Driving interstate

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There's nothing like packing up your stuff and heading out onto the highway with time on your side and an open road in front of you.

However there's a dark side to all this. The distances are long in this country, and the conditions can be extreme. So if you're driving to another state, you need to make sure that you're well prepared.

You and your car

Your four-wheeled chariot is - obviously - the most important part of your trip. Without it you're not going anywhere. So before you create your mix tape or book your motel, get your car checked over.

It's really important to check your brakes, tyres and steering as well as your lights for any night driving. Keep a good spare tyre in the boot, as well as a working jack.

Make sure your car is properly registered and insured - you'll be in deep trouble if it's not and something happens.

It's also a really good idea to join your local Automobile Association (new window). They'll get you out of mechanical trouble anywhere you go, and will wear the cost.

Also check that your load is properly secured, especially if you don't have a cargo barrier. Unexpected things can jump out at you in the middle of nowhere, such as kangaroos.

What to take with you

As well as munchies and music, you'll need to take lots of water for both you and your car. This is especially true if you're headed for the outback. Remember that a lot of Australia is harsh and lonely desert, and there aren't always roadhouses, telephones or even cars nearby. Your Automobile Association (new window) has more information on this.

If you're going somewhere remote it also makes sense to carry extra petrol in case you run out in Who-Knows-Where with no petrol station for 200 kilometres.

Decent maps (new window) are a good idea too. It's easy for city slickers to forget just how wild parts of Australia are, and how easy it is to get lost, so make sure you can navigate out of there.

Oh yes, and take some money and a mobile phone.

Planning your route

There are usually lots of ways to get somewhere. The main highways are good for amenities such as roadhouses. The secondary highways are usually more relaxed with fewer lanes and traffic, but fewer roadside services too.

Local roads can offer fantastic scenery and occasionally short cuts, but can also get you very lost. The route you take will depend on your trip type - from getting there as fast as possible or taking it very easy. Be careful about dirt roads and 4WD tracks, especially if your car's not made for them.

Driving safely

People always go on about this, but take lots of breaks. That way you get to freshen up so you can focus on the road - it just takes a moment of broken concentration for an accident to happen. If you're very tired, pull over and take a 'power nap'- a quick kip that gets you focused again. And don't drive like a hoon. Keep to the speed limit and be extra careful, especially when overtaking.

Rules and regulations

Road laws vary from state to state. When crossing a border, note the speed signs carefully. Some places also have odd rules, such as Melbourne's famous hook turn where you turn right from the left lane of many central city streets after the lights have gone red (it's because of the city trams). Dealing with different road rules and traffic conditions can be very stressful, so make sure you read up on where you're going. Again, your local Automobile Association (new window) has all sorts of details.

In some states it's illegal to cross the border with fresh produce - this is to protect the local agriculture from pests like fruit fly.

If you get booked for speeding or a traffic violation, be polite and provide the right details. The police will check anyway. Even if you're from another state, you'll soon get a 'love letter' with details of the fine. Just accept it, treat it as a learning experience and pay up - it's a lot more hassle and expense to ignore it, because they'll just add more and more to the fine. If you keep not paying it, you'll eventually go to court.

Of course, you can avoid unwelcome contact with police and annoying fines altogether by simply following the local road rules. It's not that hard - and it's kinda cool too!

Getting on with others

A car can be a very small space for more than one person. Long trips can be great for bonding, but they can be trying too. It's easy for tired people to get irritable with each other. When that happens, stop the car and take a break if you can - play on a swing, get a coffee, go for a walk. It can make a world of difference.

Links for driving interstate

Traffic Accident Commission (TAC)
Visit this site for good information on safe car travel.

Visit Victoria
The 'official website for Melbourne, Victoria' has lots of information including maps, event details and destinations around the state.

Royal Automobile Club of Victoria - Preparing the car
This site offers advice about timing your trip and getting the car and passengers ready, as well as other useful help to those about to embark on a road trip. Check out the map that tells you where rest stops are located throughout Victoria.

Austroads
This website for the association covering Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic authorities has lots of detailed technical information about government efforts to make our roads safer.