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Driving in the outback

Before you leave

Outback road

Work out where you want to go with a good map.

Calculate how long it will take driving there.

Determine all the stops along the way. Driving too far without a break will increase your chances of crashing. You should take at least a 15 minute break every two hours.

Work into your time and distance calculations:

  • meal and drink breaks
  • rest stops
  • scenic detours
  • refuelling
  • toilet stops
  • overnight accommodation.

Have your vehicle serviced before your journey.

Just before you leave

  • Check tyres, lights, windscreen wipers, battery, coolant and hoses, oil and fuel.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before — no alcohol.
  • If you're heading into a remote area, give friends, neighbours or the police the details of your trip.
  • Charge your mobile phone. It should work in regional centres but possibly not in areas between.
  • Pack plenty of toys and games if you're taking children.
  • Obtain a weather report. (Consider delaying your trip if heavy rain is forecast.)
  • Check road conditions — Transport and Main Roads' website, RACQ, shire councils and local police.

Standard equipment for your outback trip

Pack into your vehicle

  • first aid kit
  • water (20 litres emergency use and 4 litres per person per day)
  • food, in case of delays or breakdown
  • fire extinguisher
  • tool kit (jack, winder, wheel brace, spanners, screwdrivers, spare fan belt, hoses and fuses)
  • two spare wheels
  • tow rope
  • shovel (in case you get bogged)
  • toilet paper
  • maps
  • compass or global positioning system (GPS)
  • tarpaulin
  • cooler or fridge
  • rubbish bags
  • matches or lighter
  • communication equipment. Your mobile phone may not work in the outback.

Unsealed roads

  • Slow down. Dust may be disguising an oncoming vehicle, pot holes, loose gravel and slippery mud patches.
  • Turn on your headlights where visibility is poor. Consider stopping if you can't see the road in front of you.

Sunrise and sunset

Many of Queensland's outback roads have an east–west orientation. When the sun is low in the sky, clear vision is impossible. You could miss oncoming vehicles or hit an animal crossing the road. Avoid driving before 7.00 am and between 4.00 pm and 5.00 pm.


Long distances and stretches of unchanging landscape can make a driver very tired. Stop for a break if you experience:

  • sore or heavy eyes
  • dim or fuzzy vision
  • daydreaming or hallucinations
  • tiredness, stiffness or cramps
  • aches and pains
  • delayed reactions
  • wandering across the road.

Prevent tiredness:

  • take regular breaks; at least 15 minutes every two hours
  • pull into rest areas, tourist spots and driver reviver stops frequently
  • don't drink alcohol before and during the trip
  • eat properly (not too much or too little)
  • check medications with your doctor
  • get plenty of sleep before your trip
  • don't drive for more than ten hours a day
  • wind down the windows every now and then for some fresh air
  • share the driving
  • plan ahead
  • stop as soon as you feel tired or your attention wanders
  • don’t start your trip too early in the day. Your body isn't used to concentrating before dawn or in the early hours.


If you are a member of a 'caravanning convoy', don't travel too close together. Other road users will become frustrated if they are unable to overtake safely. The law requires caravans and other large vehicles, outside a built-up area, leave at least 60 m between each other. The distance is 200 m in a road train area.


Don't swerve to avoid an animal on the road. This may cause you to roll your vehicle. Gently brake and slow down. Beep your horn to alert the animal.

If you come across cattle and sheep on the road, stop and be patient. It's all part of the 'outback experience'. The animal might stop in the middle of the road to watch you approach. Just be patient; perhaps beep your horn and the animal will soon move on.

Weather warning

If the roads are wet, be careful of slippery conditions and unstable road edges. Try to keep one wheel on the bitumen, if possible.

When driving in wet weather:

  • keep your windscreen and lights clean
  • keep headlights on low beam. In foggy conditions, it is easier to see the low beam
  • use your air-conditioner or demister to keep the windscreen clear
  • slow down
  • double your following distance
  • after driving through water, drive a short distance slowly, with your foot on the brake pedal. This helps the brakes dry out.

If you come across a closed road, due to flood, do not attempt to enter. You could face a fine or even endanger your life.

If the road is flooded, avoid attempting to cross. Wait until the level drops or use an alternative route. The force of the flood water could sweep your vehicle away.

Hot weather

Temperatures can rise inside a vehicle and in direct sunlight. Avoid heat stress by:

  • avoiding long periods of direct sunlight
  • wearing sunscreen
  • wearing comfortable, cool protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses
  • drinking lots of water.

Incidents, accidents and emergencies

Flat tyre

  1. Park on flat, firm ground.
  2. Leave manual vehicles in gear.
  3. Know how to use your jack.
  4. Tighten wheel nuts alternatively until all are fully tightened.
  5. Lower the vehicle slowly.
  6. Check wheel nuts again.

Road accidents

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Check for injury.
  3. Call for assistance, including fire, ambulance, Flying Doctor and police.
  4. Don't leave your vehicle. Wait for help to arrive.

In case of injury

  1. Don't move the injured person if it can be avoided.
  2. Apply first aid.
  3. Call for assistance, giving full details of location and injuries.
  4. Wait for help to arrive.

Shattered windscreen

  1. Look out of the window or door to see where it is safe to pull over.
  2. Fill demister vents with paper or cloth. This stops glass getting in the vents.
  3. Remove glass.
  4. Wind up other windows.
  5. Drive on slowly.
  6. If the windscreen is just cracked, it may be safe to drive on. Replace as soon as possible.

Lost or broken down?

  1. Don't panic.
  2. Stay with the vehicle and wait for assistance.
  3. Flag down or phone for help.
  4. Make sure vehicle is visible.
  5. Conserve food water and energy.
  6. If you become mobile again, advise authorities.

Queensland's outback is a diverse landscape. It can be dusty, muddy, flat or flooded. The roads can be empty but they can also carry ten-car-long road trains. You never know what's around the next bend. It's best to be prepared for every situation.

Last updated
20 September 2016