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Travel Australia: Driving in The Outback

To reduce the risk of an accident or injury in the Outback, we recommend that you do not drive when you are tired or affected by alcohol. Think twice before driving more than 2 hours at a time without a break. If you are considering going 4Wheel Driving in the Outback for the first time, we advise you take lessons in preparation for your journey. Lessons are inexpensive, and may ensure a safer journey!

Driver fatigue

One of the most serious hazards you can face in the outback is your own (and other people’s) driver fatigue. Driving long distances, to see the fantastic natural features in Western Australia, can be tiring; particularly in hot weather and if you are not used to long distance driving. Sometimes drivers can become so mesmerized by the long straight roads that they forget to take the next corner carefully and drive straight into a ditch, tree or another vehicle. It important to take breaks; get out of the vehicle and do some exercise, change drivers, drink a coffee or a coke.

Travelling times and distances

One should note that on dirt or gravel roads 300 to 400 Km in a day is enough for most travellers. On serious 4WD tracks, l00km to 150km a day might be all you can hope for without running you and the vehicle into the ground. Passing other vehicles on narrow roads, dust etc. First of all, slow down. Many drivers move to the left, so that half of the vehicle is driven onto the edge of the road, allowing each vehicle to pass the other using half the road. That seems fair and polite to them, but many experienced outback drivers do not recommend that. Each vehicle is then at risk. So they recommend firstly, that you slow down to see if you can work out what the other vehicle is going to do. If it moves off the road then you should drive down the middle of the road to pass them; even though you have the risk of a broken windscreen from any stones the other car might throw up.

If the other car looks like staying in the middle, then slow right down and try to find a safe place to move completely out of the way on the left side of the road. If the other vehicle is a large one like, a truck or road train, it is better wherever possible for you to stop on the side of the road and let it go through; as they cannot so easily move over safely.

Driving in the dust

There will be occasions in the north in the dry season when you will find yourself driving in dust. If the vehicle in front of you, or oncoming, is throwing up dust then slow down, put on your headlights (or dust light if you have one), and if it is really difficult to see pull off the side of the road somewhere safe and stop for a while. It is very important also not to simply drive off the side of the road, if you cannot see where you are going. There can be deep ravines, running rivers or large rocks or trees there. Be very careful and don’t continue driving if you cannot see where you are going.

The standard of the roads

You can drive a long way around Australia on bitumen; but you don’t have to get very far off the main track to find yourself on dirt or gravel roads. The standard of the dirt and gravel roads is generally OK compared with unsealed roads in Africa or South America; that tend to see far more traffic. The major gravel and dirt roads are graded regularly; although heavy road trains (large trucks pulling large trailers) can cause the surface to break up rather quickly.


The appropriate speed limits are all maximum speeds and cannot take all conditions into account. You must be careful to choose your speed by reference to all the prevailing conditions including the condition of the vehicle, weather, the roads, and the driver. All drivers, but particularly inexperienced drivers, need to be wary of driving too fast in country areas. Speed is a major contributing factor in most accidents in rural Australia. Many drivers tend to speed when they find themselves on apparently empty roads that are straight for many kilometres.

If a tyre fails without warning or a kangaroo suddenly jumps out onto the road – which can happen at any time and at any place – you need to be able to slow down safely. If you are exceeding the speed limit, then the consequence of problems like these developing can be fatal.

Stock on the Roads

Our experiences in outback driving has taught us to travel during daylight hours only. Cattle, sheep, kangaroos, emus, eagles and goats are common hazards on outback roads at night, particuularly at dawn and dusk when animals are either just waking up or getting ready to settle down. A collision with one is likely to kill the animal and seriously damage your vehicle. Kangaroos seek shade during the day but are very active at night; especially at dawn and dusk when they often come to the edges of the road to feed. Sadly these animals have never become much attuned to vehicles. They are beautiful but simply not very intelligent when it comes to vehicles. When startled they will often jump into the way of the vehicle and not away from it.

Extreme caution is required when driving at times, and in places, where these animals are likely to be in the vicinity. They often move in groups; so if you see one Kangaroo hopping across the road slow right down as it is likely to have friends and family close behind. If one hops out right in front of you, hit the brakes; please only swerve to avoid the animal if it’s safe to do so. Many people have been killed or injured in accidents caused by swerving to miss an animal.

Sad as it is for us to have to say this – it is almost always much safer for all concerned not to swerve. Firstly, if you swerve it makes it harder for the animal to get out of the way. At least if you drive straight the animal has some chance, whichever way it chooses to jump. Secondly, and most importantly, to hit the animal is almost always much safer for the driver and the passengers; and anyone else on that piece of road at the time.

If you have an accident with an animal, generally, you will be considered at fault and expected to pay for the cost of any gates or fences or cattle grids you damage. You are required to inform the local police of any accident. This is a requirement of your motor vehicle insurance policy anyway, so it is most important that you do so promptly.

Cattle Grids

Cattle grids take the place of gates on most outback routes and these should be approached with care. Often there are potholes beside, in front of, behind the grids, or the grids might be raised above the road level. Other grids may be on top of sharp humps that could damage your suspension and cause your the vehicle to “take off”, if you drive over them at any significant speed. Also, pastoralists spend a lot of time, and money, repairing caved-in grid wells caused by thoughtless drivers. So they will not appreciate any damage you do through excessive speed.

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