… Over parking, radios and speed. Put the Blunnie on the other foot!
By Bruce Honeywill

We’re sitting at a table in an outback Queensland café. Four of us, all hi-viz shirts and tired eyes. Truck drivers, well more than that, road train operators. Two of us just finished a 14- hour, 1200 kilometre run, the other two fresh and ready to start their stint. The conversation is about caravans or more particularly caravan drivers.

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Derogatory terms float across the heart-attack-inducing breakfast. ‘Scourge of the road’ was one of the kinder terms. We’ve got nothing against other road users, plenty of room on the nation’s arterial roads. We’re not indulging in some tribal feud over territorial rights.

So how did this antipathy between long-haul truck drivers and caravanners develop?

Charlie Keene is talking while we set about bacon, eggs and snags. A 14-hour shift and crossing a fair chunk of the nation builds an appetite. “It was about three in the morning,” says Charlie, “I was stuffed, tired. Between Kynuna and Winton and I needed 20 minutes stretched out, that’s all you need to freshen up.”

There are three or four truck parking bays in the 160km stretch between the two outback towns. A 53.5 metre 130 tonne four-trailer road train can’t just pull up anywhere, the big trucks need the correctly designed pullouts.

“The pullout 20km south of Kynuna was full of caravans, I slowed but the last caravans were parked sideways across the entrance. I got up to road speed again but was feeling pretty bloody wobbly. The next one was packed with caravans. I pulled up on the road with hazard lights going and ran around the truck, jumped up and down on the spot. Kept driving and eventually got my rest at Winton.” Charlie reckons he was operating at about 25 percent of his driving capability for the want of 20 minutes shut-eye, all because the caravans being parked up without understanding the needs other road users.

Some call them corellas, the white and shiny vans that come to roost in the late afternoon sun of the outback, in the way the parrots noisily roost in trees at sunset. The parking bays of Queensland’s outback highways are multiple use and trucks need them 24/7. If caravanners are annoyed by roaring refrigerated van motors, the diesel-powered Icepacks that air-condition the truck cab, the stamping, rattling and calling of cattle on livestock road trains (try 150 head of cattle in one road train 10 metres from a caravan) perhaps a paid site at a nearby town is a better option.

Lindsay Davies drives a big Western Star out of the Northern Territory town of Katherine. He pulls a low-loader or float, used for hauling heavy machinery, usually in a wide load configuration. He’s a patient bloke, and as he can only drive during daylight hours usually with an escort, he parks up near towns and doesn’t have the parking bay issue that truckies who drive through the night sometimes have. “It’s their use of the radio,” Lindsay reckons, “Channel 40 is for serious use. The escort driver needs the channel to tell approaching traffic that a wide load is coming and you’ll get a couple of old mates in vans chatting about how to best cook the barra tonight or the price of fuel at Dunmarra.”

No one is suggesting that all truckies use Channel 40 with respect, particularly on the coastal runs. All road users including truck drivers and caravanners could follow the practice of dropping to another, less used, channel for a chat. “And caravanners could use the radio to let me know when they want to pass so I can give them room. We don’t bite,” Lindsay said.

Another bone of contention with truck drivers is the difference between training and licencing. A truck driver must go through a complex and staged licence process, usually has to do dangerous goods update courses every two years, must have medical checks regularly as part of the dangerous goods regime. A caravan driver can spend a lifetime in the city driving a small automatic urban sedan and with retirement, purchase a two-to-three tonne four-wheel drive and hook up to 30 feet of home-away-from-home and set out on the great adventure without any training or licencing provisions. And, according to the truck drivers spoken to for this piece, this inexperience often shows.

 

There is no suggestion here that truck drivers are angels, they are just ordinary people with the usual wide social diversity. We all have the horror story of a speed or tailgating truck and there is no excuse for this behaviour. However, statistically, accidents involving trucks on a per kilometre driven basis is way lower than the national average for motor vehicle accidents.

The final issue identified that is causing the rift of outlook between truck operators and caravanners is speed. Many of the big road trains on outback roads have a maximum speed of 90km/h (many legally run at 100km/h in the NT). A caravan driver too might choose 90km/h as a suitable speed. However, 90km/h set on a car’s cruise control is probably only 86km/h in real terms, this is the way car manufacturers set the speedometer. A truck on the other hand would likely have a maximum speed set at a true 90km/h. A five kilometres an hour differential means an extra hour in a truck driver’s shift. The extra time could make the journey illegal under fatigue management. And a road train cannot always pass a caravan safely when there is a small speed differential.

The answer? Find a sweet spot in the mid-nineties that gives efficiency and there will be days on outback roads that you never see a truck going in the same direction as you because you are running with the flow of traffic that spreads out along the highways and byways in a daily migration. The alternative is to slow to 80km/h and give the road to other vehicles when they attempt to pass.

This feature is not an attempt to denigrate caravanners, rather showing attitudes from a truck driver’s perspective. By far most truck drivers and caravanners get about their daily business of travel in harmony and mutual respect but it often pays to have a thought about those men and women in the big trucks doing a tough job often in 14-hour legal shifts. Mutual respect goes a long way to increase safety on our roads.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I am a Grey Nomad and also hate to see this happen. I also think that there should be a truck only sign on these sites and a fine for other road users who use them. I also think that our road authorities should also get a kick in the bum for not making more rest areas that cater for all sorts of road users. After all they have known for years that caravan and truck traffic is increasing rapidly.
    We all should lobby foe better roads and better rest areas.

  2. We drive a bus towing a small 4 wheel drive. Yes we use parking bays for 3 reasons. One we, like you, get tired and to go on is dangerous, two we are ongoing up the highway and are simply sleeping for a few hours and going on and three many caravan parks are too small and we have to take the car off the trailer and then drop the trailer, get the bus onto the site and then attach the trailer to the car and park it. All that for a few hours sleep. Sharing a site with trucks is a fact of highway life. All road users are entitled to use the parking bags. What all of us need is better and more plentiful roadside stops. I would suggest that Queensland should look at some of the WA and the NT parking bays that are much bigger with areas further off the road that most caravans can take advantage of, leaving the closer area for the larger trucks. In all our travels throughout Australia we have had very little problems with most trucks, most drivers are courteous. If we can we will call you past, letting you know when it is safe and indicating when you are past us, so you can pull in. If we can’t do that we will move over when it is safe. BUT don’t tailgate us, don’t pass us so closely that you cause our trailer to jackknife, answer your radio when we try to call you to tell you what is happening and we will move out of your way asap. We have as much right to be on the road as you.

  3. All well said and understood. I have often chatted to Truckies on UHF40 and let them pass, flashed our lights when they can pull back, and often they acknowledge the curtesy. They even tell you if there is a good pie shop open down the road in the late of night in a lonely stretch of road…

    I wish more caravans and outback 4WD drivers would just scan Ch 40 more and watch out for each other, and trucks. They say they are on 18 or 40, but I have never heard them when needed…

  4. Re truck drivers & Caravaners.
    First thing is, before letting everyone who wants to tour with a Caravan or a Rv motorhome, get them to do a course on the trucking industry, a lot of RV drivers have never been seen a truck let alone drive one!! so they don’t always know ‘what a truck stop is’!? I have seen in parts of our country,
    signs: Trucks only. do we really have to put signs up for every damn thing, for what to or not do!
    Lets, use some common sense.
    Hey I can get on my very high horse about lots of things regarding safety with trucks & RV’s. we all know trucks use channel 40 for their communation, channel 18 for RV’s 4×4 have channel 15, Out on the highway, why not all travel on channel 40 so we can all cll the truck driver up to let them know what your intensions are, so he know what plan instead of driving along with eyes stuck on the lines in front of you!!
    If you an RV I want to call you up for any reason, ie emergency or Chat, you have your sighn on the back, Channel 40 – 18. Have i got to scramble thru channells to call if your not the one first called?
    So what i’s saying is; on channel 40. if ya mate wants to call ya up, okay mate, lets go to whatever channel ya want.
    To make a good RV driver is let make a few truck driving trips.
    I have had my share of truck driving, naw at 79 years old I am now enjoying life on the road full time with a Toyota Coaster Motor Home.
    I can stay in one place for long!
    Stay safe cheerio from Bushy Peach with his missus & dog Max.

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