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How To Survive Driving in Western Australia

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Driving on the beach

For those who have never driven on Western Australian roads before, you might be in for a shock. Western Australia is the largest state in Australia, covering an area of 2.5 million square kilometres and the roads can be very long.  Fatigue, wayward animals, roadtrains and unsealed roads are just a few of the dangers. Here are a few tips to surviving driving in Western Australia.

The Very Basics

When planning a roadtrip in Western Australia make sure you are carrying plenty of water. Always refuel, as petrol stations can be few and far between. Always carry a phone or make sure someone knows your itinerary. The maximum speed limit in Western Australia is 110 km/h, so don’t be tempted to plant your foot.

Loose Gravel Edges

Cattle grid

Nearly all the country roads in Western Australia have loose gravel edges. Think ball bearings under your wheels. If you find yourself on the gravel, avoid braking suddenly as you are likely to skid or even flip your car. Be especially careful if you decide to pull off the road to take in the sights. Indicate and GO SLOW. If you feel the car slipping don’t slam on the brakes, just gently tap them.

There Is A Reason For So Much Roadkill

If an animal such as a kangaroo, cow, emu, camel or drop bear suddenly jumps in front of your car, be very careful swerving to avoid hitting them. Brake if you have enough time and sound your horn but avoid swerving radically. Remember those ball bearing like gravel on the verges? They will not be kind. Western Australia is the roadkill capital with sunrise and dusk being the most risky times for drivers. Kangaroos often get startled by headlights. Their reaction can be unpredictable. You need to be alert because you often don’t have time to react.

Unsealed Roads

Stock on Road sign

The further north you travel the more unsealed roads you will find. Red dust and stones are not your friends. Slow down when another car approaches you from the other direction. Locals will probably be driving quite fast as they are use to the terrain. Make sure you give them ample space to pass. They will leave you in a dust cloud so be cautious as another car or animal may not be visible.

Corrugation

Washboarding or corrugation of roads is common up north. These are unsealed roads that have a series of ripples on them. They will make your ride very bumpy and your teeth chatter. Locals will tell you that driving faster on these roads will reduce the bumpiness. However , if you are unfamiliar with corrugated roads it is best to keep your speed to between 60km/h – 80km/h.

Breaking Down In Remote Areas

Breaking down off the beaten track could lead to disaster. Heat is a killer. Stay by your car and wait for help. Venturing into the wilderness can be a deadly trap. Please only drink water if you become stranded. Beer will dehydrate you.

Getting Unbogged

Bogged

If you are planning to drive on a beach or a soft sanded road, firstly choose the right vehicle. Basically a 4WD only. Make sure your vehicle has recovery hooks on the front and back so a rescue vehicle can attach a rope. NEVER use a tow ball for a recovery, they could snap , fly off and kill someone.

Western Australia is notorious for off road bogging. That is when your car gets stuck in sand. The best way to prevent getting bogged is firstly to lower your tyre pressure. If you do happen to get bogged (and it is a common occurrence) firstly don’t try accelerating, your tyres will just sink further into the abyss. Just take a deep breath and get out of the vehicle to access the level of embarrassment.

First try reducing your tyre pressure by taking air out of your tyres. You can lower them quite substantially if need be.
If your tyres just keep spinning you probably have no traction. If you have a traction aid in your car, simply dig under the tyre and place the mats. Alternatively use your carpet mats,  logs or branches (basically anything!).

If all else fails its time to ring for help. When I was in this situation I rang the local roadhouse because a) they will probably know exactly where you are b) they will have the equipment to rescue you c) they will enjoy having a laugh at your predicament. Make sure you get a quote for the rescue, you don’t want to get an enormous bill.

Roadtrains

Australia have some of the longest trucks in the world, they are known as roadtrains. They can be up to 60m long. Overtaking these trucks can be extremely dangerous. You need to make sure there is a straight stretch of road and no cars coming the other way. It takes quite a bit of time to pass these roadtrains (up to 60 seconds) so you need to be sure if you commit . Remember there is only a roadtrain and ballbearing gravel either side.

Fatigue

Remember to take a break from driving. Take a break every few hours. Have a companion share in the driving. Night driving when tired can lead to disaster. There are no street lights, just the stars, moon and headlights.

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