Indian Ocean Drive; a great road with terrible drivers

Indian Ocean Drive is a magnificent road that takes you from the northern most parts of Perth past Lancelin, Jurien Bay and several other coastal towns before ending on the Brand Hwy, just south of Dongara.

It was opened in September 2010, and came it at a casual 100 million dollars. The kicker though, is the money has not stopped being spent, with a huge chunk of money spent on it since.

We’ve had the pleasure (and often displeasure) of driving up and down this road countless times over the last decade, and are often very glad to get off it.

In fact, I know a considerable number of people who take the Brand Highway every time, and I’ll seriously think about it from now on too. 

Since 2010, there’s been 9 fatalities on this stretch of road, and more than 40 people taken to hospital after severe accidents. The worst accident so far resulted in 3 fatalities and 11 injuries after a head on collision involving a minibus.

As a local who’s driven more of WA than I care to think about, I’m pretty familiar with traffic flow, road conditions and safety when it comes to long distance driving, and you know what? 

The Indian Ocean Drive is an amazing road. It’s the terrible drivers who use it that are the primary cause of unsafe acts occurring and high blood pressures.

Indian Ocean Drive
The Indian Ocean Drive, just north of Leeman and Green Head

There are far worse roads in WA, and no amount of ‘safety upgrades’ is going to remedy the fact that a significant number of drivers using Indian Ocean Drive are just terrible at driving, and really shouldn’t be using it.

A lack of respect, understanding and courtesy leads to unsafe acts

I’ve seen it so many times; people driving up or down Indian Ocean Drive won’t drive in a way that is courteous, and the people stuck behind eventually crack it, and overtake when its not safe to do so.

Whilst there’s never an excuse for overtaking when its unsafe, the actual cause of the issue is those who aren’t driving like they should. 

So, what causes so much frustration on Indian Ocean Drive?

People varying their speeds

It’s actually incredible to watch a pile of cars stuck behind someone doing well under the speed limit, and then when an overtaking lane approaches that slow vehicle miraculously manages to speed up from 80km/h to 100km/h for the duration of the overtaking lane, before slowing down again.

This makes it almost impossible for those who’ve been stuck behind the slow vehicle to overtake, and gets people worked up and angry very quickly, which then increases the chances of people doing something stupid.

The most respectful thing you can do is pick a speed, and stick to it. If that’s 90km/h, lock it in. Don’t bounce up and down speeds as it makes it impossible to safely overtake, and can be seriously frustrating.

Driving too slow

If you are doing 20 +km/h under the speed limit, you are going to frustrate a lot of people on Indian Ocean Drive, and its probably worth looking at alternative routes.

No towing mirrors

If you tow a trailer that is wider than your vehicles mirrors, you need towing mirrors. It’s the law, its easy to do and its common courtesy for others on the road.

This is mainly directed at Caravan owners who often don’t have them fitted, and can’t see the 4 kilometre line of vehicles behind them that they are holding up.

If you can’t see all the way down both sides of your caravan, you need towing mirrors, and you should not be driving anywhere without them.

Pajero on the beach
If you are towing something wider than your vehicle, you need towing mirrors

Not leaving a big enough gap for overtaking

Some vehicles can overtake quickly, and others require a lot more time and space. One of the most frustrating things is when you have a heap of travellers that are going slowly, all sitting too close together that you can’t fit between them.

If you’ve ever towed something heavy, you’ll know its not always easy to overtake more than one setup at a time, and that can mean hopping around vehicles one at a time when its safe to do so.

The problem arises when there’s not enough room between others to pull back into. You either do it anyway, and hope that they make room for you (which can end badly), or you have to wait until there’s enough room to overtake more than one vehicle (which may be never).


Those who are doing well under the speed limit often end up getting tailgated, and that’s dangerous for everyone involved. You only need a kangaroo to jump out and a few vehicles to get on their anchors and a bad accident can ensue. 

Those in holiday hurry mode

I’m not sure what it is about those on holiday who are in the ultimate rush to get somewhere. People use Indian Ocean Drive for commercial purposes every day of the year, and if you are on holidays you’ve got no need to get anywhere fast.

Sit back, enjoy the amazing views and arrive in one piece.

Traffic on Indian Ocean Drive
Rushing to save 5 minutes is just not worth the risk

UHF Radio’s not being used

If you have a 4WD, or you are towing something its a good idea to have a UHF radio, and have it on channel 40.

This is the usual channel for chatting to those on the road as needed, and is a huge help. If you do a lot of driving on roads outside of major cities, I’d almost call it disrespectful not to have a UHF, and to use it.

Stupid ‘helpful’ moves

On our most recent Indian Ocean Drive, I was towing our Hybrid at the maximum speed of 100km/h, when I glanced across much further up to see a heap of dust, and a Nissan X trail driving off the road, on the shoulder. I was totally confused for a second, until I realised that he’d pulled off the left hand side of the road at speed onto the gravel, to let a 4WD towing a boat ‘overtake’.

Sure enough, when we caught up to him, he did exactly the same thing; pulling onto the gravel at around 90km/h for long enough for us to pass him in the normal left lane. Rocks were going everywhere, dust covering the road and all the while he’s trying to miss the road markers. 

Now, I’m sure he probably thought he was being helpful, but its so far beyond the wrong thing to do its not funny, and he’d be far better off either driving at the speed limit, or just allowing us to overtake when its safe to do so.

People who have no idea how to overtake

When you get your drivers license in WA, you should know how to overtake safely. It’s pretty simple, and easy to do. You wait for a time when you can see its clear, and legal to overtake, and then indicate, move out, around the vehicle and back in again. 

On the same trip as above, I was just coming out of Jurien Bay when I glanced in my right mirror to see a new BMW 4WD almost level with our camper trailer. Glancing up even more, and I could see an oncoming car not more than 150 metres away, coming head on towards this bloke. The BMW erratically braked, and pulled in behind us, before overtaking us at a later stage. 

Not long after, with a big corner approaching, I see him indicate, pull out onto the right side of the road about 10 metres before the double white lines start, on a blind corner, before erratically swinging back in again.

It’s actually scary how bad some of the drivers are on Indian Ocean Drive.

Overtaking lane
Overtaking is by far and away the riskiest part of this road

Unnecessary risks being taken

Accidents don’t just happen. They are caused, and in many scenario’s are completely avoidable. If you take an unnecessary risk and cause an accident, you’re an A grade moron.

I recall being on the Indian Ocean Drive just a few days after there was a bad accident with at least one fatality. As if I didn’t need more proof that the accidents are caused by people doing the wrong thing, but what I saw this day gave me chills.

We were cruising along behind a large group of traffic, and I watched a bloke in a Commodore pull out from behind us, go around a couple of cars in the small sections you are allowed to overtake in. He then proceeds to pull out again, up a hill, across double white lines with zero visibility in front of him, and go around a rubbish truck.

I mean how stupid and selfish do you have to be to break every law in the book, risk anyone else’s life coming the other way just to get around a truck? 

Fortunately (for anyone else) he made it around in time, but it wasn’t much longer before a car came over the hill on the side of the road he’d just been on. 

A good mate of mine had a head on collision on this road on Sunday afternoon, heading back from Lancelin. He said he could see a small car coming the other way start to drift into his lane, and he could clearly see the driver was looking down and not at the road.

He moved all the way off out of his lane onto the shoulder as far as he could, and still clipped the other vehicle head on. Everyone in his 4WD was fine, but the other small vehicle had both occupants trapped inside with multiple broken bones.

Accidents don’t just happen. They are created, and if you can’t pay attention to what you are doing on the road, you should stay home.

Stupid road markings

Many of you will know that Indian Ocean Drive has had a number of upgrades since 2010 in the name of safety, to prevent further accidents.

The speed limit was reduced (not because the road isn’t suitable for 110km/h, but because people can’t drive), widened in a number of places, safety barriers erected and then they went ahead and put the most stupid road markings down that I’ve ever seen in my life.

I recall the first time seeing the new lines and wondering what on earth they actually meant.

Looking at it now, and reading the 7 million signs along the edge of the road they are just a big version of the double white line, and overtaking lines, but they are not used anywhere else in WA, and I’m sure are totally confusing for a lot of other road users.

Line marking on Indian Ocean Drive
Indian Ocean Drive has the most random and unique line marking in WA

Unfamiliar drivers

Indian Ocean Drive is the tourist access road to the coastal towns north of Perth. That means that it gets used heavily by those who are visiting WA to see places like Lancelin and the Pinnacles.

As you drive along Indian Ocean Drive, you’ll see a huge number of signs in different languages, telling you wrong way, or what side of the road you need to be on.

When an emergency happens, you often revert to what’s engrained in your brain, and if you aren’t used to driving on the left hand side of the road, reactions can be exactly the opposite of what is needed.

On top of this, many drivers are not familiar with the roads or area, and will sit on 70 – 80km/h, causing endless frustration for those stuck behind them. This can be because they are unfamiliar, or just blissfully unaware that it is causing others frustration.

Indian Ocean Drive is a great road with terrible drivers

I’ll say it again; Indian Ocean Drive is an amazing road, but so many of the drivers who use it are at the opposite end of the spectrum, and I think we’ll start using the Brand Highway more often now.

How’s your experiences been on Indian Ocean Drive?

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  1. Hey Christie,

    Glad you found it helpful. You probably made a good choice all those years ago. Interesting about Google; I guess it just picks what it deems to be fastest, with no other considerations

    All the best

  2. Christie Butler says:

    I should be more specific and say by “Perth” it’s actually “Joondalup “

  3. Christie Butler says:

    I love this article and totally agree with it.
    We stopped using IOD years ago due to safety concerns.
    It is interesting that when using Google Maps from Perth to north of Gero (say, Exmouth) it only uses IOD and doesn’t even provide an option for the Brand Hwy…..