Heart of Australia’s medical aides know first-hand how vital road safety is when travelling on Outback roads in Queensland.
A key part of their role involves driving ahead of the Heart Trucks, acting as scout vehicles, continuously monitoring road and traffic conditions. We asked Medical Aides, Maria Abrigo and Kylie Pirie for their thoughts on road safety on rural and regional roads.
Maria, a five-year veteran in her role, says the first thing you need to understand is that driving on outback roads requires your constant attention.
“All driving requires your attention, but when it comes to outback roads, you cannot take your eyes off the road for a moment. You can barely blink.”
“It’s a challenging scenario. You can have long stretches of similar scenery and straight roads, and it tries to lull you into feeling like it’s a relaxing Sunday drive – but an instant later anything could happen. You might need to swerve to miss hitting a dead kangaroo or evade a mob of emus who’ve decided to run across the road. You might be doing 100 km/hour and then need to quickly and safely drop to nothing because drovers are in the area herding cattle across a road and you need to wait for them to pass.”
“When I first started, I hadn’t realised how much more challenging outback roads are to drive on. It’s an enormous responsibility driving ahead of the truck. I need to be their eyes and ears, alert them to every possible danger or challenge, and do it early enough for the driver to stop gently, avoid obstacles, or make plans to pass other wide loads safely.”
“I feel responsible for ensuring the truck arrives at our next destination safely, so we can deliver our clinics on time to the patients who are relying on us for life-saving and life-changing specialist services.”
Kylie Pirie, a more recent addition to the Heart of Australia team, agrees.
“In addition to the wildlife, you need to be constantly aware of the conditions of the roads and who is on the road around you. What’s happening up ahead, and who is coming up behind you looking to overtake.”
“Drivers who speed or fail to share the road put everyone’s life in danger. Driving on outback roads can be intimidating for some drivers who have never done it before. On single-lane roads, everyone has to work together – if drivers aren’t feeling confident driving near a heavy vehicle, they need to safely pull over, and let other vehicles pass. This takes the pressure off everyone. I’ve seen some close calls where drivers lose patience and take unnecessary risks to overtake. It’s a dangerous scenario.”
“Then there are the roads themselves. There are very busy stretches on very narrow roads – too narrow for overtaking. Then there are roadworks and roads that need resurfacing. It’s a challenging environment.”
“You need to be ready for the unknown because anything can and will happen. That requires a level of confidence, experience and attentiveness that not all drivers have.”
Maria says the one thing she would like drivers to know is how important road safety is to Heart of Australia’s life-saving service.
“If our Heart Trucks and our team don’t arrive at the next destination safely, we cannot save lives and change lives for the people in the next town. We need everyone to work together, share the roads and drive safely to make that happen.”
Maria and Kylie’s top tips for road safety on Outback Roads:
- Plan your trip in advance. Use the Queensland Traffic App to scope the roads you will travel ahead of time, identifying road conditions, and safe places to overtake or pull over for others to overtake you.
- Reduce speed when travelling anywhere in the vicinity of road trains. Pull over and stop when on narrow roads so they can pass safely.
- If you have one, use your CB to communicate with other drivers, and share the road.
- Plan to travel in the mornings as much as possible, and ensure you arrive in your destination well before sunset each day to avoid the kangaroo hours.
- Stop every two hours for a break – whether you feel tired or not.
- Follow the speed limit and do not speed. Speeding costs lives.
- Wear your seatbelts and leave your phone alone.
- Drive to the conditions. If you’re a city driver, be aware that Outback driving is a challenge and requires constant attention to the environment.
- While it’s pretty dry out there at the moment, it’s always important to remember: If it’s Flooded Forget It.
If you’re heading outback this holidays, the StreetSmarts website is a great place to start for more information and advice about regional road safety and driving in the outback.
Trucks, and in particular the custom-designed mobile clinics, affectionately known as ‘Heart Trucks’ play a vital role in Heart of Australia’s mission to deliver specialist medical services to people living in rural and regional Australia.
Dr Gomes realised when Heart of Australia was just a dream that trucks would hold the solution.
“We needed to deliver excellent specialists to the bush, but we also needed to transport the state of the art medical equipment that the specialists needed to diagnose and treat patients. We wanted them to have their entire toolbox, not a mini or travel version, and we needed all that equipment to be protected and well-calibrated as they travelled through regional Queensland.”
“We wanted patients to be treated in a modern, state of the art medical clinic, despite being thousands of kilometres away from the city. The only vehicle that was going to be able to deliver on these demanding requirements was a custom-designed, oversized truck.”
The trucking industry has always been a strong supporter of Heart of Australia’s mission to deliver specialist medical care to rural and regional communities. This was demonstrated once again this week when PACCAR Australia committed to donating two DAF prime movers to be the driving engines for our fourth and fifth Heart Trucks. HEART 4 will service the expanding Northern Route, and HEART 5 will be the new dedicated medical imaging truck. Both trucks will launch operations in 2021.
PACCAR Australia has been a dedicated partner of Heart of Australia since the beginning. In 2014, when Heart of Australia was just a dream, Dr Gomes reached out to the trucking industry for support. PACCAR Australia was one of the first partners to come on board. They donated the initial Kenworth K200 cab-over prime mover to be the driving engine for HEART 1, the 18-wheel custom-designed semi-trailer mobile clinic that turned Heart of Australia from a dream into a reality. In 2018, PACCAR Australia stepped up once again, providing another Kenworth K200 prime mover, this time for the new 34-wheel B-Double mobile clinic, HEART 2.
PACCAR Australia’s Managing Director, Andrew Hadjikakou said there was a strong desire across the company to play a significant role in making Heart of Australia a reality, and helping it to expand and serve more communities in rural and regional Australia.
“PACCAR Australia is very proud of its Australian roots and in serving Australian communities. We have a nearly-50-year history of manufacturing in Australia.”
“Our trucks are suitable for Australia’s harsh conditions and built to transport things over great distances. When we heard Dr Gomes talking about trucks being the potential solution vehicle to take medical services to rural and regional Australia – we knew we wanted to be a part of it.”
“Many of our customers reside in rural Queensland and we hear firsthand about their challenges accessing health care. People might not automatically link the trucking industry and health care but when you look at what Dr Gomes is doing, it’s a natural fit. There is much the trucking industry can do to support.”
Heart of Australia has enjoyed the support of several companies and organisations in the transport industry.
When Heart of Australia built HEART 3, the baby of the Heart Truck fleet in 2019 they did so with the support of another transport industry company, Black Truck Sales – Isuzu, who donated an Isuzu F-Series FSD260.
IOR, the supplier of fuels to regional, rural and remote Australia provide all the fuel required to drive our Heart Trucks from town to town, quite literally fuelling our services. Bridgestone donates all the tyres needed for the Heart Trucks and support vehicles. Brown & Hurley provides all the maintenance services for the Heart Trucks, and Frasers Livestock Transport makes a financial contribution each quarter to help towards the cost of drivers wages.
Heart of Australia’s drivers are qualified truck drivers, licensed to drive the heavy, oversized, trucks that they operate – a significant skillset essential to Heart of Australia’s daily operations.
In 2018 Heart of Australia was awarded a lifetime membership to the Queensland Trucking Association (QTA). It is the first organisation to have been granted life membership since the organisation first began in 1907.
Dr Gomes said the commitment that the trucking industry has shown for reducing health inequity for people living in the Australian bush continues to impress and inspire.
“It’s been clear since the very beginning that the trucking industry is with us on this journey to deliver specialist medical services to the bush. Every kilometre we travel – they’re supporting us to be there.”
“Every time we step up to do more, expand the service, help more people, the trucking industry steps up with us – just as PACCAR Australia did this week by donating the prime movers for both HEART 4 and HEART 5.”
“Good news like this lifts the whole team. Industry sector support fuels our commitment to do more, help more, and dream big. Knowing companies are with us makes each kilometre that little bit easier to travel.”