Driving tips for country and rural roads

Anyone with a licence should know how to drive already, but the conditions and scenarios that happen on the country and rural roads can be a lot different from city corners.

Coming out of lockdown but potentially still restricted in just how far we can travel (if borders remain closed, for instance), there will be doubtless itchy feet looking for a getaway. Or maybe you’re checking out an Airbnb away from the city…a place you do nearly all of your driving.

Even if you don’t think you’re far out of town, there are plenty of points to be cautious of, and some tips that will make sure your journey has every chance of being a safe one. And even if you’re a confident city driver, there will be plenty who haven’t driven much out of the suburbs and into the hills and country, getting lost on gravel roads and potentially puncturing a tyre and then not knowing how to fix it. In fact, depending on just where you are, the outcome from getting lost just looking for help can be deadly.

Here are tips to hopefully mitigate bad outcomes, and have a safe, enjoyable road trip.

Always be prepared

It’s fun to go adventuring but if you’re traveling somewhere without mobile reception and people around, it’s worth letting someone know your rough movements. It also pays to have some supplies on hand: number one is water, followed by food. Some bottles of water in the boot and muesli bars don’t need much looking after but will be there in case you get bogged unexpectedly and have to wait out for help. Also, make sure you have fuel – this doesn’t mean a jerry can, but if you’re tripping away from a town at least make sure you will have enough in the tank to get back. Phone charging cables and adopter sockets for cars without USB ports are also handy, and think about keeping a blanket in the boot if space isn’t an issue.

Know your spare

It’s crucial you know where your spare wheel is and how to use it. This information is usually always in the car manual (which is usually in the glovebox), and can also be commonly found online with a quick search. Some cars have a spare wheel which is good for getting to a tyre shop, and some have a full-size spare which is the best bet for safely driving longer distances. But some only have an inflator kit and if you haven’t used one, it’s worth watching a video on how to do it and what happens. And take care if you only have an inflator kit – I remember once blowing a tyre out in the middle of Queensland and the car only had an inflator that couldn’t get it up. What a pain of a day that was.

Wildlife 

When we’ve been doing one thing for a long time we get into certain habits and might even tune out to new incoming information. This can be the case on country roads where some drivers might not even think to be expecting a kangaroo to jump our from behind a bush, particularly at dawn and dusk – that’s peak hour for wildlife. Remember that kangaroos and wallabies are unpredictable and even when they see you, they might jump on the road. If this happens, emergency brake but try your best not to swerve – the result of hitting a tree, or oncoming car, is much worse than a roo – though a roo can do some awful damage to your car too.

Variable conditions

Country roads are often not in as good condition, and the surface can change rapidly. You might encounter sudden losses of traction and big potholes that can damage the car, so always scan the road for hazards. There can also be dirt and gravel on sealed surfaces, and ice in winter weather – particularly when it’s dark or in shadows. Always be conscious of your surroundings and the weather. And if you’re on a long, steep downward hill, try not to ride on the brakes by manually selecting a low gear.

You might also find yourself on some very narrow roads, even one-way bridges that require one side to giveway. Make sure you’re not the one who jumps onto a narrow bridge without seeing that truck that has right of way and will meet you awkwardly halfway across.

Anything can and does happen

No matter your skill level and experience, you can find that things quickly lose control or that the completely unexpected happens. It’s impossible to know what that will be, but it is possible to look at all of the information around you and consider the potential outcomes if X plus Y equals Z. Looks for upcoming intersections, crests that could have anything on the other side, scan the environment for clues of what happens on the road (you might notice fresh grassy clippings on the side of the road from a slasher, for instance), consider cyclists who won’t have a chance if you come flying around a corner, or it might be there’s an unsafe load on a truck that you should probably put some distance between.

Sometimes it’s best not to…

Sometimes you just get that bad feeling that maybe you shouldn’t drive onto a certain road or go somewhere that requires a 4×4 vehicle only, and it can be a good idea to listen to that feeling. Inexperienced four-wheel drivers should try and gain experience first by driving with other four-wheel drivers whenever possible and definitely take it slowly rather than fast. And for those who don’t have a 4×4 or appropriate vehicle, avoid driving through deep mud, water, or on deeply rutted tracks entirely. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it!

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