Wide loads and road trains; how to deal with them

If you’ve never seen the wide loads and road trains up north, it can be quite a shock. At up to 53 metres in length, and wide loads reaching nearly 6 metres across, you’d better know what to do when they come your way, or it can end very, very badly.

Heavy loads up north
What should you do around wide loads and road trains?

Where do you find wide loads and road trains?

Outside of the major cities in Australia, you’ll find road trains. They are generally triple, or sometimes even quadruple trailers, and have signs on them saying Road Train. They are massive, make a lot of noise and you wont miss them.

Wide loads are less common, and are used for moving big items around the country. In WA, the most common transportation reason for wide loads is to the mines; they move big dump trucks and machinery around, and it can range from 3 metres wide to nearly 9. If you take a trip to the stunning Pilbara region, you can be virtually guaranteed to see some.

A big road train up north
A road train heading north of Newman

Carry a UHF

The first, and most important part of travelling outside of the city is to have a UHF. It doesn’t have to be permanently mounted, or anything fancy, but it should be on, and kept to channel 40 where possible to hear the truck drivers and pilots passing on information.

This is critical to knowing what is around you, what is coming and when its safe to overtake, or be overtaken.

If you have your UHF on, you’ll often hear southbound, 4.1 metres wide, please give us some room, or a variation of this. In general it gets called out to the other trucks, and is less common for those in light vehicles, but pay attention to the direction of travel, and the width.

Anything over 3 metres of width is something you’ll need to move right over for, and if its up to 5.5 metres wide you’ll pretty much have to pull right off the road. Its best you do this at a very slow speed, or completely stop.

The direction of travel will tell you whether the vehicle is heading towards you, or away from you, with oncoming being far more dangerous if you aren’t well off the road.

What is a Pilot?

Traditionally, the word pilot refers to someone who flies a plane, but Pilots are also those who drive a vehicle in front, or behind a wide load. Their job is to warn people of the incoming load, and to block roads to make it safe for the truck driver to manoeuvre their items.

Some trucks will only have a pilot at the front, and others will have both. This depends on the journey, and the width of the load. If it’s a really big load, you’ll see red and blue flashing lights, which is a traffic escort.

Traffic Escorts

Huge wide loads will often have a traffic escort with them. Sometimes this can be multiple wide loads travelling in convoy, but they are used for individual wide loads too. These are red and blue, and basically look like the police, and can be quite forceful in the way they make you get off the road.

What should you do with wide loads?

If you have a UHF, you’ll get notice that there’s a wide load coming, prior to seeing the pilot, or the traffic escort. Depending on the width, you should be at a minimum slowing down, but if its big, you need to pull right off the road, and stop, until it goes past.

Waiting on the side of the road for two big wide loads
Massive wide loads require you to pull off the road and stop

If you are on gravel, and its not overly wide, you, as the smaller vehicle need to get off the road entirely, and slow down considerably. The larger vehicle has right of way, and you don’t want to get in the way of a huge road train.

Overtaking road trains and wide loads

Road trains tend to be fairly easy to overtake, once you get a grasp of how long they are, and how much room you actually need to overtake. If you have a UHF, you can talk to the driver, and they’ll often be quite helpful in letting you know when its safe to go around.

This is where knowing your vehicle is critical, as it can take a long time to speed up enough to get around a 53 metre long truck, and you need to allow enough clear stretch of road to do so, or a bit accident could easily occur.

Fortunately, where the road trains run there’s usually lots of long, straight and flat road to make use of, but don’t take any unnecessary risks.

Wide loads are easy enough to overtake, if you have a UHF and deal with the Pilots. They’ll let you know when its safe, but you should know that if it’s a big wide load, you will likely have to drive on the wrong side of the road, then off the wrong side of the road on the far shoulder, and back around.

Sometimes this means dodging the reflector strips, and a fair bit of dust going everywhere, but take it easy and get around them in a controlled manner!

Being overtaken by road trains

Road train drivers are professionals. They do it day in, day out, and know exactly when they can overtake, and how long it will take.

As a recreational user, you should know that they are on the clock, and have mandated break periods. They have to stop every x number of hours, fill log books out and be off the road by a certain time or they risk heavy fines, and its policed pretty severely.

You should respect them for more than just their size, and do your best to let them pass if needed. Again, if you have a radio, let them know you are happy to back off as needed, and when they are ready, and they pull out, just take your foot off the accelerator and let them go around.

Do not do this prior to them pulling out, and especially without speaking to them as it takes a road train much longer to get up to speed and go around you than you might realise, and forcing their hand never ends well. It takes a seriously long time to speed up or slow down in a road train, and its best you leave the decisions to the driver of the vehicle.

Share the roads

Truck drivers do a hugely important role in Australia, and the large majority of them are amazing blokes, and ladies, who do a ripper job. The last thing they want is to have an accident, and a bit of courtesy and common sense goes a long way.

Respect the fact that they are much larger than you, do the right thing and allow everyone to get home safely.

Road trains around Nullagine
A big road train near Nullagine, on the gravel

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