Learning to drive is a rite of passage. For many people it means the freedom to explore, to travel and, most importantly, to be independent. However, driving also comes with a lot of responsibility, whether that’s keeping up maintenance on your own car or protecting a rental vehicle with rental car insurance – it all begins with learning the basics.

The basics of driving a car are universal. When it comes to the rules of the road, however, there are big variations – even across Australia. To get an understanding of the differences around the country, we looked at the price of learning to drive – from licences to testing – as well as probationary periods, the minimum driving time required and more. We’ve summarised information for all six states in a handy infographic below. If you’d like further info, including all of our sources, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Infographic driving licence differences

Types of Licence

While there are some slight variations, the licencing system is largely consistent across all six Australian states. Learner drivers first need to apply for a learner permit (L) before they can start lessons. Tasmania is the only state with a two-tiered learner licence (L1 & L2). After a set period (between 6 and 12 months depending on the state), drivers can apply for a P1 licence and must take a practical and driving knowledge test. If a driver is over 25 (or over 26 in ACT), drivers can apply directly for a P2 licence. If under the age limit, P1 holders will undertake a probationary period (between 1 and 2 years depending on the state) before attaining their P2 licence. After a second probationary period, drivers are awarded their full, or open, licence.

Cost of a Licence

The full cost of a licence – from learner to open – varies massively from state to state. Totals range from the modest sum of $102 in Northern Territory to the rather more substantial amount of $371 in Australian Capital Territory. With up to five different licences to apply for over the course of your learning journey, the costs can really add up. However, it’s worth noting that these costs will be spread over the course of 3-5 years, so they won’t have quite as big an effect on your finances as you might think.

For comparison, a provisional driving licence in the UK costs around $68 and it’s upgraded to a full licence for free when you pass your practical driving test. In New Zealand, you’ll be looking at a total of around $322.23 from learner to full licence.

Cost of a Test

Our total cost of testing figure encompasses everything including your practical assessment, knowledge, and hazard perception tests. While there are big variations in cost, it’s worth noting that in the Australian Capital Territory, the cost of applying for a P1 licence also includes your practical tests. So, when combined with the licence costs, the overall cost of learning to drive in the ACT is actually slightly cheaper than some other states – like Tasmania, for example, where both licence and testing fees are high. Compared to other countries, in the UK a theory and practical test will cost you a combined $156, whereas in the US the combined total might only come to around $28 – what a bargain!

Probationary Period and Demerit Points

The probationary period is largely designed for younger drivers. While drivers are allowed to drive unsupervised during this period, they are subject to more stringent rules. The two main differences are the number of demerit points they can accrue and the legal blood alcohol limit. Generally, learner and probationary drivers have a point limit of between 4 and 7 points before a suspension, while a full or open licence holder can accrue between 12 and 13. Depending on the number of points accrued within a 12-month period, drivers will receive a scaled suspension of their licence from anywhere between 3 and 5 months.

Driving Time Required

The concept of ‘minimum driving time’ exists in most Australian states to serve two purposes. Not only does it give the licensing authority an indication of the learner’s experience, but it also ensures new drivers complete as much on-the-road driving as possible before they’re allowed on the road by themselves. In four of six states, there is a specific minimum number of supervised driving hours required before a driver can sit their practical driving test and get a P1 licence. These range from a combined 140 hours of day and night driving in New South Wales to just 50 hours of daytime driving in Tasmania. In Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory, however, there are no minimum hours required – although many in both states are pushing to see similar requirements to their neighbours.

Age Restrictions

As with any other country, there are certain age restrictions when it comes to acquiring a driving licence. Across five of the states, the legal age for acquiring a learner’s permit is 16 years old. In the sixth, ACT, learners can apply slightly younger at 15 years and 9 months old. In the case of unsupervised driving, you can drive at 17 years old in four of the six states. In Victoria, you must be 18 years old, however in Northern Territory you can drive solo at 16 years and 9 months old.

Around the world, there are big variations in this figure too. American licensing varies greatly state to state. In some states like North Dakota, you’re allowed to get your learner’s permit at 14 years old and drive unsupervised by your 16th birthday, while in Connecticut you can’t get your permit until you’re 16 and won’t get your full licence until your 18th birthday. In the UK, you can apply for a provisional driving licence from 15 years and 9 months, but you can’t actually learn to drive a car until you’re 17.

Accident Rates

The national average for Australian fatalities in car accidents is 5 per 100,000 of the population annually. That’s almost double a country like the UK which has around 2.7 car accident fatalities per 100,000 of the population every year. While the numbers from state to state in Australia are relatively even, there is one outlier. At over double the national average, Northern Territory had 12.5 road fatalities per 100,000 of the population in 2017.

The Legal Alcohol Limit

The legal alcohol limit with a full licence is 0.05 BAC (blood alcohol content). When you’re a learner or on a provisional licence, the legal limit is 0.00 – effectively preventing inexperienced drivers from drinking while they’re still learning the ropes. These rates are largely in line with other nations around Europe and the rest of the world. Studies have shown that with a BAC of 0.05 you are twice as likely to have a crash than if you’d had no alcohol at all.


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