Trams and Turns

An experience of adjusting to driving on the opposite side of the road and navigating Melbourne's extensive tram network, providing tips and rules for interacting with trams on the road.

4 min. read

I’ll never forget arriving in Melbourne after living several decades in countries where I drove on the left hand side of the car on the right hand side of the road.  Bracing myself, I collected my rental car from Tullamarine airport’s international terminal and then proceeded to drive to my downtown hotel, trying to locate everything in the car which was in the complete opposite direction to what I was used, while trying to remember to stay on the wrong side of the road which was now the right side of the road…

Phew, I made it onto the Tullamarine Freeway and then peeled off at the Flemington Road exit, and soon entered the Melbourne CBD.  This is when the sweat started pouring.

Those trams!  And worse, those hook turns?  What on earth???

Okay, let’s go for the less daunting of the two: Trams.

Less daunting???  Wait till you hear the statistics:  Melbourne has the largest operational tram network in the world, covering a staggering 250km of double tram tracks, 74% of which is shared with other vehicles.  Our tram fleet consists of 520 trams providing 5,000+ services a day, making it 200+ million trips completed annually.

Yes folks, we are sharing the roads with all that.  

So maybe it’s time for a lesson – or a refresher, in case you’ve forgotten – of some basic tram rules:

What is the difference between a Tram Lane and a Tramway?  And what about shared lanes? What do I do at a Tram Stop?  When can I overtake a tram?

Okay, we’ll take it one at a time:


Tramways are designed for trams only and will have “trams only” signs overhead.  Raised dividing strips, or two yellow unbroken lines run beside the tram tracks

  • You must not drive in a tramway unless you are doing so to avoid an obstacle
  • It is illegal to drive across a tramway, unless there is a clear break in the raised dividing strip or double yellow lines, and when doing so you must give way to all trams (well, naturally)

Tram Lanes:

These Lanes also are for the sole use of trams and have “trams only” signposted overhead.  A solid yellow line borders the tram tracks

  • You must not drive in this lane unless you are trying to avoid an obstacle
  • You can use a tram lane to turn right, however you can only use it for up to 50 metres
  • Some lanes are full-time and operate 24/7, while others are part-time, operating only during peak hours.

Shared Lanes:

These lanes are marked with broken yellow lines and can be used by both trams and other vehicles.

Tram Stops:

Sometimes these are obvious - when it’s in a dedicated and protected Yellow Safety Zone or in a special Traffic Island, both of which clearly separates tram passengers from vehicles.  Here you don’t need to worry about passengers getting on and off trams.

The Tram Stops you do need to watch out for are the Stops signposted with green and white Yarra Trams/PTV logos, located at the kerb side of the road.

If a tram stops here, you stop.  Plain and simple.

If you are behind the tram, you will see it slow down and then come to a complete stop, its indicator lights blinking.  Stop your vehicle at the rear of the tram and remain there until passengers get on or off the tram and the tram doors close, and lights no longer blink.

Only then can you drive forward.

But what do you do if the tram is just sitting at a Tram Stop with its doors closed, and no lights blinking?  Here’s where the fun begins:

Overtaking Trams:

Make sure your knuckle is in your mouth while doing this.  Haha, don’t worry, you will get used to this after a while but it helps to know what you can and cannot do right?

If the tram is stationery, you can drive past it, first making sure:

  • The tram’s doors are closed on your side of the road
  • No passengers are on the road
  • Drive past at a speed no more than 10 km/hour.

You can legally overtake a tram which is moving, but please make sure it is safe to do so (watch out for parked cars to the left and of course, oncoming traffic to the right).

Last lesson:  Don’t do dumb things in front of a tram:

If a tram is travelling at 50 km/hour, it will take at least 60 metres to stop. 


This means:  Please don’t get in the path of an approaching tram.  

Trams can weigh up to 50 tonnes.  Yarra Trams once had an advertisement warning that a tram weighed as much as 30 rhinos.  Would you give way to 30 rhinos?  

If you’re a visual person like me and need to see how you go about passing or overtaking trams, VicRoads have a cool video here.

Soon…..  a post about those dreaded hook turns. Stay tuned!!!