How to stay safe when driving in hazardous smoke conditions

Jan 07, 2020
Stay safe on the roads by following these tips this bushfire season. Source: Getty

Drivers are being urged to protect themselves while on the road as smoke from hundreds of bushfires is impacting visibility and air quality across Australia.

In parts of the country conditions have become so poor over the past week that people have struggled to see just a few hundred metres in front of them, while in Canberra the air quality has been ranked the worst in the world on a number of occasions. Despite being 60 kilometres from the terrifying blazes, the country’s capital has consistently woken to orange skies with much of the population choosing to wear masks to help protect themselves.

This pollution has spread right across the east coast from Sydney to Melbourne and the smaller towns dotted throughout New South Wales and Victoria which have been impacted by the bushfires.

While Aussies have been advised to stay inside as much as possible, for those travelling through the region with a caravan this can prove difficult. Over the weekend many packed their bags in hopes of escaping the fire prone areas in response to warnings that conditions would worsen in coming days.

And while they were advised to leave, Police Commissioner Graham Ashton said it had to be done with extreme caution with poor visibility and air quality increasing the risk of collision on the road.

“Fire activity is significant today,” he said at a press conference on Saturday. “There is a lot of smoke out there and visibility will be low. You need to monitor your speed accordingly.”

But driving slowly isn’t the only thing you can do to keep safe on the road during the dangerous weather event. VicTraffic has shared some advice with Aussies who are driving in the smoky conditions to help keep you safe and out of harms way.

Make yourself visible and keep out smoke

Even if you’re driving during the day the smoke could make it difficult for you to see much of the area around you. You should treat it as if you’re driving at night by turning the headlights onto low-beam, driving slowly and leaving extra breaking room.

If smoke conditions are severe close all of your windows and turn the air-conditioner onto re-circulation. However, if the smoke becomes so thick you you struggle to see, pull over, make sure you’re clear of the roadway and turn on your hazard lights so others can see you.

Plan your journey

Before you head off make sure to check where the fires are and which roads are closed. The fire services such as the NSW RFS and government website Vic Emergency have information on bushfires in the respective states and also provide up-to-date warnings across social media. Meanwhile, government websites including VicTraffic provide details on road closures.

After you’ve confirmed it’s safe to leave the area you’re in make a plan of what route you will travel, then mark it out on a map or log it into your GPS so you can keep track of where you’re going. It’s also important to let family members and friends know which way you’ll be driving in case of an emergency.

Pack the essentials

Food and water are necessities when driving for long distances but when you’re travelling through smoky areas there are a few extra things you should pack. It’s recommended you carry a first aid kit and woollen blankets when driving in fire prone parts of the country.

If you find yourself stuck in an area close to a bushfire the woollen blanket can be used to protect your skin – it doesn’t burn like other fabrics. Throw it over your whole body making sure to cover your ears, nose, hands and feet as these areas will feel the heat more than other parts of the body.

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