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With road rules across Australia varying state by state, it’s no wonder some get confused by the basics. It’s even more likely that some of the more uncommonly known Australian road rule laws may have slipped over your head. However, the consequences of breaking these laws can be costly

Do you know these surprising road rules and the penalties that apply?

Don’t Throw Apple Cores or Banana Peels Out of Vehicle Windows

Sure, they’re from nature, but it’s actually illegal for anyone in a vehicle to throw fruit scraps out the window in all states across Australia. 

Due to the fact fruit cores and skins can take several months to decompose and can be unsightly like any other form of litter, this is defined as littering, and officials can slap you with some hefty penalties should you be caught. Discarding fruit scraps carelessly has the potential to lure vermin and, when thrown in natural areas, can draw wildlife towards the roadside, posing a danger to both drivers and native fauna.

In Tasmania, under the Litter Act 2007:

“A person must not deposit litter in any public place except in a receptacle that the owner or controller of the public place has provided for litter.”

The penalty for breaking this law in Tasmania varies, with offenders given:

  1. 2 penalty units if “the litter consists only of a single item of personal litter”
  2. 20 penalty units “if paragraph (a) of this penalty does not apply but the litter does not exceed 55 litres in volume”
  3. 50 penalty units “if the litter exceeds 55 litres in volume”

In New South Wales, under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 No 156:

“A person who deposits litter in or on a public place or an open private place is guilty of an offence.”

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 20 penalty units.

In South Australia, under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935:

“It is an offence to throw or drop an object at or on a vehicle being driven on a road, busway, railway, or tramway. The offence will be made out regardless of whether the vehicle is moving or stationary at the time that the object is thrown or dropped.”

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 5 years imprisonment.

In Western Australia, under the Litter Act 1979:

“Any person who deposits litter, or causes litter to be deposited, on any land or on or into any waters commits an offence unless the litter is deposited — (a) on private land by consent; (b) in an appointed area; (c) in a place or receptacle set aside or provided for that purpose; or (d) on land adjacent to private land by arrangement with, or at the invitation of, a public authority with a view to the litter being collected and removed by the public authority.”

The Government of Western Australia further states “throwing any unwanted organic material out of your vehicles window is littering.”

The penalty for breaking this law is $1,000.

In Queensland, under the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011:

“A person must not litter at a place … a person who deposits at a place on a road an amount of waste of less than 200L in volume … commits an offence.”

The Queensland Government further states “Litter dropped in streets, along the side of the road, or in bushland can be washed or blown into creeks and rivers, polluting land, waterways, and ocean environments.”

The penalty for breaking this law is 30 penalty units.

In Victoria, under the Litter Act 1987:

“A person who deposits any litter in or on any land or into any waters or into, onto, inside or from any vehicle is guilty of an offence.”

The penalty for breaking this law is 20 penalty units.

In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), under the Litter Act 2004:

“A person must not deposit litter at a public place or an open private place.”

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 10 penalty units.

The ACT Government further states depositing a small item of litter in a public place has an infringement penalty of $60 while depositing any other litter has an infringement penalty of $200. 

In the Northern Territory, under the Litter Act 1972:

“A person shall not leave, throw, deposit or abandon litter in, onto or from a public place or vacant Crown land elsewhere than into an authorized receptacle.”

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 15 penalty units.

Dogs off Laps for the Ride

We know you may love your pet like your own child, so it’s important as a driver to keep their safety at the front of your mind. Despite whether they like to be as close to you as possible, it’s against the law across Australia to have a dog sit on your lap while driving.

In Tasmania, under the Animal Welfare (Dogs) Regulations 2016:

“(1)  If a person with care or charge of a dog transports the dog, the person must ensure that the dog is transported – (a) in a manner that is appropriate for the age, size and physiological status of the dog; and (b) separately from – (i) any incompatible dog; and (ii) any item, or animal, that is reasonably likely to cause injury, harm or distress to the dog.”

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 20 penalty units.

In New South Wales, under the Road Rules 2014:

“A driver must not drive a vehicle if a person or an animal is in the driver's lap.”

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 20 penalty units.

In South Australia, under the Road Traffic Act, the Australian Road Rules apply:

“Driver to have proper control of a vehicle, a driver must not drive with an animal on their lap and the driver must have a clear unobstructed view of the road, and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver.”

The Drivers Handbook of South Australia enforces the same rule.

The penalty for breaking this law is a $299 fine.

In Western Australia, under the Road Traffic Code 2000:

“A driver must not drive a motor vehicle if a person or an animal is in the driver’s lap.”

The penalty for breaking this law is 1 demerit point and 2 penalty units.

In Queensland, under the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009:

“A driver must not drive a vehicle if a person or an animal is in the driver’s lap.”

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) further states “it is an offence to drive with your pet on your lap or not to have proper control of the motor vehicle.”

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 20 penalty units.

In Victoria, under the Road Safety Rules 2017, the Australian Road Rules apply:

“Driver to have proper control of a vehicle, a driver must not drive with an animal on their lap and the driver must have a clear unobstructed view of the road, and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver.”

The penalty for breaking this law is a $248 fine.

In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), under the Road Transport (Road Rules) Regulation 2017:

“A person must not drive a vehicle if a person or an animal is in the driver’s lap.”

The maximum penalty for breaking this law is 20 penalty units.

In the Northern Territory, under the Traffic Regulations 1999:

  • “A driver of an animal drawn vehicle must not: (a) ride on the vehicle unless the animal is guided by proper reins; (b) be so far from, or so situated in relation to, the vehicle when it is  in motion that the person cannot properly guide or control the animal; (c) leave the  vehicle unattended unless one of the wheels is prevented from turning by a securely fastened chain or strap; or (d) ride on the shafts of the vehicle.”
  • “A person must not cause or permit animals to: (a) assemble; (b) stand; or (c) be drafted, so as to obstruct vehicles or pedestrians on a road.”

Although there is no specific penalty outlined in the Northern Territory for this law, the Northern Territory Government states drivers should “ensure pets are correctly restrained by using a secured carry box or a pet seatbelt.”

Keys Left in Car Could Leave You with a Fine at Your Door

It’s not only common sense to take your keys with you once you leave your vehicle, but the law in Australia. This rule was put in place to ensure safety and vehicle security, with many insurance companies refusing to cover any compensation if your car has been stolen with keys in the ignition. 

In Tasmania, under the Vehicle and Traffic Act 1999:

The Tasmania Road Rules state

  • If you will be more than 3 metres away from the closest part of the vehicle, you must switch off the vehicle’s engine before leaving.

The penalty for breaking this law is a $135.75 fine and 0.5 penalty points.

  • You must also make sure the key is removed from the ignition (unless a person aged 16 years or over remains in the vehicle). 

The penalty for breaking this law is a $90.50 fine and 0.5 penalty points.

  • If you will be more than 3 metres from the closest part of your vehicle and there is no-one left in the vehicle, you must make sure: the doors are locked, and the windows are secured (a window is ‘secure’ even if it is open by up to 2 centimetres).

The penalty for breaking this law is a $90.50 fine and 0.5 penalty points.

In New South Wales, under the Road Rules 2014:

  • “If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle, the driver must switch off the engine before leaving the vehicle.”
  • “If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle, and—(a) there is no-one left in the vehicle, or (b) there is only a child or children under 16 years old left in the vehicle, the driver must remove the ignition key before leaving the vehicle.”
  • “If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle and there is no-one left in the vehicle, the driver must— (a) if the windows of the vehicle can be secured--secure the windows immediately before leaving the vehicle, and (b) if the doors of the vehicle can be locked--lock the doors immediately after leaving the vehicle.”

The maximum penalty for breaking any of these sections of this law is 20 penalty units.

In South Australia, under the Road Traffic (Road Rules—Ancillary and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2014:

“Drivers in South Australia are exempt from rule 213 (Making a motor vehicle secure).”

Meaning this law is not enforced while driving in South Australia.

In Western Australia, under the Road Traffic Code 2000:

  • “If the driver of a motor vehicle stops and leaves the motor vehicle, and a person 16 years of age or older does not remain in or with the motor vehicle, the driver must also secure the motor vehicle by — (a) locking the ignition, if any; and (b) removing the ignition key, if any; and (c) locking the doors — if the doors of the vehicle can be locked; and (d) securing the windows — if the windows of the vehicle can be secured, unless the driver has only temporarily left the motor vehicle to pay a fee for parking that motor vehicle.”
  • “A person having the control of, or being in charge of, a vehicle to which is fitted any appliance capable of being raised or lowered must not leave the vehicle stopped unless — (a) the appliance has been placed in its lowest practicable position; and (b) every precaution has been taken to prevent injury to persons or damage to property arising from the inherent nature of the appliance and the fact of the vehicle being unattended.”

The maximum penalty for breaking any of these sections of this law is 1 penalty unit.

In Queensland, under the Transport Operations (Road Use Management—Road Rules) Regulation 2009:

  • “Before leaving the vehicle, the driver must— (a) apply the vehicle’s parking brake effectively; or (b) if weather conditions, for example, snow, prevent the effective operation of the parking brake—effectively restrain the vehicle’s movement in another way.”
  • “Before leaving the vehicle the driver must switch off the engine if the driver will be more than 3m from the closest part of the vehicle.”
  • “Before leaving the vehicle the driver must remove the ignition key if there is no-one 16 years or older remaining in the vehicle.”
  • “If the driver will be over 3m from the closest part of the vehicle and there is no-one left in the vehicle, the driver must— (a) if the windows of the vehicle can be secured—secure the windows immediately before leaving the vehicle; and (b) if the doors of the vehicle can be locked—lock the doors immediately after leaving the vehicle.”

The maximum penalty for breaking any of these sections of this law is 20 penalty units.

In Victoria, under the Road Safety Road Rules 2009:

  • “If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle, the driver must switch off the engine before leaving the vehicle.”
  • “If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle, and— (i) there is no-one left in the vehicle; or (ii) there is only a child or children under 16 years old left in the vehicle— the driver must remove the ignition key before leaving the vehicle.”
  • “If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle and there is no-one left in the vehicle, the driver must— (a) if the windows of the vehicle can be secured—secure the windows immediately before leaving the vehicle; and (b) if the doors of the vehicle can be locked—lock the doors immediately after leaving the vehicle.”

The maximum penalty for breaking any of these sections of this law is 3 penalty units.

In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), under the 2019 ACT Road Rules Handbook:

“Before leaving a vehicle, you must turn off the engine, apply the parking brake and leave it in gear or in the ‘park’ position. Unless the vehicle is occupied by a person 16 years or older, you must remove the key from the ignition. This rule applies regardless of whether you are leaving the vehicle for a few moments or for an extended period of time.”

The maximum penalty for breaking any of these sections of this law is 20 penalty units and a $208 fine. 

In the Northern Territory, under the Traffic Regulation 1999, part of the Australian Road Rules apply:

“If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle, the driver must switch off the engine before leaving the vehicle.”

The penalty for breaking this law is a $40 fine.

However, the below two sections of the law does not apply to drivers in the Northern Territory under the Traffic Regulation 1999:

  • “If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle, and: (i) there is no-one left in the vehicle; or (ii) there is only a child or children under 16 years old left in the vehicle; the driver must remove the ignition key before leaving the vehicle.”
  • “If: (a) the driver will be over 3 metres from the closest part of the vehicle; and (b) there is no-one left in the vehicle; and (c) the doors of the vehicle can be locked; the driver must also lock the doors of the vehicle immediately after leaving the vehicle.”

Although each state’s official body ultimately decides whether these rules are enforced, there are many more laws under the Australia Road Rules which may catch you by surprise, including:

  • Drivers cannot drive too slowly
  • Drivers cannot tailgate other vehicles
  • Drivers cannot reverse further than is reasonable in the circumstances
  • Anyone in a vehicle cannot have any part of their body outside the vehicle
  • Fog lights cannot be used in clear conditions

So, no matter how well you think you know the road rules, there is never a reason to be complacent.

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