Mastering safe driving in rural and outback areas
Heading out on a long adventure, or just a day trip? Knowing what to look out for when driving in rural and regional areas can help keep you, your passengers and other road users safe.
If you break down along the way, AAMI Roadside Assist can lend a hand – 24/7 with unlimited callouts*. This can be added to an AAMI Comprehensive Car Insurance policy as an optional cover. Conditions and exclusions apply, so read the Product Disclosure Statement for more info. It’s important to note that Roadside Assist may not be available if you are in an inaccessible location or we have no service providers within 100km of your breakdown location.
Common hazards in rural and outback areas
Animals and wildlife
Animals aren’t great at differentiating between the bush and the back roads. Regardless of what region you’re in, animal collisions are always possible. Keep your eyes peeled, both for your safety and for the animals’.
At night, animals may be shocked by the glare from your headlights. They may not immediately, or ever, move out of the way. If you can, slow down as quickly and safely as possible around any animal – whether it’s on the roadside or directly in your path. Most importantly, remember to never swerve. Swerving can lead to more severe injuries and damage, especially on roads flanked by trees.
Driving in difficult weather, like heavy rain, can be tricky wherever you are. But rural or outback areas can be even tougher.
There may be less built-in infrastructure, such as gutters and drains, to help lessen the risk. In extreme cases, this can mean invisible black ice, flooded roads or impassable mud.
Depending on the time of the year, you may also encounter heavy fog that completely obscures your vision. If you do, turn on your lights and pay extra attention to your surroundings, even if you know the area.
Driving conditions can vary wildly based on a range of factors. For example, vehicles can kick up dust and severely limit your vision. Never overtake to escape dust from a vehicle in front of you – another car may be oncoming, and may not be able to spot you.
Another condition you may not be used to is long – and we mean long – stretches of nothing. Rest up beforehand to stay alert along these parts of the road network. It’s recommended that drivers take a break every two hours, so try to plan these breaks in advance.
Dirt and unsealed roads are fairly common and handle differently than bitumen. They can have quite slippery surfaces, which can be tricky – if not downright dangerous – for the unprepared.
These conditions can be exacerbated by weather and other factors, so be sure to check ahead of time. Depending on weather conditions, a road may be:
- restricted to certain vehicle types, or
- closed completely.
Another condition to note is dirt roads that have a corrugated surface – an effect also known as washboarding. This is where repetitive ripples or “waves” form, effectively turning the road into a constant series of speedbumps. Driving along these with high tyre pressure and at high speed can be unbearable – they’ll rattle your vehicle and shake you to your bones.
These roads can also be narrower than usual. This can result in certain roads only fitting one vehicle at a time – especially if the vehicles are larger, like road trains or trucks. This means drivers need to be patient and courteous so everyone can be on their way safely.
Rural roads can have much higher speeds on much narrower roads. This, combined with everything above, can be hazardous for locals and visitors alike.
Stretches of roads can be straight, long, and empty, but that’s no reason to slam the accelerator. These roads still have speed limits! This is for the safety of others, as well as yourself.
Plan your trip
The first step to any successful expedition is planning. To help ensure a smooth journey, make sure you do the following:
- Map out your trip – include things like your final destination, fuel stops (for both the car and yourself!) and where you will be taking those all-important breaks, both during the day and overnight.
- Print out your map – while it is great to have a copy on your smartphone, you shouldn’t look at your phone while driving. Not only is it illegal, it’s incredibly dangerous. On top of that, you never know when you may not have reception – and that’s where the good ol’ fashioned paper map comes in handy.
- Pack extras – snacks, water, and other key must-haves.
- Don’t forget the important stuff – a tyre repair kit, air compressor, spare tyre, car jack, satellite phone for emergencies, and extra (yes, extra!) water in case you break down.
Preparing your vehicle for rural and outback driving
Rural and outback driving can be hazardous due to high-speed zones and an increase in potential debris or roadside hazards. This means it’s especially important to check the maintenance of your vehicle prior to departure and along the way.
You can check some things ourself, like your car’s:
- tyre pressure
- oil and water levels
- windscreen wipers, and
It may also be a good idea to ask for a mechanic to do a once-over if you’re planning a big trip, especially to check if your brakes are in good shape. Safety first!
You may want to make sure that you’ve got the right car for the job – 4x4s give greater control on unpredictable roads than a two-wheel drive system. Check your tyres have plenty of tread, and that the suspension is up for the task ahead.
Driving techniques for rural and outback roads
- Lower your tyre pressure slightly when driving over corrugated roads. The right amount depends on your vehicle’s load and weight. Make sure you have a tyre pump packed to increase the pressure once you’re in the clear!
- When driving through dust, make sure all the windows are closed and the vehicle isn’t bringing dust in through the ventilation. Your windscreen may also get caked, so ensure your wipers are up to the task of keeping it clean.
- Don’t drive too close to the vehicle in front of you. Not only can this pelt you with dust, but they may need to stop suddenly due to the unpredictable roads. Giving yourself more time to react can only be a good thing.
- Drive smoothly. Give yourself plenty of extra time to slow down and brake, and to take corners. Even for vehicles with assisted driving, stability control isn’t a replacement for safe driving.
- Wet dirt roads become sludge and mud. Some outback and rural roads will close when wet, so check ahead of time to avoid having to turn around – or worse, getting caught in the mud.
What you need to know about navigating in isolated areas
Let others know about your plans ahead of time, and keep in touch at regular intervals . This can be with a friend, family member, or even someone at the local police station of wherever you’re heading.
That way, they can keep an eye on expected arrival times, and can notice if something doesn’t go according to plan before it becomes dangerous. It may seem like a lot of worry over nothing, but when you’re broken down 100km away from the nearest town, you may be glad you thought ahead!
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* AAMI Roadside Assist is an Optional Cover only available in conjunction with AAMI Comprehensive Car Insurance. There is no cover for AAMI Roadside Assist within the first 24 hours of adding the optional cover.
Car insurance issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 AFSL 230859 trading as AAMI. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement before making a decision about this insurance. The Target Market Determinationis also available. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.
The information is intended to be of general nature only. Subject to any rights you may have under any law, we do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss or damage, including loss of business or profits or any other indirect loss, incurred as a result of reliance upon the information. Please make your own enquiries.