Is it really illegal to carry potatoes in Australia? And can you drink drive in Vanuatu? Here are all of the crazy road rules you’ll find around the world.
Around the world, there are a host of strange, frustrating or plain ridiculous driving rules that are far more extreme than anything we have to deal with in Australia.
Here we present a selection of genuine motoring regulations from across the globe that just might have you scratching your head.
Cyprus: It’s illegal to eat or drink while driving
We all know that texting or browsing on a smartphone while driving is dangerous. But there are thousands of drivers who continue to do it. So particularly punitive measures have been introduced on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where it is illegal to drive without both hands on the steering wheel – to the extent that eating and drinking are both prohibited.
And it’s no idle threat; if you’re caught, you face a fine of 85 Euros (AUD$125) and between two and four demerit points on your licence. The law is enforced with relish, too; in a week-long, island-wide blitz in 2018, police caught more than 650 offenders.
Thailand: Keep your clothes on while driving
A warning for those intending to drive in Thailand: maintain your decency. Despite average temperatures in Bangkok exceeding a sweaty 30 degrees at this time of year, keeping your top on is a good idea.
Section 388 of the Criminal Code 2499 (1956) says: “Any person who performs such a disgraceful act in public by undressing himself, exhibiting his undressed person or committing any other act of obscenity shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 500 baht [around AUD$20].” How widely this is enforced is unclear, but drivers should avoid finding out.
Australia: It was illegal to carry potatoes
Meanwhile, a more bizarre law was finally repealed in Western Australia in May 2021 – one introduced in 1946, which decreed that carrying more than 50kg of potatoes in your car boot was illegal unless you were a member of the country’s Potato Corporation. And no, we didn’t make that up.
Philippines: Registration numbers decide when you get to drive
Metropolitan Manila, the capital of the Philippines, has a massive population – somewhere in the region of 14 million. And such a huge number of people means LOTS of congestion. The local authority’s solution is the Unified Vehicle Volume Reduction Platform, which was introduced in 1995, and restricts vehicles from using the road at certain times based on the last number of their registration plate.
Plate numbers that end with 1 and 2 are not allowed to travel on certain roads every Monday, 3 and 4 every Tuesday, 5 and 6 every Wednesday and so on. The restrictions are in force between 7am and 8pm, which means journeys need very careful planning, and even though personal plates are available, they don’t allow you to avoid the regulations.
Germany: You can be fined for running out of fuel
Germany’s motorway network is celebrated the world over by thrill-seekers due to the fact that around 50 per cent of it is unrestricted – which means car drivers can effectively travel at whatever speed they like. But there is one speed that is unwelcome on the autobahn: coming to a complete stop.
In fact, it’s more than simply undesirable – stopping is actually illegal, unless in an unavoidable emergency. And running out of fuel isn’t considered an ‘emergency’. Instead, it’s classed as negligence on the part of the driver and punishable by a fine. So it’s probably best to make sure you fill up the BMW M5 hire car when you eventually get round to that bucket list weekend in Berlin.
Niger: The highest minimum driving age in the world
Admittedly Niger is not the most obvious destination for a driving holiday. Despite boasting some outstanding natural beauty, the landlocked West African country is not without its problems, as shown by the United Nations’ 2021 assertion that it is the least developed country in the world. It also has some distinctive rules of the road, most specifically that no one under the age of 23 is allowed to drive – the highest minimum age anywhere on the planet.
Potential road trippers might also be put off by the daunting government guideline that says: “It is essential that visitors report to the police station in any town where they are making an overnight stop” – a result of the country’s high rate of violent crime.
There’s no blood alcohol limit in some countries (you can drink and drive)
Under no circumstances is drink-driving a good idea, and yet incredible as it may seem, in some countries driving under the influence of alcohol is not outlawed.
Among the nations that have no Blood Alcohol Concentration limit are Vanuatu, Togo and Niger – which seems totally at odds with its cautious approach to young drivers (see above). Most shockingly of all, though, there is no limit on the Caribbean holiday island of Barbados, although driving without undue care and attention is considered an offence.
Some countries have banned drunken passengers
While some countries have an unforgivably lax attitude towards drink-driving, others take alcohol consumption much more seriously. Consider, for example, the states of Serbia and North Macedonia. The AA’s advice for both says: “A person visibly under the influence of alcohol is not permitted to travel in a vehicle as a front-seat passenger.”
Yes, not only do you need a designated driver in the Balkans, you also require a designated passenger. Presumably, the idea is to ensure the driver is not distracted, but anyone who’s seriously over-imbibed can be a distraction wherever they’re seated, surely?
Women have only just recently been allowed to drive in these countries
The last few years have seen U-turns on a few of the more contentious and ridiculous rules. Arguably the most welcome was Saudi Arabia finally allowing women to drive in June 2018 – the last country in the world to do so. There was also relief for the females of Russia and Belarus last year, when they were allowed to become international truckers; previously the job had been considered ‘too complex’.