Living with road trains

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Road train on the road
Sharing the road with road trains can be a challenge

Coming across your first road train snaking its way along a narrow Outback road is an experience most grey nomads will never forget. After all, they weigh as much as 146 tonnes, they can be as long as 53.5 metres, they travel at speeds of around 100kph … and they don’t like to slow down.

It’s no wonder that most veteran travellers have a story to tell of at least one too-close-for-comfort encounter with a road train. Sadly, though, these encounters don’t always fall into the lucky escape category and, when collisions do occur, the consequences are predictably devastating.

“Obviously there has been a big increase in the number of caravanners and motorhomers on the road but that shouldn’t be an issue if we learn to get along with each other,” said a spokesperson for the Road Trains Association. “The most worrying scenario is when you get a convoy of caravans travelling close together. It is then very difficult for road trains to overtake and it can cause difficulties. However, you can also get road trains travelling in large lines together, so there are faults on both sides.”

The 'Stay On Track Outback' initiative educations drivers about unique Outback conditions and hazards

The ‘Stay On Track Outback’ initiative educates drivers about unique Outback conditions and hazards

According to the authorities in the Northern Territory, motorists need to be able to see at least one kilometre of clear road ahead in order to be able to overtake a road train safely – that distance is obviously increased when attempting to overtake more than one road train.

Authorities also counsel that the stopping ability of heavy vehicles is not the same as conventional vehicles and that slowing down ahead of a road train and forcing it to reduce speed can also be dangerous.

It is hard for many motorists to grasp just how long it takes a road train to get up to its cruising speed, around 10 or 15 kilometres of road, and this explains why road train drivers are reluctant to slow down any more than they have to.

Road trains, which can pull as many as three-and-a-half trailers, are naturally very unwieldly and one of the main reasons they can be pulled safely in the Outback is because traffic is generally pretty light. As more caravans and motorhomes arrive in these remote locations, it is the responsibility of tourists to be fully prepared to meet them. After all, in the vast majority of cases, road trains and the cost-effective transport they deliver were providing an economic lifeline to isolated communities long before most grey nomads arrived on the scene.

SHARING A ROAD WITH TRUCKS – ADVICE FROM THE AUSTRALIAN ROAD TRAINS ASSOCIATION

  • Keep left – give yourself and oncoming traffic a greater margin for error.
  • Keep your distance – tailgating the vehicle in front reduces your chances of stopping in time and does not allow the driver in front to see you properly.
  • Check your caravan – ensure your vehicle and van are properly prepared. Extend rear view mirrors so you can see behind.
  • Give trucks space – allow extra space at intersections for turning trucks. They can legally use both lanes when turning.
  • Don’t cut in – trucks need more space when stopping so don’t cut in at lights and roundabouts.
  • Indicate your intentions – let other vehicles know what you’re doing by always using your blinkers when turning, changing lanes or overtaking.

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