TMR Road Safety

Posted on 15th December 2020

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.