The chronic shortage of adequate rest areas for long distance travellers in Australia is a constant source of irritation and anger for grey nomads … and truckies.
With fatigue suspected of being a factor in at least some of the many caravan and motorhome accidents that have ruined trips and changed lives in recent times, the spotlight being shone on this issue has been intensified.
At the recent Australasian Road Safety Conference in Canberra, Sarah Jones from the Toll Transport group painted a vivid portrait of a scene which has confronted many a professional driver, as well as road-weary grey nomad.
“Picture this,” she said. “You are driving your heavy vehicle, you’re coming up for a required rest break. There are kilometres and kilometres of glaring asphalt coming up in front of you, no safe place to pull up, no toilet facilities and running water, no shade … what are your chances of having restorative rest in that environment?”
And the consequences can be deadly. According to NSW Centre for Road Safety data, around 20% of fatal road accidents involve driver fatigue. Ms Jones told the conference that, back in 2012, there was an estimated deficit of 22,000 driver rest areas in this country.
While there is a long road ahead, progress is being made. In Queensland a rest area audit completed earlier this year identified 2,931 rest areas and stopping places across the state, and two on the Capricorn Highway and one each on the Leichhardt Highway and Peak Downs Highway will receive multi-million dollar upgrades. Many sites on the Bruce Highway have also been earmarked for improvement. In New South Wales, the Government has allocated $5 million to upgrade rest areas across the state … and it’s a similar story in all the other states and territories as authorities seek the funds to make a difference.
However, the provision of more and better equipped rest areas is not the only issue in play. There has been growing concern that some travellers are treating rest areas as glorified free camping areas.
In New South Wales, the Roads and Maritime Services even erected ‘no camping’ signs at rest areas along the Pacific Highway … a move that caused angst in grey nomad circles.
“If I’m lucky enough to find a rest area when tiredness strikes I’m not leaving until I feel rested enough to drive on again,” said Oliver G. “I don’t care what the signs say, I am not putting myself or other road users at risk.”
The other big issue is using areas that have been designated for use by trucks. Road safety campaigner Rod Hannifey says grey nomads need to understand the truckie’s lifestyle.
“If you pull into a truck bay in the early evening and spread out because there is only a couple of vans there, we will pull in much later at night to sleep and we need room to get the larger vehicles safely off the road,” he said. “If we are forced to go on because we could not get safely in to park, you are responsible for taking that space away from us.”