Care is Needed When Driving in Western Australia.

July 15, 2020

Care is Needed When Driving in Western Australia.

Steve Sell 15/07/2020

Western Australia is renowned for its vast open spaces, dramatic landscapes, remote (a long way between stops) wilderness, inland and coastal beauty. But care is needed when driving in Western Australia.

Alt="Map of Western Europe showing size perspective relative to Western Australia"

Map of Western Europe. Perspective on size of Western Australia.

Western Australia is bigger than all Western Europe.

Driving on Western Australian roads may be very different to any road you may have driven on before.This is especially relevant once you leave the metropoliatn area.

Being aware of very different road hazards to what you are used to is important.

These include: Road Trains. Wildlife. Livestock. Narrow roads. Dirt roads. Loose metal roads. Extreme weather events.

Being Prepared is important.

  1. Staying Awake is staying alive.

People often do not think of fatigue when preparing for their road trip.

The excitement of getting on the road often overshadows good route planning and driver stops.

Stopping only when you need fuel, or a toilet stop is often leaving it too late.

Some of the early warning signs of fatigue and over tiredness are:

Tired eyes, Yawning, having to blink to stay awake, your thoughts start wandering, you have trouble concentrating.

Winding down the window or turning up the radio may help to keep you alert for a short time.

 Danger Signs.

These are danger signs that you need to stop and rest or have someone else drive.

Many drivers especially men tend to try and tough it out and think that they can fight fatigue.

This can result in a higher risk of having a crash and endangering not only the driver but others in the car.

A good guide to avoid over driving and prevent driver fatigue:

Start your trip after a good night’s sleep and limit all up-driving time to no more than eight hours in any 24-hour period.

Alt=" Drowsy driver picture"


2. Include Regular Stops

Including regular stops, at a minimum every two hours of your trip, should be part of your plan.

Fatigue can sneak up on you.

By the time, the physical signs such as your eyes closing, yawning, inattention and you start nodding off it is often too late.

You need to be aware of the early warning signs:

Missing a turn off, you can’t remember the last song on the radio, you cannot remember driving the last few kilometres, eyes feel sore.

This is when you should pull over and rest.

It does not matter how long you have been driving, if you feel any of the above, take regular breaks, have a coffee or tea, take a walk and if your possible change drivers.

3. Country Driving Means Different Roads.

Lose gravel and dirt roads require different driving techniques and are very different to driving in the city where driving conditions are controlled and predictable.

The reason so many people in Western Australia drive 4WD vehicles, Toyota being the most popular, is to cope with country driving. can help find a vehicle.

Stopping distances increase on loose metal or dirt roads and you do not have as much control of your car when stopping.

Unsealed roads can deteriorate rapidly in wet weather or from heavy use.

Stones and dust can be thrown up if you are travelling behind other cars and trucks, this can result in cracked or broken windscreens and obscure your vision.

Try and avoid driving during or immediately after heavy rain as the dust turns to mud and the road surface becomes slippery.

You have a much greater chance of becoming bogged.

Many roads in country Western Australia are unsealed roads and are often closed after rain or bad weather.

alt="Crossing a flooded river in Western Australia"

4. Check Road Conditions

You will need to check for any road closures before leaving on your road trip.

Adjust your speed to the conditions, allow yourself more time to react to any road changes, this will help you to maintain control. It is a good idea to leave a bigger gap than you normally would between cars and trucks.

Your car will be more likely to slide if take corners too fast.

This applies to dirt and loose metal roads and when the roads are wet.

If your car starts to slide, apply your breaks gently and slow down, steer the car without using violent movements or over correcting.

5. Do Not speed. Observe Country Road Speed Limits

Most open road country speed limits are 110 klmh.

This is the maximum speed.

Adjust your speed to the conditions.

When approaching small towns, the speed limits often reduce to 60 and in some cases as low as 40 kmh.

You need to pay attention to the local speed limits and slow down when passing through country towns.

The local speed limits when approaching or travelling through small towns are often vigorously enforced by local police.

This is for safety reasons.

6. Be Aware of Poor Visibility

Driving in WA’s outback can expose you to severe weather (including cyclones), bush fires, flooding, fog, and dust storms.

In Western Australia, country roads can be subject to flash flooding.

You must always check the depth of water before trying to cross a flooded road.

Do not underestimate the force of the water flow. If in doubt do not try and cross

7. Be Aware of Wildlife and Livestock.

Alt="Kangaroos at dusk near a road"

Once you leave the metropolitan area you need to think about and be aware of wildlife and life stock.

Kangaroos, emus, cows, and sheep are common alongside busy roads and highways.

They can inflict severe damage on even the biggest vehicles if you accidently hit one.

Often their behaviour is unpredictable.

There are some typical behaviours that can help to avoid hitting one and avoiding damage to yourself and your vehicle.

Kangaroos and emus are most active around dawn and early evening.

Livestock can be present at any time.

Keep a special watch and be particularly careful during these times.

If you see a kangaroo or emu, slow down, especially if they try to keep pace with your car.

This is when they can jump onto the road in front of you.

If a kangaroo or emu does jump in front of you, do not swerve.

Brake hard if it is safe to do so.

Swerving at high speeds can cause you to lose control of your car.

alt="Emus on the roadside"

8. Road Trains.

A lot of city people and especially overseas visitors may have never encountered a road train before.

Road trains can be huge as long as 53.5 metres (175 feet) long. The equivalent of trying to pass 11 cars at once. Road trains often travel at high speeds (100kmh) on the open road and are very hard to pass.

The driver will often indicate when it is safe to pass.

Travelling to slow can be very dangerous as well as a road train needs a long stopping distance to be able to pull up.

When road trains pass at speed they create turbulence and can rock a vehicle. This can cause a driver to be frightened if they are unused to this.

If you are doing under the speed limit and a road train is passing you, pull over as far is safe and slow down.

53.5 metre or 175 feet to pass.

9. A Car Safety Check Should be Completed Before You Start Your Road Trip.

Check your car.

Your safety and the safety of others depend on your car working safely and efficiently.

A recently serviced and well-maintained vehicle is a great starting point for your road trip.

Make sure you have checked the oil and coolant in radiator. If required top up all fluids.

Check the air pressure in your tyres. Low air pressure can increase your fuel consumption and tyre wear. Low tyre pressure can also affect safe braking.

Check your spare tyre and the air pressure. If you are travelling in outback Western Australia it can pay to have an extra spare tyre due to the rough terrain and extreme conditions.

Be prepared. Must haves include: a first air kit, additional bottled water, a strong tow rope, jumper leads a tool kit and additional fuel. There are often long distances between petrol stations/roadhouses.

Have your brakes checked, being able to stop quickly when needed is critical.

If you do not have properly functioning brakes, you will be a danger to yourself, your passengers and other road users. And may not be able to stop safely or in time to avoid an accident.

You not only need effective brakes; you need to be aware of your vehicle’s stopping distance on loose metal or dirt roads.

10. Be Aware of Increased Stopping Distances

The faster you go, the longer it will take you to stop.

Higher speeds result in more severe accidents.

It is crucial that you can stop safely, no matter how fast you are going.

It takes approx. 1.5 seconds plus for your brain to react to changes in the road.

For every 10 km/h above 40 km/h, you will add at least 10 metres to your stopping distance,

Average Stopping Distances on Dry Roads
  • 50km/h: 35 metres
  • 60km/h: 45 metres
  • 80km/h: 69 metres
  • 100km/h: 98 metres
  • 110km/h: 113 metres
Average Stopping Distances on Wet Roads
  • 50km/h: 41 metres
  • 60km/h: 54 metres
  • 80km/h: 85 metres
  • 100km/h: 122 metres
  • 110km/h: 143 metres


11. Your Alertness Affects Vehicle Stopping Distances

The average reaction time is 1.5 seconds, you may take longer to realise that you need to slow down or stop.

The longer it takes you to react, the farther you will travel before you even begin to start braking.

If you are tired, distracted, fiddling with the radio, turning to your children in the backseat, texting on your phone you will not giving your full attention to the road.

It is important to remain as focused on driving to minimise your risk of having an accident.

Fatigue can also impact your stopping distance.

Even if you feel awake enough to drive, fatigue can drastically increase your reaction time.

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will endanger your life, your passenger’s life and endanger other road users.

Alcohol and drugs can affect your response times, Judgement and reaction times.

It is not worth the risk you will pose to both yourself and others on the road.


12. Road Conditions and Stopping Distance

The condition of the road has a big impact on stopping safely.

On a well-maintained, dry road, you will get the shortest stopping distance.

In wet conditions, your stopping distance will increase.

See Triton versus Hilux at

13. Keep Left. Australians Drive on the Left Side of the Road.

Being aware of keeping left,

In Australia, all vehicles drive on the left side of the road.

If you are not used to driving on the left, you may take some time to adjust, put a note on your dashboard to remind you to stay on the left.

Have your passenger remind to stay left.

Always use your indicator to signal your intentions to other drivers when turning.


14. Emergency Vehicles.

Emergency vehicles on Western Australian roads have right of way. This means that you must allow an emergency vehicle to pass and you must pull over to let them pass without holding them up.

Emergency vehicles in Western Australia use flashing blue or red lights and/or having an alarm, bells, or sirens to alert road users.

When you see an emergency vehicle approaching:

  • You must give way by moving as far to the left as possible.
  • If it is not safe to move left, you must slow down, and let the emergency vehicle drive around past you.
  • If you are in the left lane, let other vehicles merge into your lane if they need to.