What do I need to watch out for when driving in the Outback?

Looking for some safety tips for when you’re driving in the Outback and Central Australia?

There are lots of things to watch out for but the three main problems for drivers in the Outback are Fatigue, Animals and Weather.

There are some very great distances between Townships or Roadhouses in Outback Australia. Because of this, it is strongly recommended that you either rest at least every two hours or change drivers every two hours. It is unnerving how travelling at the same speed can make you drowsy!

road side stop in the Outback

 

You can drive for several hours between roadside stops called Roadhouses, without seeing another vehicle. Roadhouses provide the traveller with the opportunity to stop, refuel the car and the people as well as a comfortable “comfort” stop. Having said that, some Roadhouses may not have the fuel that you require or may have temporarily run out of it. Make use of the roadside stops where you can take a break.

Top Tip: take frequent breaks and/or change drivers every two hours or more frequently if tired.

At some Roadhouse stops you will be able to access your mobile phone and internet. In the vastness of the Outback, there is usually no consistent internet/mobile phone access. Once out of civilisation, you are on your own! Some travellers prefer to travel in small groups. Some travellers go to the lengths of purchasing an EPIRB or hiring a Satellite Phone. There are also other less expensive ways of being tracked.

Top Tip: carry spare fuel and water for unexpected delays.

It is a good idea to let friends know where you will be travelling and when you expect to be back. If you are a visitor, call in at the local Police Station and let them know of your plans. Check back in with them when you return.

Top Tip: let friends know where you will be travelling and when to expect you back.

animal sign on outback road

 

What sort of animals will I come across that may be a potential danger when I’m driving? Why would animals be on the road?

When pastoral leases are the size of some small European countries, it is difficult and very expensive to fence it all. There will often be signs up warning you of an un-fenced section. For this reason, it is a good idea not to drive at dusk, night or dawn.

 

Top Tip: drive only during daylight hours!

If you have a rental vehicle, check your terms and conditions: some car rental companies have a very strict policy on no driving at night and not on dirt roads. To do so may void your insurance! With GPS fitted in many cars now, it is easy for them to track where you are going and when!

cow on outback road

Camels, kangaroos, cows, buffalo, horses, donkeys, sheep, emu, wombats, lizards, snakes, dingoes and eagles are the most likely animals that you could encounter crossing the road when driving on remote roads.

Why would an eagle be a hazard? The eagle has found that the animals killed and injured by vehicles are easy prey. You can often see dead animals on the side of the Outback roads with one or more eagles feasting. When an eagle takes off, it runs/hops first and then takes off. They also will leave taking off until the last minute. Sometimes, the eagle will take off into the path of the oncoming car.

During the day, you may be able to see most of these. Kangaroos can hop fences and be on the road before you know it. At night, with only the stars and the moon to light the sky, dark shapes are often invisible until in your headlights and then it may be too late! Dusk and dawn are the usual times when animals are on the move.

Hitting one of these larger animals will most likely damage your car and render it un-driveable. If you are lucky, you will be un-injured. There is nothing worse than having an injured emu, kangaroo or eagle come through the windscreen of a car and then have it try to escape!

If this happens, hopefully you have excellent health, travel and/or car insurance! Vehicle recovery and/or towing is extremely expensive when a round trip could be up to 1500 kilometres! Ambulance call-outs are also expensive!

Top Tip: check and ensure that you have recovery costs for car and people covered.

The four seasons do not really exist in Central Australia or the Outback! Central Australia is a desert region, so it tends to be either cold or hot. The temperature can plummet to minus 5 overnight in the winter months and soar to 45 Celsius in the summer.

Top Tip: always be prepared for the unexpected – carry spare water, fuel, food. Stay with your car if you break down – a car offers some protection from the elements and animals. It is also easier to spot from the air!

In the Top End of Australia, the seasons are known as the Wet and the Dry. If planning a car trip to the Top End, the Dry season is the time to go. The Wet season is when the unpredictable monsoon rains come, turning dry dusty roads into impassable rivers in a very short time.

long vehicle sign

 

The Outback is also known for something uniquely Australian, called the Road Train. This is a prime mover with three trailers in tow, measuring up to a length of 53.5 metres.

These vehicles drive the long distances between cities, towns and communities, delivering everything including food, building supplies, mining and other equipment.

So, what should you do if you encounter a Road Train?

If it is coming towards you, slow down and move over to the left so that the Road Train can keep its’ wheels on the road trainroad. Think: a prime mover and three trailers means lots of tyres throwing up stones and dirt at your car and windscreen!

Top Tip: slow down and move over early so that the Road Train driver can keep all wheels on the road!

Road Trains are speed limited to 100kmh on the open road. If you come up behind a Road Train, make sure he knows that you are there by turning your headlights on. Passing 53.5metres requires a very long distance. Some hilly places will have special passing lanes and signs will indicate how many kilometres ahead one might be. Outback roads rarely have these.

When you pass a Road Train, make sure that you move well ahead before you pull in. Allow a safe distance between you and the Road Train at all times. Their stopping time is measured in distance! Imagine 50 metres of freight weighing tens of tonnes trying to brake suddenly! Best case scenario, an empty triple road train travelling at 100kph, would take approximately 200 metres to stop. Very rarely do you come across an empty one!

Top Tip: overtake only when safe to do so!

If you see a Road Train turning, stay well back! Their back-trailer tracks differently and if you choose to drive up on the inside of a turning Road Train, the back trailer will probably go across the front of your car!

If you see a Road Train turning into the road coming towards you, slow down as they will probably drive onto your side of the road to allow the back trailer to stay on the road and off the footpath.

If you meet a Road Train at a roundabout, give them plenty of room!

Top Tip: give Road Trains the respect they deserve! They are bigger than you! Would you take on an elephant?

subject to flooding sign

Other hazards include driving into the sun, ant hills that are like concrete and unexpected flooding, even when the sun is shining where you are!

Ready for the Outback? In your mechanically-sound vehicle with appropriate supplies and communications, enjoy the clear skies and magnificent scenery of the Outback! There is nowhere else in the world like it!