Bad driver of the week # 2,012. Stuart Highway, Pine Creek, NT. 8 June 2012.
Picture this …
Yesterday afternoon I had the great pleasure of driving the 600 or so kilometres from Ngukurr to Darwin for work. That trip through perhaps the most glorious country in the Top End was spoiled only by one small, but potentially catastrophic piece of stupidity, unfortunately seen too often on our roads of late.
We were about twenty or so klicks south of Pine Creek running north on the Stuart Highway, travelling at around the highway maximum speed of 130 km/h and had just overtaken a slower vehicle when we came across a large tractor-slasher combination (larger than that tractor-slasher combination shown in the photo above, which was not the unit discussed here, which was a much larger tractor and with a double-width slasher) cutting grass southbound on that side of the road.
That unit was throwing up sufficient dust and dirt to completely obscure the road ahead – not an unusual event and not helped by the late afternoon sun shining through the dust screen but sufficiently serious to get all my driving alarms working.
My eagle-eyed passenger alerted me to what she said was a truck lurking on the other side of the dust-screen. What I saw next caused me to jump on the anchors and fear for not only the safety of myself and my passengers but other road users as well.
The truck she saw turned out to be the fuzzy profile – well hazy through the thick dust screen – of another tractor-slasher combination perpendicular to the north-south road just fifty or so metres up the road.
At first I couldn’t tell if it was broken-down or moving. Then I saw that it was executing a three-point (though for this massive machine it was like a ten-point) turn across the roadway.
In my rear-view mirror I saw a fast-approaching hire car that had also overtaken the slower vehicle. Thankfully we all stopped in good order. I couldn’t see if there was any southbound traffic on the other side of the dust screen.
The tractor-slasher driver eventually executed his turn and pulled over facing southbound and we resumed our journey.
I eyeballed the driver as we passed and he didn’t seem to have any awareness of the catastrophe that he had very nearly caused and no regrets for his stupidity.
Another fifty metres up the road we passed a ute with (I presume) the safety officer/supervisor for this crew, sitting in air-conditioned comfort reading a paper, oblivious to the chaos all about.
A few points need to be made here.
Firstly this all occurred late on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend, with all the increased traffic that brings. Secondly I saw no signage on either side of the area the slashers were working in. Thirdly, the manoeuvre was undertaken at about the worst possible spot – the road side verge on both sides of the road was narrow, falling off steeply into deep ditches on both sides of the road. Two hundred metres further up the road there was ample room on the roadside to effect this manoeuvre safely.
On my brief perusal of those documents I cannot see how these characters complied – at the most cursory level – with the procedures required there.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for this crew the next time I travel on the Stuart Highway. If you are driving up here you should too.