A road trip can be a great way to escape the daily grind and explore our fascinating country. But driving on an open country road can be very different to the stop-start driving that you might be used to in city traffic. Here are some of our tips to make a rural journey safer and less stressful.
Before heading out, consider the route you will be taking. How far is it, and how long will it take you to arrive at your destination? Will some of the journey be made on single lane roads or dual-carriageways? What road surface will you be driving on? If they are unsealed, gravel or dirt roads, you may have to prepare your vehicle and adjust the way you drive. It takes longer to stop on a graveled road, so change your braking accordingly.
Having an idea of what to expect can help make driving on unfamiliar roads less stressful. One proactive step you can take is to get your car serviced before you set off, as the mechanic could find and fix up any glitches. In addition, make sure your car’s tyres, including the spare, are up to scratch; that is, making sure they have the correct inflation and that the tread’s depth complies with the legal tread depths in the state or territory you are driving in. Ensure that your car’s petrol tank is full before you take off and make sure you keep a first aid kit and a stock of ample food and water in your car.
Fatigue can be overwhelming and can lead to serious car accidents that can be fatal. On a long trip, it is particularly important to prevent driver fatigue; as they say – stop, revive, survive.
It’s important to have a good night’s sleep before heading out on a long road trip, so you can start fresh the next day. Avoid driving at night, straight after you finish work or at times when you are usually asleep. If you can, share the drive with your partner or friend and avoid taking long trips alone. By handing over the steering wheel, you can rest and improve your concentration for the next leg of the journey. Keep in mind that while caffeinated drinks, talking to a friend or listening to the radio might keep you alert in the short term, only a good night’s sleep can improve your concentration and get you completely refreshed for a long trip.
Remember to take a break at a designated rest stop away from the road for at least 15 minutes every two hours. Over the Easter and Christmas holidays, volunteers from the national Driver Reviver program set up stations along major rural roads across Australia and offer drivers a free cup of tea, a biscuit, and a place to rest on their journeys. Take care though as these sites may not be up and running 24/7. All year round, there are fixed rest stops along major roads which have cafes, toilets, petrol stations, and a place to stretch your legs. You should plan your rest stops before you set off, double-checking times the facilities are open or closed. Avoid driving for more than 8-10 hours a day.
Arming yourself with safe driving techniques can reduce the risk of accidents occurring. Stay alert for obstacles on the road and be aware of any changes to road conditions. Check road conditions on the Internet or radio before setting off – there may be obstacles or construction works on routes you are planning to take. If you’re travelling with kids in the car, ensure that they are entertained so they do not distract the driver when on the road. Always pay attention to road signs and be ready for hazards.
If you encounter a hazard on the road, slow down and proceed with caution. In good conditions, the safe following distance is at least three seconds between your car and the one in front of you, but you should sit further behind in bad conditions. Travel at a speed which will allow you to stop in time should the need arise. Speed limits vary from state to state, so be mindful of roadside signs that indicate the maximum speed limit allowed.
Remember that vehicles travel at high speeds on highways or motorways, so it’s important to be patient when overtaking or changing lanes. Overtaking lanes are provided on some major rural arterial roads. Under any circumstance, you should allow plenty of time when overtaking large vehicles, especially in wet or foggy conditions. If you are towing a caravan or trailer, pull over occasionally to allow other vehicles to pass. If you are wondering whether there is enough room to overtake, don’t: if you have any doubts, you should wait until there is a clear and safe opportunity to overtake.
In poor visibility due to time of day or weather, reduce your speed and drive with caution, particularly on bends and at intersections.
If nighttime country driving is unavoidable, it is vital that your vehicle’s headlights, rear lights and number light are switched on. Headlights should be used between sunset and sunrise, in fog, rain or poor visibility. You may need to use your high-beams on unlit roads. According to the Australian Road Rules, you must dip your lights to low-beam if an oncoming vehicle is less than 200 metres in front of you on the other side of the road. Similarly, you must dip your headlights when travelling less than 200 metres behind another vehicle travelling in the same direction.
Remember to constantly scan the road ahead for signs of dips or curves and other hazards such as animals. Australian wildlife and livestock often graze on the roadside and can stray onto the road, so you should be particularly wary when driving at dawn, dusk and at night, when animals are most active. If an animal crosses your path, do not react by swerving your car. Brake gently and wait for the animal to pass before proceeding with caution. If you come across an injured animal on the road, you can call a local wildlife rescue group. For more information, visit the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife website.