Keep an eye on the weather and road conditions and avoid travelling at risky times. If need be, make sure you’re prepared. Breakdowns are more common in extreme heat, so take plenty of water and be sure to stay in the shade if you find yourself laid up on the side of the road. Similarly, heavy rain and road washouts can be hazardous and increase the risk of an accident.
If you become stranded, never leave your vehicle. Pull up in a safe place and try to contact someone to help. There have been a number of occasions which have seen stranded drivers wander off, become disorientated, dehydrated and eventually succumb to exposure. It’s a good idea to have a kit to attract attention, such as a strobe light — bring help to you, don’t go looking for it.
If someone is injured then first aid should be administered as soon as possible. This can keep the unfortunate victim comfortable until help arrives and will prevent the situation from worsening. A good first aid kit is essential.
Call ‘000’ in the event of an emergency; the call will still go through if you’re calling from a pre-paid mobile with zero credit or if there is no coverage from your particular carrier (it will not connect if there is no reception all together). Be aware that in some places it can take hours for emergency services to arrive. The operator will walk you through what to do and may be able to assist — just remember to stay calm. Give a clear explanation of the situation so that the dispatcher can determine the services necessary.
On The Highway
Breaking down on the highway may be preferable than on the back road to nowhere, but it does present its own set of hazards — namely, traffic. Your first goal is to find a safe spot to pull over. If there’s an emergency lane, perfect; if not, get to the side of the road and as far left as possible. Note that if you’ve had a tyre blowout, it’s best to aim for a flat spot that allows a bit of space for you to make the change. If possible, it’s best to exit the highway. This may require driving a short distance on a flat tyre if safe to do so.
Next, you want to be sure that any passing traffic will be able to see you and proceed safely. Switch on your hazard lights — if it’s dark, your parking lights too — and if it’s not safe to exit the vehicle then stay seated with your seatbelt on. If you need to get out, assess the situation and proceed with caution by exiting the passenger-side door.
At this point it’s wise to put on a hi-vis vest and grab your collapsible safety cones. It can be a good idea to pop your bonnet to indicate to other drivers that you’ve broken down. Stay clear of the road and stand back behind any safety barriers. If your vehicle is not obstructing traffic, keep the cones off the road; otherwise, place them a sufficient distance back to alert approaching drivers.
At this point, your next move will be determined by the nature of the breakdown. Due to the dangers posed by traffic, it’s best to get out of there as soon as possible. Your best bet is to call for roadside assistance (you will be connected to the motoring club of the state you’re in by calling 13 11 11) and let them know what’s going on. If you’re in a hazardous spot or are causing an obstruction, they’ll prioritise and get you out of there quickly.
Carrying an emergency beacon may be the only way to get emergency medical assistance if you are in a remote location without phone reception, and it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
There are three types of emergency beacon: EPIRB, ELT and PLB.
EPIRB — ‘Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons’ are primarily used on boats, they are quite large and heavy.
ELT — ‘Emergency Location Transmitters’ are used on aircraft.
PLB — ‘Personal Locator Beacons’ are the smallest of the three types of emergency beacons, and these are what you want to use on land; 4WDing, biking, hiking and so on.
All emergency beacons will send out a signal on the same frequency, containing your GPS coordinates, which is picked up by the international satellite system for search and rescue. Your location is then relayed on to Australian Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in Canberra. The RCC will dispatch a rescue team, usually via helicopter, to your location.
Know Your Location
Knowing your location will help emergency services get to you faster. Ideally, you’ll know roughly where you are along your intended route. If not, a mobile phone, GPS device or emergency locator beacons may be able to show you or emergency services where you are. You can also download the Emergency+ app onto your smartphone, which uses your phone’s GPS functionality to display your exact longitude and latitude, even when you have no signal.
In The Heat
We all know that it can get hot in Australia, especially if you’re stuck on the side of the road somewhere in the outback. Consider travelling during cooler morning or evening hours and always stay hydrated and cool. Be aware of the signs of heat-induced illness such as headaches, nausea, cramps, excess sweating, fainting or dizziness. If heat-stress occurs, lie down in a cool spot, remove excess clothing, drink small amounts of water and cool down with a cold shower, sponge or wet towel.