Road durability and consistent maintenance are both key issues facing many rural towns and cities across Australia. According to the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV), 69 per cent of rural Victorians are unhappy with their road conditions, and their report reveals that poorly maintained roads present a growing risk to driver safety.
Travelling on long stretches of uneven roads brings a whole range of challenges for even the most experienced of drivers. In particular, a combination of extreme weather conditions and isolation means that rural driving carries a great deal of risk that is often not considered when preparing for long haul travel. Severe vehicle damage, bogging and crashes are all serious consequences for drivers.
To ensure your long-distance travel doesn’t turn into a horror movie, there are several ways you can stay safe while traversing deteriorated or remote roads.
Drivers should be well-prepared before long haul journeys, with action plans, maps and schedules drawn up and ready to go. Before you leave for a remote trip, it’s important to establish a route that takes advantage of any and all rest stops (service stations, cafés, truck stops, etc.) and plans for overnight stays. Preparations should also account for fatigue, as well as the psychological and physical challenges of being on the road for hours or days at a time. While we all have access to a smartphone, ensuring you have hard copy maps can help immensely when phone service fails.
The next step is ensuring your vehicle is roadworthy with a pre-trip checklist also allows for more thorough planning. A long haul ‘survival kit’ will help make sure you have everything necessary to survive in an emergency, like spare food, clothing, maps and tools. Your vehicle is your lifeline while on the road, so ensuring it’s safe is very important.
Establish Points of Contact
Much like checking in with the local rangers when starting off on a long hike, long haul trips should also be negotiated and discussed with several points of contact – whether that be your boss, significant other or fellow co-pilot. This way, you can build both accountability and safety, ensuring that you remain in contact throughout your journey. Check-ins can be anything from “you ok to keep driving?” from your passenger right through to the formal “just made it to…” to your boss. You should also agree upon times to avoid any potential emergencies and alert your planned points of contact to any need for help.
Monitor and Adjust to Changed Weather and Road Conditions
Poorly maintained roads will often come with hazards rarely experienced in your day-to-day city-bound drives. Without frequent maintenance, potholes on the road surface can cause a variety of issues, from misaligned steering through to punctured tyres. The RACV report found that truck drivers often have to resort to unsafe behaviours like dodging potholes and crossing double lines to navigate the state of these roads.
Traffic will also increase the spread of bulldust across rural roads, formed when road surfaces begin to break up. This process makes terrain difficult to navigate and can also cloud your vision, as well as cause hazards for engine air intake systems. To combat these changed conditions, it’s importance to maintain awareness and adjust your driving behaviour. This could include turning on high beams to navigate dust, reducing speed when visibility is lowered and checking for hidden hazards.
Managing safety on poorly maintained and rural roads is an important skill for even the most experienced drivers. Make sure you’re prepared to make trips easier and safer as you navigate your long-haul travels.