Driving in Australia: Surviving the outback

The Australian outback is not your most friendliest piece of landscape and it is not uncommon to hear about international travellers (and a few locals) being stranded in remote regions, or lost in heavy bush-land and at times with deadly consequences.

As Transfercar has companies offering their free cars for relocation across the Australian outback, we feel it’s worth discussing some safety tips for driving in these regions.

Personal safety

  • Carry detailed maps of the region you intend to travel. Check that they include the nearest water sources and local communities
  • Get yourself a good compass or global positioning system and emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB)
  • Tell someone the route you intend to take and where you are going. Even if you don’t know anyone, tell the people at the last place you stay at what your plans are and also indicate how long you intend to take. Even better, if you have rooms booked at your next destination, let them know when you intend to arrive and the route you are taking
  • Make sure your vehicle has been serviced and checked over by a certified mechanic
  • On long journeys, have two complete spare wheels, extra petrol, engine oil, fan belts and spare keys
  • Carry water in several containers, calculating how much you will need and add a week’s worth on top at least

  • RULE: If you break down, stay with the vehicle. It is way easier for aerial searches to see you! Don’t head off unless you are absolutely certain you can arrive at your destination
  • Mobiles are great but don’t rely too much on them to call for help. They may not receive a signal where you are.

If you get yourself lost

  • Stay on the tracks that are well marked! Do not wander off thinking you’ve found a better or faster way
  • Keep a safe distance from cliff edges. They can be unstable and trust me, no one is likely to hear you if you fall!
  • Be aware that Australia has some dangerous animals but to be honest just take care. The one worth mentioning is the saltwater crocodile in the Northern parts of Australia. The interesting thing about these lovely creatures is that they also live in fresh water! Stay away from the edge of rivers and any deep and still waters, and take any warning signs seriously. These reptiles are fast and dangerous.

Car hire and driving guidelines

  • Vehicle insurance
  1. Read the fine print in the terms and conditions. Some rental companies forbid you to drive on unsealed roads and you may end up being fined or liable for huge insurance excess if there are any damages to the vehicle.
  • Distances between cities
  1. It’s a long drive between most Australian cities. So be prepared to spend some time on the road. For example, the distance from Cairns to Perth travelling South then West along Highway 1 is approximately 7,200 kilometres or 4,450 miles. For a chart of distances between all the major Australian cities click here
  • Drive on the left
  • All passengers must wear a seat belt (both front and back)
  • It is a legal requirement that any gates opened to allow your vehicle to pass through are closed afterwards
  • Road trains are a common sight in the outback, particularly the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. These multi trailer trucks are up to 50 metres (170 feet) long with displaced air causing severe buffering. When overtaking a road train allow 1.5 kilometres (0.8 miles) of clear road and keep your distance at all times
  • Night driving is not permitted by many rental companies so check before you head off. When driving at night, particularly in the outback, care should be taken to lookout for wildlife that may stray onto the road. Animals are attracted by car lights and often become immobile. Collisions with animals such as the Red Kangaroo can cause substantial damage to your vehicle and you may not be covered by your insurance if you hit one
  • Finally take regular breaks. These distances can be huge so make sure you either share the driving or take regular stops or naps.

Basically, be careful. Follow the guidelines mentioned above and have a chat to some locals before you leave. Australia is a beautiful country well worth exploring so keep safe and have fun!

Oh…and if you need a free ride, check out our stand by cars and relocations at Transfercar!

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