Driving rules and legislation

Seat belts

Regardless of how fast you’re travelling, wearing your seat belt properly will reduce your risk of getting injured – or even worse, dying. That’s why NZ law requires drivers and passengers in cars and other motor vehicles to wear seat belts and child restraints.

In the last five years, over 300 people who died in NZ crashes were not wearing their seat belt. Many of these people would still be alive today if they were safely wearing their seat belt.

Driver licences

When people get their driver’s licence they learn a lot of useful information and skills that can protect them and others while they’re driving. Everyone who drives on NZ roads is required to have a legal licence. You can find out more about getting your licence on NZTA’s website.

Alcohol limits when driving

The alcohol limit for drivers -

aged 20 and over is:

  • 250 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath (mcg).
  • The blood alcohol limit is 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (mg).

aged under 20 is:

  • The limit is zero.

The law says you must not drive if the amount of alcohol in your blood or breath exceeds these limits.

The number of alcoholic drinks you can have before you reach these limits depends on many factors, including whether you are male or female, your size and how much food you have eaten.

Even small amounts of alcohol can affect your driving, so if you drink at all, don’t drive.

  • Call a taxi.
  • Take a bus or get someone who hasn’t been drinking to drive you home.
  • Think ahead - it’s always easier if you have a plan.

If you’re driving and a breath test shows you have more than 250mcg of alcohol per litre of breath, you will be required to take an evidential breath test (EBT), usually in a booze bus or at a police station.

If this confirms you are over 250mcg, you will likely be forbidden to drive for 12 hours. You will need to arrange a lift or have someone come and drive your car.

Driving and hand-held mobile phones

Under the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 drivers can't use, while driving, a hand-held mobile phone (including PDA or BlackBerry) to:

  • make, receive or terminate a telephone call
  • create, send or read a text message or email
  • create, send or view a video message
  • communicate in a similar or any other way.

Penalties are an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

Drivers can use a mobile phone to make a call while driving only if it is an emergency situation and unsafe or impracticable to stop the vehicle to make the call.

Watch a short video (2mins 45s) about the risks of driving while distracted (NZ Transport Agency website).

Visit the New Zealand Legislation website to read the Rule's clause referring to use of mobile phones.


Police may carry out compulsory impairment tests on drivers they suspect of driving under the influence of drugs under the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Act 2009.

It is an offence to drive while impaired and with evidence in the bloodstream of a qualifying drug. Qualifying drugs may be legal, illegal or prescription medicine.

Police can use a compulsory impairment test (CIT) to determine whether or not a driver is impaired. If the test shows that the driver is impaired, it will be followed by a blood test to determine whether controlled drugs or prescription medicines are present.

Penalties for drug-impaired driving are aligned to the penalties for drink-driving.

The enforcement process

A trained officer can require a driver to undergo a CIT when there is good cause to suspect consumption of a drug or prescription medicine. A driver who is not able to satisfactorily complete the impairment test will be required to provide a blood sample.

It is an offence when the driver is unable to complete the CIT in a satisfactory manner; and the driver's blood contains evidence of a qualifying drug.

The compulsory impairment test (CIT)

The CIT involves:

  • an eye assessment – pupil size, reaction to light, lack of convergence and nystagmus (eye movement – irregular eye movement is a marker for impairment)
  • a walk and turn assessment
  • a one leg stand assessment.

Prescription medicine

The impairment offence treats illicit drugs and prescription medicines the same because both can impair a person’s ability to drive safely. The offence is concerned with road safety risk, not with the use of illegal drugs.

Further information

Illegal street racing

Illegal street racing and the anti-social use of vehicles are tackled by measures in the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Act 2009.

Drivers who use their vehicles in an anti-social manner are a threat to public safety and can cause excessive noise, disruption and intimidation. The 2009 changes in the Act strengthened existing laws and ensured that penalties became appropriate to prevent repeat offending.

More information:

The Act and legitimate car clubs

The provisions in the Act are aimed at preventing only activities which create a public nuisance or threaten public safety. There is no intention of targeting safe and non-disruptive activities and it is unlikely that the activities of legitimate clubs breach the provisions in the Act.

Some car events already require local authority permission to be held. If permission is granted, illegal street racing bylaws (such as those prohibiting 'cruising') would not apply.

Cruising refers to drivers circling specified streets within defined periods of time, drawing attention to the power or the sound of the vehicle, or creating a convoy that impedes the flow of traffic.

Crushing cars

A provision for vehicle seizure and destruction is included in the Sentencing Amendment (Vehicle Confiscation) Act 2009.

Land Transport (Speed Limits Validation and Other Matters) Bill 2015


The Government has passed the Land Transport (Speed Limits Validation and Other Matters) Bill 2015, which retrospectively validates all speed limits set by road controlling authorities and enforced by Police since 2004.

The Bill has been passed in response to concerns that some road controlling authorities (including local councils and the New Zealand Transport Agency) may have made speed limit bylaws under powers that may not have been available to them, or have not conducted a review of speed limit bylaws within the required timeframe, as required under the Local Government Act.

What does this mean if I've been issued a speeding notice by Police or received fines or demerit points?

The Bill means all speed limits set under the Local Government Act, Government Roading Powers Act or Land Transport Act are considered valid, even if they were originally made under the wrong section of the law, or have expired as a result of not being reviewed.

The new law relates specifically to speed limit bylaws, and does not affect the validity of any other bylaws.

This law is retrospective, so any speed limits that might have expired because they may not have been reviewed as required, or were originally made under the wrong part of the law, are now considered to have always been valid.

This therefore means that any speeding notices, demerit points, fines and penalties which resulted from exceeding speed limits remain valid.

All motorists are reminded to observe posted speed limits and drive to the conditions to ensure their safety on the roads.

What if I still want to challenge a speeding infringement?

The process for challenging an infringement remains the same as it always has been. Details on the process are available on the Infringement notices, fees and fines – what you need to do section.