of emigrating to Australia? Already moved to Melbourne? Find out what it's really like to make the big move Down Under.

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