Driving long distances can be great. There's a certain kind of freedom that comes with being out on the road and being in control of the journey. Here are some simple precautions and forward thinking tips that'll ensure you have a great open road adventure..
Safety Check Your Car
Driving long distance is different to your everyday or city driving. It's important that you make sure it can handle the trip first. Make sure you do all of the following:
- Check the tyres — Your tyres might seem fine, but you should always check them, especially if it's been awhile. It's particularly important for long trips that they have enough pressure and tread. If you're not sure how to do this yourself, you can always take it to a local tyre shop.
- Get your wheels aligned — Not only can unaligned tyres cause unnecessary wear and cost you in the long run, they're unsafe. It's important to be able to drive in a straight line, especially on unfamiliar roads. Pro Tip: If you drive on unsealed roads during your trip, get your wheels aligned again once you get back. Rough roads will do a number on them.
- Get it serviced — Whether you're someone who regularly does this, or someone who may slack off a little bit, you should always get a service before a long trip. Make sure you flag your plans with the mechanic so they can be extra sure that everything is in the best shape for the open road.
- Check the battery — You want to make sure that it's full of charge and that the terminals are clean.
- Top Up Your Fluids — This includes the water, oil, coolands, brakes, power steering and transmission.
Know The Laws Of The Land
You probably already know all of the big ones — double demerit points during holiday periods, P-Platers can't use smart phones behind the wheel, trailers need separate registration. Here are some of the lesser known ones.
- You might see Queenslanders make U-Turns at traffic lights, but it's only actually legal when there's a U-Turn permitted sign (make sure you give way to all vehicles, even if they're facing a give way or stop sign). Such signs are far less common south of the border in NSW.
- In NSW and Victoria, getting busted using your phone while driving will ding you 3 demerit points. Get caught using your phone in a school zone in NSW and that becomes four points, a quarter of your license — on top of the $298 fine. You'll lose the same amount of points (and be even more out of pocket) if a DVD player (or movie images on a phone) are within view of the driver. Distractions are dangerous.
- For most states and territories, the 'default' speed in built up areas where there is a lack of signage is 50 km/h. That increases to 60kmph if you're in the Northern Territory. Outside built up areas, 100 km/h is the default speed if there's no signage — except in WA and NT, which allow 110kmph.
- Did you know that, technically speaking you're not allowed to use your high beam -– even to flash other drivers about police checks – if you’re within 200m of other vehicles.
- There are specific rules for driving 4WDs on Fraser Island.
- Forgetting to take off your kid's L or P plates when you switch back into the driving seat can cost you a $141 ticket in Victoria — but not in NSW.
- In Tassie, there is a speed limit of 20km/h when turning left/right at an intersection with traffic lights. Yep.
- It's illegal to run an orange light if you had enough time to stop safely. The penalty is the same for running a red light and you can lose three demerit points. Some states enforce this more than others
- As crazy as it sounds, it's illegal to toot your horn and wave goodbye to someone. Yep, those friendly gestures actually count as improper use of a horn and limb protrusion.
- In Victoria, you can be fined for accidentally hitting a pedestrian or cyclist when opening your car door.
- It's illegal to throw things out of your car window, even if its biodegradable, like a banana peel. It's deemed dangerous and still counts as littering.
- It's legal to drive barefoot, but you can still be investigated if an accident occurs.
Prep Your Car
Planning ahead is great, but it can't prevent everything. You never know when a breakdown or emergency may happen, so it's best to be prepared.
Firstly, get your paperwork in order. You want to ensure that you're fully covered in case something happens during the trip. Make sure that your license, registration and insurance are all up to date, and that you bring them with you. If you're travelling in an SUV or 4WB, you may want to look into getting temporary cover for towing allowances.
If you're renting a ride, read the policy thoroughly so you know what you're covered for and what your rights are.
If you don't have it already, consider roadside assistance such as RACV, RACQ or NRMA. It's always best to rely on professionals in breakdown situations.
Once everything has been sorted, don't forget to bring all of that paperwork with you, just in case.
It's also essential a good idea to pack your car with the following:
- Spare tyre — Make sure that it's in good condition too. It could also help to keep a tyre changing kit as well as Tyre inflaters and sealers. If you're unsure on how to change a tyre, we can help.
- Jumper cables Tyres aren't the only things that can go flat. That feeling when you turn the key and your car just won't jump to life is the worst. If you find a friendly passing motorist, jumper cables can you back in action. Be sure to know what you're doing first though. Alternatively, you can solo a jump start with a self starting battery.
- LED Flares and Reflective Triangles — These are imperative for driving at night. You need people to be able to see you if you're on the side of the road
- Car Tool Kit — A tool kit specifically designed for your car.
- Water and coolant — In case your engine overheats.
- Phone Charger — Stay charged and connected in case of emergency
- First Aid Kit — Perfect for minor injuries.
- Torch — With batteries!
Plan Your Route
Route Planning is essential for more reasons than you may think.
In addition to enabling you to let the people back home know where you'll be and when — it could also impact on your personal safety. Fatigue is one of the biggest killers on the road, so you should plan your route and driving time accordingly.
Schedule in plenty of rest breaks, and consider taking recovery days in between particularly long and grueling bouts of driving.
There are a few apps that can help with both navigation and route planning — such as Google Maps and Waze. If you're taking a less structured approach to the trip, Glympse may also be a good choice for you. It lets you share your real time ETA and location with your loved ones ans has calendar integration, so people know that you're safe.
On that note, if you're planning on going way off track and venturing into camping or bush walking territory — check in with the local police command and get yourself a beacon. It's great to get off the grid for awhile, but not so much that you risk your safety.
In case your phone or navigational system stops working, it's always best to have a paper map on hand. Keep a comprehensive road or travel map of Australia with you just in case.
Remember — not all terrain is the same. If you're going to be hitting dirt or snow covered roads, plan accordingly.
As important as it is to take care of your car before a long trip, you also need to make sure you're ready.
Make sure you get a good nights sleep whenever you're planning a long drive. And not just before you leave home. Like we said above, fatigue can be a killer. Don't over exert yourself in the evening and expect to be able to on the road properly the next day.
If you're driving with other people, make sure they're all rested too. It may also help to plan a schedule for when you make stops and switch drivers. Be sure to swap every two hours.
If you have an injuries, even seemingly minor ones, get them checked out before the trip. They could get exacerbated by the repetitive driving tasks. This is also why it's important to stop, rest and stretch your legs so you're not cooped up in the same position for hours on end.
Keep an eye on your your food and water intake too. Put some water and healthy snacks in the car in case you need some energy between meals. Just don't get distracted!
If you're looking for more ideas on how to prep for a holiday on the road, including ideas on safety, music and podcasts, you can find them here.
Feeling inspired to take a drive now? Here are 5 of the most exhilarating drives in Australia.