Sharing the road with oversize vehicles

Sharing the Australian highways with very big loads is part of the adventure of travel.

Regular travellers on Australia’s highways will see a vast array of vehicles and machinery being transported across the country, but few understand the role that pilot vehicles play in escorting these vehicles. It’s a harsh reality but ignoring these pilots and their large & oversize vehicles can have dire consequences.

These “pilot vehicles” travel our highways with a large yellow sign on the roof, accompanied by yellow, rotating beacons to warn motorists of the approach of an oversize load. Most oversize moves occur during daylight hours, between sunrise and sundown. Only extremely large oversize movements may happen at night to avoid disturbing heavier day time traffic. These moves are well lit and are accompanied by a convoy of support vehicles, including police escorts.

The truck driver and escorts communicate on UHF Radio, channel forty. These vehicles can be travelling very slowly from sixty kilometres an hour to one hundred kilometres an hour, depending on size and weight, and state laws of course.

Anything wider than two and a half metres is oversize, and the truck carrying this load will be flashing you with bright yellow, rotating beacons and displaying a banner across the front. If you are approaching the rear of such vehicle, you may see a bright yellow beacon, and warning sign advising the load is wider than normal.

If the load is being escorted by one pilot, it’s wider than three and a half metres. If the load is preceded by more than two pilots and a Police Traffic Escort, the load is huge and you will have to pull over in a safe place off the road.

The first pilot vehicle you see may also have alternating flashing drive lights known as “wig-wags”. This indicates the load is more than four and a half metres wide.

Then there’s the rear pilot. It’s this driver’s job to warn vehicles approaching from the rear of the presence of something big sharing the highway ahead.

Sharing our roads is the key. A good tip if you are a regular traveller of our highways is the use of a UHF radio. It could save your life, or at the very least, your caravan or motorhome. A few stone chips are the least of your worries if you fail to give way to oversize vehicles.

A two-way radio allows you to scan or monitor channel 40 and communicate with the large or oversize vehicles. It’s recommended drivers use channel 40 as the “call channel”, and move to other channels for a chat.

There will be strategic information which you can use to your advantage to make your travels safer. Most of the time the radio language is purely and simply information about road and traffic conditions. There is a very short window of chat opportunity when passing in opposite directions.

Some examples of terminology are, “Southbound oversize is 4.5 metres. You may need to back off and make some room.”

Another example, “Copy in the caravan? We have six metres. Please find a safe place to pull over.”

In some states, particularly in Western Australia, oversize vehicles can travel in convoy. So the call from the Pilot may be, “Copy southbound? We have two at four and a half metres.”

In most circumstances the pilot or truck driver will instruct you how to safely negotiate the wide load from either direction with safe negotiation as the priority.

It is in the motorist’s best interest to communicate with the pilot and truck driver. It’s a simple matter of calling up on channel 40. They will do everything in their power to keep everyone in the vicinity of the load as safe as possible. Your co-operation will make their job much easier. If they don’t see any indication you’re waiting to overtake, you may stay behind the convoy for more kilometres than you had planned.

So be on the lookout for pilot vehicles and their oversize loads and share the road safely for a better traveling experience for all.

Source: National Pilot Vehicle Drivers Association

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