Driving in Australia’s outback is not like driving anywhere else. For starters, it is often very remote. The roads are sometimes only slightly better than tracks and some days you may not even see another vehicle. Because these conditions are so different to what many of us are used to, we have put together a list of tips to help ensure your safety when you are driving in the outback.
If you are heading into the outback, you will find the roads vastly different to those in the city. Many roads, although they are sealed are only single lanes. Therefore, they aren’t wide enough for two vehicles to pass. This means that someone is going to have to get off the road. If it is a truck the vehicle getting entirely off the road will be you.
Most times the gravel sides of the road are wide enough for you to get out onto. But beware, sometimes the drop off the edge of the tar is quite big, so you will need to slow down. Also, if there has been recent rain these edges can be very muddy or badly rutted by other wheel tracks.
In these situations, having a two-way radio is absolutely vital. If you see a road train coming, it is much easier for you to get off the road and let him keep coming. Leaving him on the tar section of the road means that your rig will not get showered in dust and stones. Call him up on the two way and tell him that you will pull off for him. He will definitely appreciate the consideration.
When you do have to drop of the edge like this, make sure you reduce your speed so as you don’t shower the oncoming vehicle with rocks. We scored a stone chip on our windscreen because somebody went past us going to fast.
In the outback, you will also encounter a number of roads that aren’t sealed at all. The condition of these roads will vary greatly. This depends on whether they have been graded recently, if the area has had rain or how much traffic uses the road. You will encounter everything from sand to bulldust to severe corrugations. In these conditions it pays to reduce your speed and keep an eye out for hazards such as pot holes, wash outs and rocks.
Once again when you are passing oncoming traffic, reduce your speed to prevent rocks from flying out and hitting the other vehicle.
Many outback roads actually run through private property. These roads are generally unfenced. So there is a large chance that you will come across stock, mostly cattle but sometimes sheep. If you see stock up ahead, once again reduce your speed. Stock can be unpredictable. Most times they will turn away from an approaching vehicle. But occasionally at the last minute they will change direction and head across the road in front of you and you definitely do not want to hit a cow.
Also when travelling along these roads you will encounter a lot of grids or ramps. Mostly they are sign posted so you have some warning that you are approaching one. We have found most to be in good condition, especially if they are adjoining a sealed road but every now and again you will encounter one that is rough, so it pays to slow down as you approach.
You may also have to open and close the occasional gate. Make sure that if you travel through a gate that you close it again and make sure it is properly secured. Some gate chains can be tricky or just a piece of wire so take your time.
When travelling in the outback you will see a lot of wildlife. Everything from kangaroos, to emus and pigs. These animals are generally most active early in the morning, late evening and nighttime, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t around during the day. Once again, you don’t want to hit one of these. Even a glancing collision could cause major damage to your vehicle.
The other thing you will encounter is lots of roadkill. Roadkill attracts birds such as crows, kites and eagles. A large eagle takes a while to get airborne, so again if you see something like that on the road in front of you, try to slow down to give it the best chance of taking off.
The other thing is you really don’t want to hit a piece of roadkill. But you also don’t want to swerve suddenly to avoid it. Slow down and veer around it if it’s safe to do so.
WIND AND WEATHER CONDITIONS
One thing we didn’t realise was just how windy it gets in the outback. With vast stretches of open paddocks and no trees to slow it down you can suddenly be hit with a wind gust that you aren’t expecting.
If you are travelling in the outback, it pays to keep an eye on the weather in the area you are intending on travelling to. Many roads in the outback can become impassable even with the slightest amount of rain. Gravel roads turn to mud and many low lying roads end up with water across them. You will find advisory signs in many places telling you which roads are open and which ones are closed. If you are unsure, check at the local Police Station or Visitor Information Centre
OVERTAKING OR BEING OVERTAKEN
Occasionally when driving in the outback you may come across a slower moving vehicle, that you may need to overtake. Again a two way is invaluable here as you can let the slower vehicle know that you intend to go around him. Watch your mirrors, if you find that a vehicle is catching you, start looking for a place to let them around. If it is a single lane, start slowing down well before the vehicle catches you. Use your indicator to let them know you are pulling over. If you get right off the road, they can stay on the tar or vehicle track and minimise the rocks and dust thrown at you.
Check out our YouTube video for some helpful tips.
HEAVY VEHICLE CALL POINTS
These are something we had not come across before, but we have now encountered them quite a few times. Basically, they are signs to indicate a narrow section of road, where you may not have a clear vision or there may not be room for two vehicles to pass especially if one is a heavy vehicle.
The idea is that you call your direction of travel and the name of the call point on your UHF radio to let oncoming traffic know your position. We found these invaluable, especially as we weren’t familiar with the roads. Yet another reason to have a two-way radio in your vehicle.
When we were travelling out to Cameron Corner, we came across a couple of detour signs. One had fallen over and it was clear that traffic was driving around the sign. But the next sign we came to was definitely one to obey as there was clearly water across the road. So always follow the directions of any signs like these.
Travelling in the outback is a great experience. Following these few simple tips will have you safe driving in the outback too. For more outback travel tips read our post on Outback Travel Safety.