Driving tips for country Western Australia

There’s no doubt about it, one of the best ways to see WA is to drive; either by yourself, or to share a car with others.

As a former British colony Western Australia (and the rest of Australia) inherited their custom of driving on the left.  It’s not really all that hard to do, I mean, I’ve been doing it all of my life, or since I got my license at 17 at least.  Once you’ve mastered the art of driving on the left, driving around WA is actually quite easy, simply because, outside of the cities and major towns, we don’t have too many roads.  Our main roads are either freeways or highways, and they are always well signposted – in English, of course!

One of the major problems of driving on WA country roads is fatigue, because our roads are very long, and often don’t carry a lot of traffic, so it can be quite tiring driving here for hour after hour after hour if you are not used to it.  You will find that many service stations (or gas station, or petrol stations, fuel outlets or whatever they call them in your part of the world), offer free coffee to the driver.  Passengers have to pay, but it is a subsidised scheme that has been introduced to help keep drivers alert and keep accidents to a minimum.

Another major cause of accidents is speed mixed with impatience.  Apart from roads in Perth and the South West, such as the road to Mandurah and Bunbury, most highways are just two lanes.  Occasionally you will get an over-taking lane, but mostly there is just a single lane for each direction.

Most freight in WA is carried by trucks, and once you get far enough away from Perth, these trucks turn  into, what we call, road trains – in other words they will be hauling up to three trailers and can be as long as 65 metres.  Also, once you get out onto the country roads you are confronted by many travellers; either in campervans or in vehicles which tow caravans.  These vehicles tend to travel slower than most other traffic, including the road trains.  Often, you can get stuck behind a caravan, that is travelling at 80 kph in a 110 kph zone and it is difficult to overtake due to the terrain or lack of forward vision.  This is when impatience kicks in, and drivers can try to overtake dangerously and run into oncoming traffic.    

There is a similar problem with road trains.  Their drivers are very good at indicating when it is safe to overtake them, but often the overtaking driver will miscalculate the length of a road train (at 65 metres that is as long as a twenty storey building tipped onto its side), and will not build up enough speed to overtake safely.  If you are half way along a road train and see another one coming straight at you, decelerate quickly and duck back behind the road train your were trying to overtake.  Trust me – his dust tastes much better than your blood.

If travelling on remote outback roads always let the local police or town council know of your travel plans, letting them know exactly where you plan to go, and how long you estimate it will take.  Always take extra water, food and something that can be used for shelter with you.  If you do break down, do not leave your car.  If you do not arrive at your destination on time, a search will be organised to find you.  Cars are a lot easier to spot than people.  If you leave your car, your chances of survival would be close to nil.

And always, repeat; always heed local opinions about road conditions.  If the locals will not cross a flooded creek, follow their lead.  We recently had a situation where a group of German tourists passed a group of motorists who were stopped at a flooded creek crossing and ploughed straight ahead.  They got to the middle of the creek and stopped.  There was only one slight problem.  The creek was home to saltwater crocodiles, the world’s most dangerous crocodiles. The intrepid, but incredibly stupid, Germans had to climb onto the roof of their car as they watched the crocs that were watching them.  They probably didn’t even realise that salties can actually leap out of the water to grab a meal.

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