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Driving myths in Australia

Here are 18 common Aussie driving myths.

When you're starting out behind the wheel, knowing the ins and outs of the road rules is essential to getting your licence. But as the years go on, a lot of what we learned on our Ls drifts out our ears.

This probably explains why there are so many myths about what we can and can't do behind the wheel of our car and why we've put together this list of popular driving myths.

1. It's ok to put your feet on the dash

You may have done this yourself, cruising down the highway on a lovely summer's day with the windows down, your shoes off and your feet on the dashboard. This is the life.

However, while this isn't illegal, it is very dangerous! If you get into a crash and the airbags deploy, you'll seriously injure yourself.

One woman in the US broke her ankle, femur, nose, shoulder and arm travelling like this when the car she was in collided with another and the airbags deployed. Her own leg broke her nose and shoulder. Two years after the accident, she was still unable to return to work as a paramedic. Doctors told her if she had rested her feet on the floor, she wouldn't have even needed to go to the hospital.

If you're still not convinced, an airbag inflates in under 50 milliseconds, roughly 320kph, and in 2016 alone, more than 400 patients were admitted to hospital with injuries that came as a result of having their feet on the dash.

2. Driving slowly is always safe

Most of us have the sense to know that driving over the speed limit is dangerous. However, did you know that driving below the speed limit can also be dangerous? It's also illegal and police can, and do, ticket drivers for this.

But how slow is too slow?

You should drive to a speed that is within the limits and appropriate to current road conditions. Australian Road Rules Regulation 125 gives an example of driving abnormally slowly:

A driver driving at a speed of 20 kilometres per hour on a length of road to which a speed limit of 80 kilometres per hour applies when there is no reason for the driver to drive at that speed on the length of road.

Most drivers have probably had a snack or meal behind the wheel at some point, either to save time or to avoid stopping. But this could land you in a spot of bother with the law. Though it is somewhat of a legal grey area (there aren't specific laws that say you mustn't eat while driving), there are regulations that address a driver's attention and capability.

For example, in 2018 a Perth P-Plater was caught on camera eating a bowl of cereal (with a spoon) while steering with her knees, which resulted in a $300 fine and three demerit points. Police said she was driving without due care and attention. This law also goes by the name of careless driving, which depending on your state could net you a fine anywhere from $163 to $4,000.

Driving without due care can also be extended to cover any action that causes you to lapse your attention, including smoking, drinking, talking to passengers or attending to your children. Weirdly, at one time, it seems it was legal to sip some grog while driving. Fortunately, this is no longer the case.

4. Driving barefoot is illegal

This is one pervasive myth and many people believe that driving barefoot or in a pair of thongs is illegal. This is patently untrue.

However, it isn't a good idea. Loose footwear such as sandals and thongs can become lodged between or underneath pedals and they aren't as sturdy for walking on metal shards and glass fragments scattered across the road if you do get into an accident. Wearing a proper pair of shoes will give you better control of the pedals and stop your foot from slipping off. They also even out the pressure from pushing a pedal down across a wider part of your sole.

Rule 297, sub-rule 1, of the Australian Road Rules requires that drivers have proper control of a vehicle. If you did have an accident and upon further investigation, it was discovered your lack of proper footwear caused or contributed towards the incident, then you could be in major trouble.

5. Wearing headphones while driving is illegal

Similar to the barefoot myth, there seems to be some confusion about wearing earbuds while driving. It isn't illegal in Australia (many states across the US have outlawed them). However, as with the case of wearing the proper footwear, if it is found your headphones were a contributing cause towards an accident, you'll land yourself in a legal predicament.

Why is it wise to use your in-car speakers instead? Earphones can block out the sound of emergency sirens or the noise of a mechanical failure. If you do decide to wear earbuds, law experts suggest leaving one out, so you still have an awareness of your environment.

6. Roadwork speed limits are only applicable if workers are present

Roadwork speed limits are enforced regardless of the presence of workers. For one, even though you may not be able to see the road workers, they may still be present. As well as this, the road conditions of a work zone area are generally poorer than non-work zone areas so it makes sense that you should slow down.

Whether or not the conditions of the road are adequate or the road workers are present, the reduced speed limits in work zones are always enforced, so be careful.

7. Police don’t have quotas to fill for traffic and driving offences

Earlier this year, a NSW highway patrol officer admitted to writing 18 fake tickets for cars that didn’t even exist. Although he didn’t say as much, people assumed it was to fill a quota for driving fines it’s long been suspected that police have.

The Queensland Police Union President has now admitted that quotas exist in numerous police stations and that they’ve become a problem for the community. In the WA Police Union, 90% of surveyed officers reported that, with respect to roadside breath testing, they feel like the overall police force is more concerned about the number of drivers tested rather than what the actual results are.

Quotas of all sorts are being used in police stations across Australia and even those inside the police force have admitted that they exist and that they create problems.

8. Coffee and energy drinks will get you through long journeys

If you're travelling at night (or during the day) and you feel tired, it's tempting to have a coffee and keep going. But a double espresso or energy drink will only get you so far and the effects eventually wear off. It is much more effective to pull over somewhere safe, have a cup of coffee and take a nap for 15 to 20 minutes.

Signs you're too tired to drive include the following:

  • Inability to focus, increased blinking and eyelids that feel heavy
  • Your mind starts to wander
  • You can't recall the last few kilometres
  • You're yawning and rubbing your eyes more
  • Your head feels heavy
  • You feel fidgety and ill-tempered
  • You start deviating from your lane or getting too close to the car in front

It's important to stop before you notice these symptoms as your driving ability is already impaired.

Speaking of sleeping in your car, this is a complicated and tricky myth.

There are no federal laws prohibiting sleeping in a parked vehicle, but there may be local by-laws regulating it. In NSW, sleeping in the car is acceptable as long as it's parked legally. But in Queensland cities, laws like the 2010 City of Brisbane Act restrict sleeping in your car to designated campgrounds.

If you've had alcohol, then the law gets really tricky. It is technically possible that you could be charged with drink driving because sitting in the driver's seat with the keys suggests you intend to drive. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.05%.

10. You don’t have to restrain your dog while driving

The Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) states that drivers can’t drive with dogs in their laps and animals should be seated in an appropriate area of the vehicle.

The RSPCA can issue fines and even have you punished with up to six months of jail time if an animal is injured because you left it unrestrained.

If you see a funeral procession while driving and you’re tempted to interrupt or interfere (if, say, you’re in a hurry), you can be fined according to the New South Wales legal code.

It specifically states that as you are driving you mustn’t “negligently or willfully interfere with or interrupt” any funeral procession or authorised motorcade procession on the road, or “any vehicle or person” forming part of that procession.

It’s the law, so don’t do it!

It’s common practice for many Australians to flash their high beams to warn others of a police car or speed camera. Although the law doesn’t clarify the use of high beams for alerting others, police departments have actually used another law to eliminate this practice. Section 218 of the Australian Road Rules states that you cannot use your high beams on any vehicle within 200 metres of your car.

Although some police departments are fine with drivers flashing their headlights, many others aren’t. So keep in mind that it’s technically illegal to warn others and that you may be fined and ticketed.

13. You can park an unregistered car

According to the Motor Vehicles Act of 1959, it’s an offence to do any of the following:

  • Drive an unregistered vehicle
  • Allow an unregistered vehicle to be parked on the road
  • Own an unregistered vehicle, which is driven or found parked on the road

You can be fined up to $7,500 for parking your unregistered vehicle on the road.

This was actually true over a decade ago. Sipping alcohol while driving was fine if your blood alcohol level was below the legal limit. However, this isn’t true anymore.

Drinking while driving, no matter what your blood alcohol level is, is simply illegal and you cannot do it as outlined by regulation 289-1 of the NSW Road Rules (2014).

Doing so can land you a fine of $311 and the loss of three demerit points.

This one’s a little vague. A couple of years ago, Queensland motorists we’re receiving warnings that tooting their car horn was illegal and carried a fine. This went viral on social media and, naturally, motorists we’re angry.

Even though the warnings were a hoax (not distributed by police as originally thought), they still contained a kernel of truth.

Under certain circumstances, it actually is illegal to use your horn as a warning device and it carries even harsher penalties than the ones cited in the hoax warnings.

16. Horses are considered cars on the road

Absolutely not! There are specific rules governing the use of animals and animal-drawn carriages on the road and they’re treated like anything but cars.

For instance, if you’re driving down the road and you see a horse rider indicating that their horse is agitated and jumpy, you’re required by law to pull over to the side of the road and turn off your car.

Learn more about sharing the road with animals and what’s required by law.

17. It’s not illegal to leave your windows open

In Queensland and Victoria, it’s definitely illegal to keep your windows open, although you are allowed up to a 5-centimetre gap.

If caught, you may be fined up to $40 in Queensland and $117 in Victoria.

18. Not splashing mud on a person waiting at a bus stop is a courtesy, not a law

Wrong. There are clear and specific laws in place to prevent drivers from splashing mud on unsuspecting bus passengers.

Regulation 291-3 was written specifically for this issue and it states that any driver must slow down or, if necessary, even stop in order to prevent the splashing of mud on any person in or on a bus; any person entering or leaving a stationary bus; or any person waiting at any bus stop.

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