5 New Jersey Driving Rules Australian expats should know



Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: Are New Jersey road rules very different for an expat to learn? Well that depends on where you come from, no doubt. For Australians, who are used to driving on the left hand side of the road, switching sides is probably the biggest hurdle. That is, besides surviving NJ drivers. My apologies to my New Jersey friends (if I still have any) who may understandably take issue with this statement.

Overall, the road rules here are very similar to NSW, where I come from. Naturally, the speed limits, the fines and the license points system are a bit different but it’s easy enough to learn these.

Probably, the biggest changes that you need to adjust to are listed below:

1. Turning right when the light is red

A wonderful NJ road rule that I love, is that you are able to turn right when waiting at a red traffic light. When turning, you have to give way to traffic coming from your left, just as you do at any T intersection. Turning right on red is prohibited at some traffic light intersections but these are usually well signposted. Anyway, if you are sitting at a traffic light and you get tooted by the person behind, it’s probably because you are  blocking them from turning. So pay attention to this one!

Drivers-cannot-always-turn-right-on red-lights-New-Jersey

Although drivers are normally allowed to turn right on the red light at intersections with lights, there are quite a few situations where this is prohibited. These are usually well signposted. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

2. Traffic has to stop in both directions when school buses stop

Another fabulous rule, which would be terrific to see at home, is that school buses here have absolute priority on all roads, when they stop to pick up or drop off children en route to or from school. What happens is that the buses’ lights flash (yellow, then red) to indicate stopping and an automatic STOP sign swings out from the bus.

These two signals tell drivers that they must stop at a distance of no less than 25 feet from the bus. Vehicles in both directions have to stop on suburban and non-highway roads.This allows children to cross the road safely to get on or dismount the bus, without worrying about traffic. Kudos to New Jersey for this system which beats ours hands down.

NB: The rules are slightly different for highways, so get a copy of the New Jersey driver manual to become familiar.


Cars must stop in both directions at a distance of 25 feet from buses when they stop to load or unload children en route to and from school on local roads. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

3. At 4-Way Stop signs, you give way to the right if you arrive simultaneously or whoever was there first – I think…

This is one of those rules where no-one seems to be sure what the correct interpretation is. Just try driving through one to see what I mean. Some people give way to their right and some don’t. Others give way to anyone who arrives before them. Then some drivers, as per my experience today, don’t give way to anyone. They just bulldoze through.

We have just as many pushy people and as much confusion with roundabouts in Australia.

The actual rule here is to give way to the right, if you arrive at the same time. If someone else is at the intersection before you, then they have right of way. With such varying behaviours though, you need to be wary when you drive through a 4-way stop intersection, so you are not in an accident.


Four way stop signs are reasonably common in New Jersey. Drivers are required by law to give way to the right if two cars simultaneously arrive at the intersection or to other cars, if they arrived before them. This rule seems to be interpreted differently by many drivers. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

4. All New Jersey drivers have to put on their driving lights in rain, snow, ice or bad light

Another good rule that smacks of common sense. Some cars actually have automatic car light turn on when you start the engine (like mine) but this is not always the case. You might want to check if your car does the same.


Drivers are required to drive with car lights on in snow, rain, ice or bad light in New Jersey. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

5. You can’t park within 10 feet of a water hydrant legally

A small issue perhaps but water hydrants are very common on roads around here. So unless you want to rack up some parking fines, it is worth remembering this. If you notice when you drive along a heavily parked road, that there is a gap where no one is parked – this is likely to be the water hydrant! It seems to be one of the few rules that NJ drivers take pretty seriously.


Drivers are prohibited from parking within 10 feet of water hydrants on the kerb side. Hydrants are often painted red or green.Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

Other important things to watch out for

There are lots of railway crossings in New Jersey townships and across major roads, although not highways. This means stopping 15 feet away from the crossing until the train passes. There are flashing lights and barriers that operate to stop you crossing but if you are unaware, these can surpise you. If you are caught in a delay somewhere and wonder why the traffic isn’t moving, a train crossing may well be the reason. Be patient and the train will eventually pass.


There are many train crossings like this one on suburban and non-highway roads in New Jersey. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

By law, buses and some other transport vehicles must stop before crossing a railway line, as a safety precaution. You will notice that their danger lights start flashing to warn you they are stopping. Watch out for them.

Often areas where you can’t park legally are marked with a yellow paint on the curb, at least in main township roads near the centre. If you see a yellow curb where you are parked, move your car, as you will definitely get a parking ticket.


A kerbside painted yellow, like this usually indicates no parking allowed. Parking tickets can be issued for a breach of this regulation. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

Traffic lights here are not positioned on the side of the intersection as in Australia. They hang down usually in the intersection from poles with long arms holding them over the road. Basically you need to look up to see these. You get used to this pretty quick.


Traffic lights are not at the side of the road as in Australia. They are attached to a long arm and hang over the intersection like this or with older models, they can actually swing in the middle of the intersection. It’s not a big problem but will take a little while for your eye to get used to where to look for the green and red lights. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

Important notes

Please be aware these are only New Jersey driving rules I am referring to here. New Jersey rules differ to other states, so if travelling elsewhere outside NJ, you need to learn what the applicable driver regulations are for where you are driving.

Always refer to your New Jersey driver rules booklet which is obtained from the NJ state MVC (Motor Vehicle Commission) or their website  for the most accurate and up-to-date version of NJ driving regulations. Driving rules can change, so you should always check the latest driving rules that pertain, before driving in the USA.
This is meant as general information only. I don’t wish to offend anyone but a driver’s understanding of, and compliance to NJ driving laws, is always their own responsibility.
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4 thoughts on “5 New Jersey Driving Rules Australian expats should know

  1. Hi there! Just wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying your blog and reading ‘back’ to things in OZ. We were expats for over 10 years of which 4 in Sydney. Wish we could have stayed and after 3 years in the US, I still miss it each and every day.Hardest transition of all transitions, especially as we we lived in the South first 2.5 years. We moved to South Orange NJ this Jan on a local contract as our kids are getting too old we find to keep relocating like this.
    Anyway, just wanted to say a quick hello and let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. Who knows, we might meet one day! 🙂

    • Hi Again Sharon!
      Just sent you an email on Expat Blog, so read that first before you read this:) I would be very interested to know how you found reexpatriation, as some day in the future, we will go through this and it’s very hard to know what to expect. All I have read so far makes me think this is a hard experience to go through but it would be great to know more about it. If you are interested I would love to catch up and talk over a coffee.

      Thnaks again for your kind words about the blog. It’s very helpful for me as a beginner, as you are guessing a bit the beginning about what people might like to read:)

  2. hi your blog is so nice and full of the new information.

  3. Hey NJ resident here! The problem with 4-way intersections is that lot of NJ drivers don’t even understand how they work to begin with. So, you will see a lot of them not obey the rule of the road.

    In NJ you can turn right on red at any traffic light unless it is specifically posted that you cannot. Look to your right and above for a sign indicating this. “No turn on red”. Some crazy intersections allow it only during certain times of day.

    Yup, we take the fire hydrant rule very seriously. Tickets are written almost immediately for parking in front of them as they should be. Delaying the fire department from hooking up to one in case of a fire could mean death or serious injury.

    Never park where the pavement or the curb is painted yellow.

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