Being safe on the road - rules and reasons

Road safety is everybody’s responsibility. Police is committed to reducing death and injury on our roads, and we work alongside our road safety partners to do this. But we cannot do it alone, we need everyone’s help to keep our roads safe.


A third of drivers and passengers who die on our roads aren’t wearing their seatbelts – seatbelts save lives.

Mistakes happen on the road and wearing your seatbelt could be the difference between you making it out of a crash alive, or not.

Regardless of how fast you’re travelling, wearing your seatbelt properly will reduce your risk of getting injured – or even worse, dying. Being properly restrained reduces your chance of death or serious injury in a crash by 60 percent in the front seat and 44 percent in the back seat. That’s why New Zealand law requires drivers and passengers in cars and other motor vehicles to wear seatbelts and child restraints.


Fatigue is more than just feeling tired, it’s a state of physical and mental exhaustion which results in the loss of alertness. It is a main behaviour being targeted by Police to reduce the risks of harm being caused on our roads.

Fatigue is a factor in many road crashes so before you start a long-distance drive make sure you are well rested and have had a good meal beforehand. When you plan your journey include breaks so that you can eat, hydrate, rest and stretch. You might be able to share the driving so that you both can keep focused and alert. If you start to feel drowsy pull over and stop for a quick nap. Remember it’s better to arrive late than not at all

In 2020 fatigue was a factor in 25 deaths and 113 serious injuries.

More information on fatigue is available at the Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) website.

Driving and hand-held mobile phones

Nobody wants to share the road with a driver who isn’t paying attention. When you’re driving, your focus should be on the road and getting everybody in your car to the destination safely. Put the phone away and keep your eyes on the road, this includes when you've stopped at traffic lights. Things can change around you in a split second, and if you’re not paying attention you may not have time to react and avoid a crash.

Under the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 drivers can't use, while driving, a hand-held mobile phone 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 $150 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 (1mins 30s) about how to switch your phone to Do Not Disturb for a distraction free drive (NZ Transport Agency website).

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

Alcohol limits when driving

Alcohol and/or drugs are a factor in about a third of all fatal crashes. If you are in any doubt at all about being safe or legal to drive after drinking, don’t – it’s not worth it.

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.


As with alcohol, it is an offence to drive while impaired by drugs. Qualifying drugs may be legal, illegal, or prescription medicine.

The impairment offence treats illicit drugs and prescription medicines the same because both can impair a person’s ability to drive safely and be a road safety risk.

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

If the test shows that the driver is impaired, it will be followed by a blood test.

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.

More information

Speed limits

In any crash – no matter what the cause – the outcome depends on speed. It’s the single biggest determinant in whether anyone is killed, injured, or walks away unharmed. Less speed means less harm in a crash.

Read about speed limits and enforcement.

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.