It is easy to drive too long without a proper rest. Both Leonie and myself find that two hours is a comfortable time. Especially when the road is straight and the scenery a little featureless, it is very easy to lose concentration. This is why highway authorities put ‘rest areas’ along the highway. It is here that a few things need to be said about the road side stops in New South Wales along the Newell Highway. In a word, the greater majority of these are pathetic. If you want to pull over and rest, sure, you don’t need much. Everything changes, however, if you want to get out of the car…
For a start, the rest stops on the Newell Highway often a basic shelter constructed in a clearing with little creativity or beautification. There is rarely a toilet. I am a tax payer, and I know all this costs money. The reality is, however, that there are lots of taxpayers driving this highway every day. They all need to rest every two hours or so. But on the Newell, most of them are greeted with a 44 gallon drum for rubbish, a dusty parking area, and on closer inspection, toilet paper and other bits of ‘refuse’ left by previous travellers. They get to enjoy all this under the shade of the aforementioned shelter. It’s all a bit ugly, and who would want to do it?
My thought is this: if we are really concerned about driver fatigue the authorities would do something about it. And if there was any sense of aesthetics they would make rest areas the kind of places that people would want to use. They would install composting toilets, put in a few plants, and an information board about the local area or the original inhabitants (or what happened to them).
Places like that would be way more relaxing than some of the highway service centres we have seen. These are typically a few service providers in collaboration with a fuel stop. These places have toilets. They have fast food. Some have good coffee. But they are soulless and sterile. Sitting in one at Wallan on Sunday I found myself wondering what the occupants did for any sense of community. The clientele of itinerants changes constantly, and with the centre located along a section of Hume Freeway there was no town centre or village to give it a sense of place.
For me, the best places to meet people are in the towns along the highway. Here you can talk to the locals, and at least get some sense of what the town is like. Outside the towns, a thoughtfully constructed rest area is much more relaxing break than buying fast food somewhere. You can smell the bush, hear the birds, and feel the breeze.
If government would consider this, and act on it, the end result might be something that encourages drivers to rest more effectively. Travellers would have a more pleasurable driving experience. Roads would be a safer, and people would be happier.