Driving to your holiday destination often means a long time behind the wheel on high-speed roads.
And while it’s exciting to hit the open road with a holiday spirit, long distance driving presents different risks to shorter trips.
As well as different road surfaces, higher speeds and the risk of collisions with animals, driver fatigue needs to be managed to keep you safe.
Once you’ve made sure that your car is ready for the trip, here’s how to stay safe on the road.
Check the road conditions, know your route
Weather can get pretty woolly in both the north and south of our state. Check road conditions ahead of your drive on Main Roads WA’s Travel Map. It also has a handy journey planner.
You're likely to pay more attention to the road if you know where you're going. If you're planning to use phone mapping apps or sat nav, make sure your plan your journey before you set off and be sure not to touch your devices while driving.
If you’re unsure, take a paper map that covers your route. If you have to look at your map again or rest your sat nav, pull over when its safe to do so.
Different roads, different techniques
Many roads in regional and remote areas have gravel or dirt edges. If you drift onto the dirt and gravel your wheels can slip which can cause the car to veer or roll. So take extra care to keep all wheels on the bitumen and steer smoothly.
A full gravel or dirt road is a much looser surface that a sealed road, making it easier to skid. The best way to avoid losing control is to slow down. If your vehicle does begin to skid, don't hit the brakes. Take your foot off the accelerator and gently steer the vehicle without over-correcting.
Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front. Dirt and gravel roads can create dust clouds that hamper visibility for vehicles behind, so keep a safe distance from any drivers ahead of you. There’s also a risk that stones flying up from the wheels of the cars ahead can damage your windscreen if you are too close.
Drive below the posted speed limit and if you feel unsafe, slow down and take your time.
When driving in country WA, keep your headlights on. It will help oncoming traffic know you are there. Try not to drive if there is smoke on the road, as it reduces visibility. The same applies for heavy rain.
Don’t cross flooded roads – judging the depth and speed of the flowing water accurately is hard to do.
Road-trains, trucks and cars towing caravans are regular features of the open road, so you might find yourself behind a slow-moving vehicle.
On rural roads with only one lane, you can overtake vehicles if the white line down the middle of the road is broken. Do not overtake when there is a single or double continuous white centre line.
Before overtaking, check for oncoming traffic ahead for as far as you can see.
Overtaking a road train takes longer than single vehicles - they can be as long as 60m - so allow yourself extra time.
On multi-lane roads if the speed limit is 90km/h or more you must travel in the left lane unless overtaking.
Stay alert for wildlife
Wildlife like kangaroos are most active at sunrise and sunset. If you spot an animal near the road, keep in mind its movements can be unpredictable – just when they are heading away they are likely to swing back and move towards the road.
If you spot an animal near or on the road, slow down and sound your horn. Avoid swerving around the animal as the gravel verges could cause you to lose control of the vehicle.
When you’re travelling at up to 110km/h things happen fast, giving you less time to react.
Fatigue can lower your reaction time even more, so don’t start your trip tired.
Early signs include yawning and blinking more than usual, wandering thoughts, missing a gear, road sign or exit, slowing unintentionally, and braking too late.
If you find yourself doing any of the following, you shouldn’t be driving at all:
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Notice your eyes closing
- Losing focus
- Forgetting the last few kilometres of driving
Carry at least four litres of water per person in the vehicle for each day – it’s a great way to prevent fatigue and stay hydrated.
Limit your driving time to less than eight hours a day and try to avoid driving at night. On a long haul you’ll also need to have a break every two hours and, ideally, swap drivers. Plan out your trip before you go so you know when you're going to stop.
And ditch the caffeine – the only way to function safely during a long drive is to get plenty of sleep before you go and take breaks along the way.
Share your favourite road trip photos with us on Instagram using @racwa. And if you need music for your travels, download our For the Drive playlist from Spotify so you can just hit play and focus on the drive.
Last updated September 2018
WA is home to some of the best road trips in Australia
Looking for inspiration? Then check out our list of the best road trips in WA. From the spectacular north to the green and lush south, all the way inland to the gold dust country, or along our beautiful coast, there's a WA road trip out there to suit every fancy.