Driving myths in Australia

Here are nine common Aussie driving myths.

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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.

3. Eating at the wheel is legal

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. When road workers have gone home, speed limits don't apply

Once road workers have wrapped up for the day, surely the temporary speed restrictions aren't in effect? Wrong! Those signs are used to protect drivers and other motorists. Even when workers have left, there could be dirt and gravel on the road, temporary lanes or changes in the surface. If you see a posted speed limit, stick to it or you could end up with a fine.

7. The police have targets to meet

A popular urban myth is that the police have to ticket and stop a quota of motorists to meet performance targets. The police deny this is true, but even if it is, there's a very simple hack to avoid getting fines or demerits.

Know and follow traffic rules.

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.

9. It's legal to sleep in our car

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%.

Comparing car insurance can save you money

That's enough myths for today. Here's a fact. Comparing car insurance quotes could save you a stack of dollars.

Picture: GettyImages

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