Nine tips to be a better driver

Road sign in rural Australia that reads 'Survive this drive"
Road sign in rural Australia that reads 'Survive this drive"
There’s more to being a good driver than just understanding vehicle control and road laws – it also requires having respect for other drivers, displaying awareness and practicing good etiquette.

Many motorists see driving as an A to B exercise, while others treat it like a hobby and some maybe even view it as therapy! Regardless of which camp you belong to, we all share (and pay for) the road and have a right to enjoy it.

Exercising basic etiquette helps make everyone’s trip a little more enjoyable – and a whole lot safer – by reducing the likelihood of arguments and dangerous situations. Read on to see the NRMA’s top driving etiquette tips for how to be a better, more courteous driver:

1. Manners cost nothing, but are priceless

A little effort goes a long way when it comes to polite gestures. Many situations on the road can warrant a friendly wave, but there are a few when it’s expected.

If another motorist has gone out of their way to make your trip a bit easier by letting you into a lane or giving way on a tight street, a wave of acknowledgement to show you appreciate their generosity is the decent thing to do.

Remember though, keep waves contained inside your vehicle and don’t use your hazard lights as a thankyou gesture.

Click here for more information on the courtesy wave.

Courtesy campaign wave

2. Don’t be a space thief (even if it does sound cool)

This courtesy that should go without saying – yet is regularly neglected – is not pinching someone else’s parking spot.

While you may feel being frustrated or running late entitles you to a space, if another driver has clearly and reasonably signaled intent to take it before you have, the spot is theirs.

Remain calm and courteous while on the hunt for a park. Road rage can escalate dramatically in car parks, and drivers have a generally higher chance of meeting someone who has wronged them again – either behind the wheel or on-foot.

Click here for more carpark etiquette.

3. Indicating properly sends the right kind of signal

Vehicles are fitted with indicator lights for a reason. Using them properly is not only expected by other motorists, but legally required by the NSW Government. Other road users will appreciate you taking the time to ensure everyone's safety.

The rules surrounding when (and when not to) use your indicator lights are clear. A quick bit of research will make you a safer and more courteous driver, and less likely to incite rage but putting yourself and others in danger.

Click here for rules relating to proper indicator use.

4. Save tooting your own horn for dinner parties

Horns are fitted to vehicles as a safety feature and should be treated as something you’re glad to have but hope you never need. 

Using your horn as a loudspeaker to voice your annoyance – or even a quick toot to friends as you depart – are both seen as misuse of your horn and can result in a heavy fine.

With this in mind, only use your vehicle’s horn to warn pedestrians, animals and other motorists of your approach or position of the vehicle, or as part of an anti-theft device, or an alcohol interlock device, fitted to the vehicle. 

Click here for the rules on when to use your horn.

Courtesy campaign meme

5. Times road rage has been helpful: zero

Certain things just don’t improve a situation, and reacting to driving – even if it is poor – with swearing and rude gestures is one of them.

If you wouldn’t say or do something to someone in a different environment, then you shouldn’t be doing it on the road. An obscene gesture or verbal insult towards pedestrians or other motorists is not okay because you feel safe inside your car.

If an incident like a collision has taken place, your first priority should be ensuring everyone involved is okay and contacting emergency services if necessary. A hot head is not a useful one in stressful situations.

Click here to see what constitutes road rage.

6. Merge unto others how you'd like them to merge unto you

While maintaining a safe space between you and the vehicle in front is a crucial piece of defensive driving, it doesn’t mean your speed can’t be adjusted to allow someone to merge.

Speeding up to block someone from entering a lane, or ignoring the ‘zipper’ formation as two lanes merge, is rude, entitled and dangerous driving which ultimately slows everybody down.

By the same token, show courtesy when you yourself are merging: another motorist’s safe stopping distance is not an invitation to swerve into their lane; your indicators should always be used for ample time to warn other drivers; and a courtesy wave never goes astray.

Click here to learn more about merging.

7. Tailgating: check yourself before you wreck yourself

There are many reasons why tailgating is considered dangerous and illegal. When too close to a vehicle in front, visibility is limited, the margin to react to hazards drastically reduced, and – in the event your vehicle cannot stop as well – a collision almost inevitable during emergency braking situations.

Counting three seconds between you and the leading vehicle passing an object can help ensure a safe distance is maintained regardless of speed.

If you do find yourself being tailgated: ensure you are not driving well under the speed limit; move to the left lane (if on a multi-lane road); or pull over if safe. Do not brake check (slam your brakes) to deal with them. An crash might ensue, and more often than not, it will involve an innocent driver further back.

Click here for tips on dealing with tailgating drivers.

Courtesy campaign meme

8. Entering intersections with amber lights is a red flag

Australia has more than one road and occasionally they intersect. While people travelling on different roads often have different destinations, the whole system only works if we respect these intersections.

If no space on the other side of an intersection exists to fit your car (with zero overhang on the pedestrian crossing), then be patient and wait. The same goes if someone has blocked your route: be patient, as driving around them may require crossing onto the wrong side of the road.

Turning across the flow of traffic requires drivers to give way. At busy intersections, this often means drivers are left waiting until the lights have gone amber – and oncoming traffic stopped – to complete the maneuver. When approaching an amber, if safe, it’s courteous to stop a little earlier to let a driver trying to cross traffic go.

Click here for more etiquette and laws at intersections.

9. Giving way is a two-way street

Similar to intersections, obeying the law at Give Way and Stop signs, and roundabouts is not at the discretion of drivers.

If you find yourself stuck at a Give Way sign or roundabout for an extended period, don’t get frustrated and accelerate out into traffic. Wait until a safe space is available, or reconsider the route you’re taking.

This same etiquette also applies to high-speed roads such as highways and freeways. While the law states drivers not overtaking only need move left on roads with a speed limit exceeding 80km/h, the etiquette can still be practiced at lower speed limits.

Click here for more info on when to give way.

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