What makes an Aussie highway dangerous and where in the country will you find our worst stretches of blacktop? In naming and shaming our list, we looked right around Australia at stretches of highway that were prone to accidents, in poor condition or heavily trafficked. Added to these were some favourite, albeit remote, routes that expose travellers to becoming stranded by vehicle breakdowns, seasonal flooding, and collisions with wandering stock, nocturnal natives and road trains.
QLD: THE BRUCE HIGHWAY
At 1652km, the Bruce is responsible for a fifth of Australia’s road fatalities, making it our most dangerous drive, and the world knows it. Based on a 2013 report by the World Health Organisation, UK-based Driving Experiences rated the Bruce Highway one of the 10 most deadly highways in the world, nominated for the dangerous overtaking that occurs on skinny stretches and extremely long distances between towns.
A whopping 60 per cent of road deaths in Queensland occur on the Bruce Highway, which in remote areas becomes a narrow strip of blacktop without decent shoulders. It’s here that driver impatience turns to reckless overtaking, multiplying the risk of serious head-on collisions. A frustrating factor for north Queensland road users are those low-lying sections of the highway that are routinely severed by floodwaters leaving travellers and trucks stranded. In this year’s RACQ Unroadworthy Roads Survey, members agreed and their complaints about the Bruce elevated it to the top of that list too.
Take an alternative: From Brisbane, detour inland to Roma, join the A7 to Rolleston and push north on the Dawson and Gregory highways to Emerald, Charters Towers and beyond.
NSW: PACIFIC HIGHWAY
Despite billion-dollar upgrades, the Pacific Highway retains top spot as the state’s worst, most frustrating drive. It’s all about traffic flow in New South Wales where nobody likes to break their stride, and more than 8000 road users polled by NRMA late last year named the Pacific Highway the state’s worst.
Stretching from Sydney to the Queensland border, the Pacific has been undergoing a dramatic overhaul in the last decade to separate its never-ending traffic flow. As of May this year, more than 75 per cent of the Pacific is either motorway or dual carriageway, and the deadline for the remaining kilometres is 2020.
That said, in the first half of 2016, this major transport route accounted for 11 per cent of NSW’s road fatalities, more than occurred on any other route in the state.
Take an alternative: The New England Highway between Newcastle and the Queensland border provides an especially scenic inland route.
NT: STUART HIGHWAY
The ever-controversial NT government recently lifted speed restrictions on yet another section of the Stuart Highway that slices through the red heart of the country from Darwin to Port Augusta. The story goes that when speed limits of 130km/h were introduced back in 2006, more people died on the Territory’s roads than before.
As a result, sections of ‘open speed’ were trialed on the Stuart Highway in 2014 and the government has been slowly revoking its speed limits ever since.
There are now no speed restrictions between Alice Springs and Ali Curung, and this will soon be applied to the 1200km of the Stuart Highway that pushes north to Katherine. Despite attracting criticism from east coast road safety experts, the NT government is standing firm.
Whether high-speed travel makes the Stuart Highway less safe for road users is a matter of hot debate. Of more concern to many long-distance travellers is its sheer isolation, the long distances between towns, and the uncertainty of overnighting at the highway’s remote roadside camps.
Take an alternative: Unfortunately for north-south travellers, few other roads pass directly through the Red Centre although short detours do exist.
WA: GREAT NORTHERN HIGHWAY
From Broome to Lake Argyle, this popular route skirts the edge of the Kimberley, forging a path though a landscape so big and wide it unhinges many with its lack of habitation. There’s not much traffic to contend with, but between Kununurra and Fitzroy Crossing you’ll traverse some particularly poor sections of highway with an Australian Automobile Association (AAA) star rating of just one or two out of a possible five (under its Australian Road Assessment Program).
Slender stretches of road, driver fatigue, long distances between fuel stops and the risk of collisions with wandering stock, native animals and long-distance long trains increase the risk of accidents. You may find your mobile phone won’t work and if things so wrong, you’re a long way from a mechanic or hospital.
Take an alternative: For offroad rigs, you can’t beat the Gibb River Road if you want to avoid the blacktop traffic.
TAS: MIDLAND HIGHWAY
Earlier this year, when Tasmania’s Mercury newspaper polled readers about the state’s worst black spots, the Midland Highway topped the list.
Following a historical route from Hobart to Launceston that dates back to the early 1800s and crosses the oldest bridge on Highway One, the Midland Highway links some of Tassie’s oldest settlements and is a favourite shortcut for locals and a popular tourist route.
Today, however, the highway attracts a poor 1-2 star rating for most of its 200km length under the AAA’s Australian Road Assessment Program. Despite some government upgrades including road widening and barriers, local authorities are blaming a lack of maintenance for the excessive number of fatalities on the highway in recent times.
Take an alternative: On higher ground to the west you’ll find the very scenic Lake Highway (A5).
CENTRAL AUSTRALIA’S OUTBACK HIGHWAY
An amazing offroad route, the Outback Highway cuts a rugged path from Laverton in WA through the country’s largest desert to Winton across the Queensland border. For 2800km it follows mostly remote, unsealed roads to little-visited locations, so the risk for travellers is when something goes wrong.
Corrugated, rough roads make breakdowns and shredded tyres a real possibility, and with just a trickle of travellers passing by, you’ll need to be self-reliant. Except during the cool winter season the heat can be unbearable, communication blackholes are common and summer floods across Queensland’s Channel Country bring the Donohue Highway to a standstill.
On this route carry ample supplies of water, fuel and food, at least two spare tyres, recovery gear and vehicle spare parts. Consider carrying a satellite phone too.
Take an alternative: You’ll clock up more kilometres but you the closest alternative is just as scenic: from WA travel the Nullarbor to Port Augusta, head north on the Stuart Highway through the Red Centre and venture east on the Barkly Highway to Mt Isa, Qld, and beyond.
SA: EYRE HIGHWAY
Across the world’s largest, flattest, limestone plateau, Nullarbor travellers become quickly immersed in a vast, treeless landscape where the distance between fuel stops stretches to 200km. From Norseman to Port Augusta, the Eyre Highway poses uniquely Australian risks to travellers, including the challenge of tackling the world’s straightest stretch of road – 146km of mind-addling blacktop.
Water sources are scarce, summertime temperatures can be extreme, there are road trains to wrangle with, and accessing medical help usually means calling in the Royal Flying Doctors Service. The risks are amplified by unsafe stretches between Yalata and Ceduna that carry a AAA rating of 1-2 stars.
Take an alternative: Put your car on the train!
QLD: CAPTAIN COOK HIGHWAY
It may well be one of the world’s best coastal drives, but the Captain Cook Highway is especially crash-prone, too. At just 75km, this scenic stretch literally hugs the coast between Cairns and Port Douglas, etched along the base of towering cliffs.
An incongruous mix of impatient far northern commuters and daydreaming tourists share the drive, their differing paces creating frustration, rage and tailgating that puts everyone at risk.
There are few places to overtake, the road lacks a decent shoulder and pull-offs for slow drivers are too short to be safe. Serious accidents have occurred when tourists veer off the road admiring the views or worse, into the path of oncoming traffic.
Take an alternative: Climb the Kuranda Range to Mareeba and continue over Rex Range to Mossman and Port Douglas.
MORE BAD ROADS
Prone to annual wet season flooding and with just one tiny settlement to break up almost 500km of travel, the NT’s Victoria Highway is a dangerous stretch of road.
More than 60 per cent of this isolated highway attracts a paltry one-star rating, so slow down and take care. In Victoria, the far eastern end of the Princes Highway around Cann River to the NSW border has a pretty poor safety rating, too.
Want more Without A Hitch? Read our Top 4 Free Camps On Highway One
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