Convoy Etiquette & Safety When 4WDing

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Hitting the tracks with another vehicle or a group of vehicles introduces a heap of camaraderie and fun, while also providing extra security and reassurance if things go pear-shaped. But what does it mean to travel in a 4WDing convoy with others and how do you keep the experience safe and enjoyable?

A huge collection of assorted 4WDs gathered before setting off in a convoy.

4WDing convoys can vary from two vehicles to much larger groups.

What is a 4WDing convoy?

A convoy is a group of vehicles travelling together. In 4WDing terms, this can be a club heading out for a day at the beach or a few mates away for a weekend. It can also be a larger group of travellers following each other from destination to destination. In many cases, those in a convoy will know each other, which makes travelling and communicating easier. 

However, you may not know everyone in your convoy and in this case, more formal practices should be adhered to or you can quickly end up in a lot of trouble. Some things are common sense, but you’d be surprised at how often impatience or arrogance overrides logic.

Rain clouds set in over a sandy 4WD track with a small convoy of vehicles driving.

Check the weather forecast before you leave.

Preparation

Before you commit to a trip away with a group of people, some planning needs to take place. If you are local to the area and know it well, then you are in good stead. However, if you are heading somewhere unfamiliar, you need to research the track difficulty and advise the others in your group, especially the drivers.

Keep a close eye on the weather – a bit of rain can cause havoc on tracks that are already slippery and muddy. Or getting stuck in a snowstorm in the mountains can lead to serious danger!

A close up of a Toyota Land Cruiser gets some air under the front right tyre as it negotiates a rough track.

Your vehicle needs to suit the conditions of the terrain.

Make sure that the vehicles going on the trip are suitable and have been kitted out with the appropriate accessories – e.g. if you’re planning to tackle river crossings then you need a snorkel.

Not only should the vehicles suit the conditions, but the drivers need to have the experience and confidence to manage the terrain. There’s no better way to ruin a day out than to damage your 4WD because you didn’t know what to do or what you were getting into. Furthermore, taking 10 highly modified 4WD’s with experienced drivers and two complete newbies in stock vehicles to a really tough and rough track is going to end badly. Put inexperienced drivers and their ill-equipped vehicles on tracks beyond their capabilities and they are destined to negate the practice of others on tracks.

A Toyota Land Cruiser with modifications leads a white Isuzu on a 4WD track.

A trip leader should be nominated when organising your convoy.

Follow the leader

If there are more than two vehicles in your group, someone needs to be nominated as the trip leader. In most cases, they travel at the front of the convoy and are responsible for passing on relevant information. It is also the leader’s job to ensure the convoy runs smoothly and that everyone is following behind and doing the right thing.

A black Icom UHF radio handset.

Each vehicle in your convoy should have a UHF radio tuned to the same channel.

Communication

Communication is key to convoy safety! Have a plan for who does what and who goes where if things go sideways, and make sure that you are stocked with the relevant maps and you have a way of communicating.

Everyone in a 4WD convoy should have a UHF radio tuned to the same channel. A handheld unit will suffice but those that are mounted are much more powerful and reliable and allow for easy communication between the vehicles. This is used for everything from calling out hazards to explaining what is going on up ahead or letting the others know when you’re pulling over or changing directions.

Two drivers in a 4WD convoy are inspecting the track while the rest of the vehicles wait in the background.

Check out hazards up ahead and communicate them to the drivers behind.

Whoever is first in the convoy should be calling out on the UHF if there are any vehicles coming from the other direction. Obviously, this isn’t such a big deal when driving along a marked bitumen road, but for high-speed gravel, or narrow roads and tracks it gives others in the convoy (who perhaps cannot see so far in front) time to move over and slow down.

If both parties do this, everyone has a smoother and safer trip. Nothing is worse than taking evasive action to avoid an oncoming vehicle that the person in front of you knew was coming.

A bit of banter over the UHF never goes astray either, and it’s a great way to keep everyone’s spirits high. Have a laugh about what’s happened on the trip or what’s coming up next, or whose vehicle keeps breaking down. Convoy camaraderie is a great way to keep everyone together and having fun, plus it’s useful for checking in and staying alert. You’ll soon notice if someone isn’t chirping up and having a UHF radio means you can see if they’re okay.

A line-up of 4WDs waiting their turn to tackle a tricky part of uneven terrain.

Mundaring in WA, is very popular for 4WDers.

Behaviour

Manners, courtesy and respect go a long way. People are great at copying each other and if you set a good example, those with you will follow. Travelling at speed past others or ripping up the ground just for the fun of it is selfish and destructive. Take your rubbish with you, look after the magic places you go to and everyone will be able to enjoy them for years to come. If you see someone doing the wrong thing, call them out!

In many cases, you’ll travel through gated areas. Obviously, if they are locked, stay out! But if you go through a farmer’s property, make sure you leave the gate/s in the same way you found them. If they were closed, go through and close them after you. If they were open, leave them open.

One vehicle follows another at a safe distance along a coastal 4WD track. There's green shrub either side, a bit of ocean to the right and clear blue sky above.

When driving on sand, you should allow space for the vehicle in front to reverse back.

Driving

Keep a safe distance. It’s essential to stay back far enough from the vehicle ahead but the exact distance is determined by the situation. For high-speed gravel driving, you should be back far enough that you aren’t sucking in any of the dust that is kicked up by the vehicle in front. In some cases that can be up to 3 kilometres behind.

For sand driving, you need enough room for the vehicle in front to stop, reverse as needed and get going again. Less distance is required for rock crawling but once again, allow for people to be able to reverse and give it another crack. If you pull up right behind someone and they need to back down to try again, you are either going to irritate the driver or cause an accident. I’ve seen people back into other vehicles because they didn’t realise someone had come up behind them.

A convoy of 6 4x4s helping each other pass a deep pothole on a coastal track. There's a beach and blue ocean in the background.

When travelling in a convoy, it’s helpful to get out and ‘spot’ for each other.

Consider where you stop. Don’t stop on top of a dune, just down the other side, or on a blind corner. Pull well off the road, communicate to those behind you that you’ve stopped and make sure they can see you from a long way away. Safety flags are a great visual indicator for those in the area to see you when they can’t necessarily sight your vehicle.

Keeping a safe distance should also be observed when passing other 4WDs and when approaching junctions between tracks. Leave enough room for others to pass and wait your turn until it’s safe. Trying to pass another vehicle on a narrow stretch of angled beach or muddy track is a recipe for disaster! You will end up sliding down into the other car and risk damage and/or injury.

Patience is essential when travelling in a 4WD convoy and if everyone masters it, all other etiquettes will naturally flow. The larger the convoy, the longer everything takes, especially on the more technical tracks. Often people will get out of their vehicles to ‘spot’ each other through particularly nasty sections, and it’s not unusual for it to take an hour or more to get 15 vehicles through an obstacle. In some ways, a smaller 4WD convoy is advantageous for trips like this, but… pick your poison. 

Simply put, don’t rush or take risks when overtaking other vehicles – it never ends well!

A convoy of 4WD vehicles pulled to the side of a track to allow another vehicle through.

There are varying factors to consider when deciding who has right of way on the track.

Giving way – when, where & how?

If you meet another oncoming vehicle on a one-way track, who gives way? The general rule is the bigger vehicle has right of way, but the number of vehicles behind them, and whether they are towing also plays an important role. If one vehicle meets five, the one vehicle should get off the track and let the others pass. If a vehicle towing meets one that isn’t, generally the one not towing gets off the road. 

In terms of hills, the vehicle going uphill has right of way over anyone coming down. Give way to pedestrians and watch out for motorbikes, mountain bike riders and horseriders. Use common sense and show respect for others who are also enjoying the bush.  

A small convoy of 4WD vehicles navigate a water crossing with potentially boggy ground.

The more remote you go with your convoy, the more tools and spare parts you need to take with you.

Tools

Everyone should have a basic tool kit in their vehicle, and if you are heading further away from civilisation you should have more tools, spare parts and recovery gear, and know how to use them. One good toolset amongst a big convoy is adequate and will make life much easier when something breaks or goes wrong.

Stop, rest, revive

Australia is a big country and travelling the 4WD tracks between destinations more often increases your driving time than if you were on the highway. That’s part of the adventure, but make sure you take breaks, stopping regularly to rest and refocus.

Find a safe spot to pull into for lunch or a coffee, have a toilet break and make sure everyone gets out to stretch their legs. If you have young kids, you’ll be doing this anyway, but it’s easy to sit behind the wheel for hours at a time until everything including your mind becomes numb.

A 4WDing convoy with 4 vehicles including a yellow bus out in front driving along an open dirt track at Warroora Station.

Patience and respect go a long way to a successful convoy.

Enjoy the convoy

Travelling with others can make for a great trip and at the end of the day, if you kick back and aim to enjoy yourself, you’ll do just that. Remember to share a laugh over the UHF and don’t fret the little things. When you travel with others you need to allow flexibility. Don’t be in a rush and don’t show off or be disrespectful to your fellow companions. Take your time, practice patience and not only will you and your convoy get there in one piece, but you’ll also have a ball along the way!

What’s been your convoy experience?

About the writer...

Joined back in July, 2016

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