Before starting your Northern Territory adventure, there are a few driving tips and rules you should know that will keep you and your passengers safe.
The Northern Territory has some of Australia’s most breathtaking driving routes and scenery from red desert sands, to lush tropical bushland and stunning beaches, but conditions can take visitors by surprise.
Planning your trip
Check these important safety tips to know before you leave:
Check the road conditions
You should always check the road conditions daily before travelling. Always drive to your ability.
During wet season/tropical summer (November to April) some roads may be closed due to flooding. Do not travel on closed roads. Heavy fines may apply.
Check road conditions daily during your trip as they can change quickly. Reports on roads are available at www.roadreport.nt.gov.au or by phone on 1800 246 199.
Is the vehicle safe?
Check tyres, headlights, indicators, fluid levels, battery and windscreen wipers. Make sure you carry spare tyres, tools and water. If you are travelling long distances or to remote areas, take extra fuel as well.
Give yourself enough time to reach your destination. Plan your trip to include regular rest breaks, including overnight if required, and also consider whether you will be driving into the sun.
Take regular breaks
You should stop for a 15 minute rest break every two hours of driving to avoid fatigue. You can use signposted designated rest areas along highways.
See the road rest stops in NT for more information.
Carry extra food, fuel and water for long journeys
The recommended minimum required amount of water per person is 4-6 litres a day. If driving to very remote areas of the NT, ensure you have enough food, water and extra fuel. In the event of a breakdown, stay with the vehicle. Help may not be possible for many hours, particularly at night.
Is everyone well rested
If you are not used to driving long distances in high temperatures you may be affected by fatigue. When you stop to take a break, take a walk, drink some water and consider changing drivers if possible.
Is the driver affected by alcohol or drugs?
Drinking alcohol or taking drugs before or while driving can have serious consequences. The legal blood alcohol content for drivers (not including provisional drivers) is 0.05%. There are severe penalties for drivers caught drink or drug driving.
Vehicle hire agreement and driving restrictions
Car rental companies may have restrictions on where you can drive the hire vehicle, so check with them before departing. You may need to hire a four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle to drive on unsealed roads or through creek crossings.
Important licensing information
In Australia, you must obey all road rules and carry your licence at all times. You can drive on a valid overseas licence in the NT for up to three months.
You can apply for a driver licence exemption through the MVR Office if staying longer than three months, but not more than 12 months. Applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis and other conditions may apply.
If your licence is not in English, and the type of vehicle you are authorised to drive cannot be recognised, you will need to carry an International Driving Permit. Visit AANT for information.
See Driver licences for more information on licensing.
Major centres and rest areas
Driving long distances can cause fatigue. Plan for rest breaks.
This map shows locations of rest areas, towns and communities on the Northern Territory’s national routes and major highways. It does not include all communities.
Rest areas and truck parking bays
Rest areas are located on main roads and are designated for drivers to pull over and rest when tired.
Some rest stops are dedicated for road trains and are not to be used by cars, caravans, motorhomes etc. except in an emergency. Designated bays enable operators of heavy vehicles to pull over and take breaks and address operational needs.
See Road rest stops in the NT for more information.
Vehicle safety check
Make sure your vehicle is in good condition and has been serviced recently.
Before your journey, check the following:
- Lights, horn, wipers and washers
- Top up fluid levels if required (water, brake, radiator, battery)
- Tyre pressure, including spares tyres
- All seatbelts work
- The vehicle is not overloaded
- Your vehicles’ registration is current and covers you for the journey.
Outside urban areas, it is recommended you do daily checks of your fluid levels and tyres. Refer to the vehicles’ manual for more information.
Keep your vehicle filled up. Don’t rely on fuel being available in remote areas.
When driving in remote areas ensure you plan ahead and stock up on food and fuel. When travelling to remote parts of the NT, you should use a vehicle with a long range fuel tank and take extra fuel.
Remote service stations have restricted opening hours and limited bank facilities. Prices of fuel vary, so check where the fuel stations are on your route.
Unsafe towing, including a caravan or boat trailer, can cause rollovers and crashes.
Make sure your trailer is loaded within the manufacturer specified limit and the load is appropriately distributed and secured. The majority of the load mass should be at the front of the trailer’s axle group, and the towing vehicle should be heavier than the trailer.
The coupling is the link that joins the trailer to the vehicle. Check that it is correctly connected to the towbar and locked in place with suitable safety chains and shackles.
If you are hiring a trailer, ask the hire company to show you how to do the above correctly.
If your vehicle and trailer is more than 7.5 metres long, you must keep at least 60 metres behind other long vehicles. Regularly check to see if traffic is building up behind you. If you are holding up traffic, pull over when it is safe to do so and allow the traffic to pass.
Allow more time for accelerating and slowing down, and more room for turning and positioning the trailer when parked.
Consider regular rest stops to check the trailer and load.
Some outback roads are unsealed and accessible only by high clearance four-wheel drives, so towing trailers may not recommended.
See the NT Road Users Handbook for more information.
On the road
Tips for a safe journey
In Australia, vehicles travel on the left-hand side of the road. Below are some important road rules and safe driving tips to keep you safe whilst on the road.
Always wear a seatbelt
A seatbelt can save your life or prevent serious injury if you are involved in a crash or stop suddenly. Drivers are responsible for ensuring everyone in the vehicle wears a seatbelt and penalties apply.
All children under seven must be in an appropriate child restraint or booster seat.
Are you yawning, tired or experiencing blurred vision? If yes, pull over and have a rest or share the driving.
Driver fatigue can impact your judgement, reaction time and ability to control a vehicle. To avoid driver fatigue make sure you have plenty of sleep before you depart and take 15 minute breaks every two hours.
Common road rules
You must always:
- Drive on the left hand side of the road
- Wear a seatbelt
- Give way to the right at unsigned cross intersections
- Abide by traffic signs, lights and road markings
- Obey the speed limit
- Come to a complete stop at a stop sign
- Do not make a U-turn at traffic lights unless a sign permits this
- See Road Rules in the NT for more information.
Download our cheat sheet on common Australian road signs and meanings.
Other road users
Be respectful of other road users (including pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists) and check your mirrors and blind spots before merging or changing lanes.
You must give a minimum of 1 metre when passing a cyclist where the speed limit is 60km/hr or less, or 1.5 metres over 60km/hr. Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers and are legally allowed to ride two abreast on NT roads.
Overtaking road trains
Road trains are common in the NT and can have three trailers and be over 50 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. It can take up to 2.5 kilometres to overtake a road train at 100km/h. When you overtake you need to be able to see at least one kilometre of clear road ahead. Allow plenty of room before you overtake as they may sway from side to side.
If you are being overtaken by a road train, maintain your speed, don’t move off the road and only slow down once the road train moves out to pass you.
When approaching an oncoming road train on a single lane road, or an unsealed road, slow down then gradually move off the road and drive slowly along the shoulder until it is clear to move back onto the road.
Flooded roads and heavy rains
During the wet season (November to April) heavy rains are expected and roads may flood. If you encounter a flooded road, wait until the water has subsided to less than the wading depth for the vehicle (refer to the owner’s manual) before trying to cross.
Never attempt to cross fast flowing water and always expect damage to the road surface underneath the water, even if you cannot see it. If in doubt, find another route to get to your destination safely.
Heavy rain makes it hard to see and harder to stop because the roads are more slippery than usual. Slow down and allow more space between vehicles, alternatively pull off to the side of the road. Keep your headlights on so others can see you.
Check road conditions at www.roadreport.nt.gov.au or by phone on 1800 246 199.
Watch out for crocodiles!
Do not enter floodwaters or go near the water’s edge as there is a high risk of saltwater crocodiles.
Always expect a train at railway crossings. Trains can’t stop quickly and have right of way over vehicles and pedestrians. Remember to obey all signs and signals, be extra careful at night and check there is enough space on the other side before you cross the railway line.
If you want to stop to take photographs or have a break, do not stop on the road. Park your vehicle well off the road where it will not be a danger to you or other traffic.
If you are lost or your car breaks down, always stay with your vehicle
A vehicle is easier to find than a person. Push your vehicle to the side of the road and turn your hazard lights on (or any other devices) to alert other drivers.
Temperatures in the NT can be extreme, making it important to stay in the shade or under shelter.
Speed limits and school zones
Speed limits are enforced in the NT, both fines and demerit points will be issued to the driver. Speed and red lights cameras exist throughout the NT.
Speed limits are clearly signed and must be obeyed at all times. The speed limit in built up areas is either 50km/hr or 60km/hr unless sign posted otherwise. The speed limit on open roads is 110km/h unless sign posted otherwise. On the Stuart, Barkly, Victoria and Arnhem Highways the maximum speed limit is 130km/h.
Roads near schools have reduced speed limits (typically 40km/hr) which apply on school days between the hours indicated on the sign. You should be aware of these speed limits and slow down to the speed indicated.
You should drive at a speed that suits the road and current weather conditions. If you are not familiar with the vehicle you are driving, you should drive at a slower speed to enable you to stop safely for any hazards you may encounter.
Mobile phone use while driving
It is illegal in the NT to use a handheld mobile phone or Visual Display Unit (VDU) while driving. Penalties apply. When distracted you are not focused on driving and can have trouble judging speed and distance, and have slowed reaction time.
Note: Check your mobile phone coverage. You may need to use a satellite phone in some areas within the NT.
Animals on or near the road
Many roads in the NT are not fenced. This means you may encounter and animals on the road including kangaroos, cattle, horses, camels and birds. Animals are most active at sunrise, sunset or at night.
Never swerve to avoid animals when driving as this may cause a crash. Slow down and sound your horn. If you drive off the side of the road, do not over-correct or brake heavily. Return to the road at a safe speed and when the road is clear of other traffic.
If possible travel during daylight
At night, including dawn and dusk, visibility on the road can be limited. At night, drive within the visibility of your headlights and be alert for pedestrians and animals.
Driving through bushfire smoke and fire affected areas
Smoke reduces visibility on roads. When driving you should take care, turn on headlights and travel at appropriate speeds. If the smoke is thick, shut your windows and turn off the air-conditioner until clear.
Check out Bushfire advice and alerts
Common Road Signs:
Download our cheat sheet on common Australian road signs and meanings.
These road signs control traffic, and must be obeyed. Most of these are rectangular but some such as stop and give way are different.
Always drive on the left hand side of the road.
Everyone must wear a seatbelt at all times.
You must slow down and prepare to stop to give way to all traffic.
Bring your vehicle to a complete stop and give way to all traffic.
Warning signs alert drivers in advance of changing road conditions or directions. They are usually yellow and diamond shaped. When you see one of these signs or a similar shaped yellow sign you should slow down and take extra care.
Slow down and look for animals on the road, especially at dawn and dusk. Animal symbols will vary.
When approaching road works, slow down and be prepared to stop.
Yellow warning signs let you know of changing road conditions or directions ahead. Warning symbols will vary.
The speed limit is shown by a number in a red circle, which indicates the maximum speed (km/h) that you may travel. You should always drive at a safe speed to suit the conditions.
The number in the circle is the maximum speed (km/h) you may travel.
When in a school zone you must not exceed 40km/hr during the times noted.
Some crossings have boom gates and some have flashing lights. You should look both ways, listen and give way to any trains approaching on the railway line, before proceeding to cross the track.
Traffic light intersections
When approaching an intersection, obey the warning lights and traffic lights. Red means stop; wait behind the stop line. Yellow means stop; you can only enter the intersection if you are so close that sudden braking might cause a crash. Green means proceed through the intersection carefully; giving way to vehicles and pedestrians.
Some intersections have yellow flashing lights that warn when the traffic lights are going to change. When you see the yellow warning lights flashing, prepare to stop.
Driving tips for different road types
Unsealed roads, such as gravel or dirt roads, may require a 4WD vehicle. Some hire car companies may restrict you from driving on these types of roads.
Sealed roads are smooth and accessible by all vehicles and are well signposted. Reduce speed before nearing the roads’ edge and be cautious of edge drop-offs and loose stones.
Sealed roads can be prone to flooding, so check road conditions daily as conditions can change quickly. Reports on road conditions are available at www.roadreport.nt.gov.au or by phone on 1800 246 199.
Unsealed road surfaces may vary from gravel to dirt. Two-wheel drive (2WD) vehicles can be driven on most gravel roads but four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles are best for dirt roads. During wet weather, gravel roads may require a 4WD vehicle.
Dust and wet weather on unsealed roads may obscure your vision and conceal ruts, potholes and oncoming vehicles, reduce your speed when driving in these conditions. Take care when overtaking and turn your lights on to increase your visibility to others.
Some roads are only suitable for 4WD vehicles and are usually signposted. You may encounter very difficult and dangerous driving conditions.
A 4WD vehicle handles very differently to a normal car, so it is important that you are familiar with your vehicle and are aware of its features. If you hire a 4WD and have not previously driven one, ensure you are familiar with how to operate one and know when to use the accessories. Be careful not to overload the roof rack.
Always advise someone where you are planning to go and when you expect to return.
In an emergency
Dial 000 or 112 (when outside your mobile phone providers’ coverage) for emergency services in Australia
Make the scene safe by warning and directing traffic
Help those injured, and keep them calm
Don’t move people unless they are in danger
Emergency (police, fire or ambulance):
000 or 112
NT Police, Fire and Emergency Services Police assistance (non-emergency):
Emergency alerts and warnings
Bushfire advice and alerts
Road Report NT
Telephone: 1800 246 199
Road rules information
Road Safety NT
Telephone: 1800 720 144
Darwin International Airport
Telephone: (08) 8920 1811
Alice Springs Airport
Telephone: (08) 8951 1211
Visitor information centres