There’s nothing like hitting the open road. But before you take to the country’s highways, we have some tips to make sure you stay in control at the wheel.
Most of us get out of the city and head for the wide open spaces so we can see new places and do new things (unless you already live in the country – we’ll get to that later).
But here lies one of the biggest challenges of driving on country roads: you don’t know the road well. While a bit of unpredictability can bring pleasant surprises, driving at 100 km/h on an unfamiliar country road can also bring many drivers undone – with tragic consequences.
Fortunately there are some simple things you can do to maintain control and minimise your risks.
Know your limits
Just because a road is signposted as a 100 km/h zone doesn’t mean you have to drive that fast.
As with driving in the city, you need to regulate your speed according to the conditions.
Road conditions can change quickly in the country. Even if you’ve driven on a road hundreds of times, you never really know what’s going to be around the next bend.
In the country you could encounter potholes, rough road surfaces, narrow sections, single lane bridges, railway crossings, livestock or wildlife, soft or broken road edges or even fallen limbs from trees.
You may also encounter another motorist doing something stupid – such as attempting to overtake when they’re unsighted.
Off road (but not in a good way)
If you do make a misjudgment and hit the soft edges of a country road, it’s important not to overreact.
Don’t jerk the wheel or brake heavily. Take your foot off the accelerator to slow down and then ease your wheels back onto the road while holding the steering wheel firmly.
If the road surface itself is loose (covered in gravel for example) or if you’ve encountered a dirt road, then your car needs a lot longer to stop, is less responsive and you can much more easily lose control on bends. Dirt roads can also become treacherously slippery in the wet.
The answer here is to slow down and allow a greater margin for error (a longer stopping distance, for example).
The local wildlife
Hitting an animal becomes a much greater prospect at dusk and in the evening.
Remember that some animals become hypnotised by the glare of your lights.
If you do spot an animal in your path you should brake, flash your lights and hit the horn – don’t swerve.
It seems like a tough call but swerving to miss an animal at reasonable speed is a recipe for rolling your car.
Sunset, night, rain
Always turn on your lights when conditions affect your capacity to see the road and surrounds. Typically a driver’s vision is affected at sunset and sunrise, at night or in rain or fog.
Slow down and keep an eye out for other vehicles ahead of you or at intersections.
If an oncoming driver dazzles you with their high beam, slow down, lower your gaze to the road immediately ahead and use the road markings to keep your bearings.
It’s obvious from this short list of tips that driving in the country requires concentration.
The fact is that tired drivers crash on country roads. Nearly 80 per cent of fatalities occur on NSW country roads.
Research shows that driving between 10pm and 6am is associated with four times the risk of a fatigue crash than at other times during the day.
So try to avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep, take regular breaks and always monitor the early warning signs of driver fatigue such as:
- Poor concentration.
- Tired or sore eyes.
- Slow reactions.
- Feeling irritable.
- Making fewer and larger steering corrections.
- Missing road signs.
- Having difficulty staying in the lane.
Pull over and rest when you recognise these signs.
To help you out, you can call Roads and Maritime Services on 13 22 13, find a driver reviver site or pop into a registry or service centre for a free map of NSW that includes travel times between towns and rest areas along the way.
If you live in a country area, don’t imagine that you are somehow safer than other drivers.
In fact, there’s a growing amount of research showing that country drivers can take big risks on their local roads.
In NSW, a high number of fatal crashes involve country drivers driving on country roads.
The message is that all of us need to stay alert to the road conditions and monitor our speed.