Stay safe on the road: Emergency procedures and contacts

Editorial Team — 28 July 2023
Good to know emergency procedures and contacts for when you’re on the road — it could help save a life

If you enjoy spending time on the road, whether it’s a weekend trip or a Big Lap around Australia, then chances are you’ll experience an unwelcome surprise at some point. Hopefully, the worst result will be a minor delay in your trip, but if it does turn into an emergency, then it’s best to be prepared. And this preparation means having the right knowledge and gear on board. 

Stay put

If you become stranded between destinations, never leave your vehicle, particularly if you have been injured. Pull up to a safe place and try to contact someone for help. While the town you passed might not seem far away, there have been too many occasions where stranded drivers have set out to seek help, only to become disorientated and dehydrated and eventually succumb to exposure.

Having gear, such as a strobe light or a UHF radio that can help attract attention or contact anyone nearby are handy items to have on board. It is a much wiser plan to bring help to you than to go looking for it. 


Australia is a land of extremes, and this is something to be aware of when planning any journey — particularly long ones. Before setting out, check the weather and road conditions and avoid travelling in extreme weather.

If you must set out, then make sure you’ve got all the appropriate gear and be sensible. If the extreme condition you’re facing is heat, bring plenty of water. Breakdowns are more common on hot days, and if you do break down then try and find shade on the side of the road. 

Heavy rain and road washouts can be extremely hazardous and increase the risk of accidents. Always drive to the conditions and use your lights to increase visibility (both of the road and your vehicle for other cars to see). Always be cautious of any areas where water is covering the road. It may not look deep, but the force of water currents can be deceptive. 

First aid

Having a first aid kit on board is essential. It’s the kind of item that you never want to need but can make all the difference in the case of an emergency. If you travel frequently, be sure to check the supplies and stock up if needed. 

If you or someone you are travelling with is injured, then first aid should be administered as soon as possible. This can help keep the victim comfortable until help arrives and prevent the situation from worsening.

If you are unfamiliar with the items that come in a first aid kit, then a comprehensive first aid course is a must. 

Triple zero

In the event of an emergency, call triple zero (000). The call will still go through if you’re calling from a pre-paid mobile with zero credit or if there is no coverage from your carrier. However, it will not connect if there is no reception altogether (we’ll go into alternatives below).

Depending on where you are, it might take hours for emergency services to reach you, so be prepared to settle down and wait for them to arrive. The operator will be able to walk you through what to do and may be able to assist. Just remember to stay calm, speak clearly and give them a thorough explanation of what has happened and the situation you are in. That way the dispatcher can determine the services necessary. 

Emergency beacons

As mentioned, if you are out of phone reception (whether planned or not), you may not be able to call triple zero from a standard phone.

Having an emergency beacon on board may be the only way to get emergency medical assistance if you are in a remote location without reception.  

All emergency beacons transmit GPS coordinates through an international satellite system for search and rescue. The location is then relayed on to the Australian Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in Canberra. The RCC will dispatch a rescue team, usually via helicopter, to the location. 

There are three types of emergency beacons: EPIRB, ELT and PLB.

EPIRB: Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons are primarily used on boats. These beacons are quite large and heavy. 

ELT: Emergency Location Transmitters are used on aircraft.

PLB: Personal Locator Beacons are the smallest of the three types of emergency beacons, and these are what you want to use on land, whether you’re going four-wheel driving, biking, hiking or so on. 

Know your location

Knowing your location will help emergency services get to you faster. Ideally, you’ll have an idea of where you are along your intended route. But if you don’t, then a mobile phone, GPS device or emergency locator beacon may be able to show you or emergency services where you are. 

If you have a smartphone, it’s a good idea to have the Emergency+ app downloaded. This app uses your phone’s GPS functionality to display your exact longitude and latitude, even when you have no signal, which you can then give to the dispatch team.  

Pro tip: Before any journey, long or short, make sure you are familiar with your route and itinerary. It’s also a very good idea to give a copy to someone you trust so that they know where you will be and when and will be able to raise an alarm if you go off schedule and cannot be reached.   

In the heat

Australia is renowned for its heat, particularly if you head into the outback. If you’re planning on such a journey, and in summer, then consider travelling during the morning or evening hours (although be careful of the roos) when temperatures aren’t so high, and always stay hydrated and cool. 

Be aware of the signs of heat-induced illness, which can include headaches, nausea, cramps, excess sweating, fainting or dizziness. If you experience heat stress, lie down in a cool shaded spot, remove any excess clothing, drink small amounts of water and cool down with a cold shower, sponge or wet towel. 

Useful contacts

HealthDirect Australia
P: 1800 022 222
(24hr health advice line in ACT, NSW, NT, SA, Tas and WA)

P: 13 43 25 84
(24hr health advice line in Qld)

P: 1300 606 024
(24hr health advice line in Vic)

Poisons Information Centre
P: 13 11 26

St John Ambulance
P: 1300 360 455


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