P-Bays and Rest Areas

Driving on Australia's lonely long roads, it is important to take frequent stops to avoid driver fatigue. Fortunately, most major roads have a system of P-bays but not all rest areas offer the same services, particularly with regards to overnight camping restrictions. This article highlights how to make the most of rest areas and provides tips for those that seek out places to stop overnight for free camping. We include instructions to allow you to get the GPS positions from ExplorOz for all rest areas, including the 24 hour rest areas, where you can free camp.
Article By: ExplorOz Team
Created: February 2012
Latest Feedback: September 2014

Roadside Rest Areas

Roadside rest areas, otherwise known as P-Bays are available along most highways right throughout Australia and are well-used by campers, holiday makers and truck drivers.

The facilities available at these rest stops vary however. Generally, P-bays are just that - parking bays, however others will include some form of rest amenity such as a picnic bench, toilet, garbage bin, and tap water.

Many P-bays on major highways are nothing more than simple gravel turn-outs on the shoulder of a busy road and whilst they might appear to offer little in terms of convenience, they provide a safe place for you to turn off the engine, stretch your legs and rest your eyes from the monotony of driving. However, there is nothing more disappointing than having taken a stop for a rest in a place with no shade, only to find that just over the next hill was a lovely rest area by a peaceful river under a grove of trees.

Rest areas are not intended for camping. Brief overnight stays are permitted at some sites however, so you need to understand the various rules and regulations and know the meaning of the symbols on the rest area signage.

Camping at P-Bays and Rest Areas

Some P-bays are suitable for overnight stops with numerous tracks leading back into bushland away from road noise.

The best ones are set back from the road, have toilets, shade, and sometimes a river, grass or pleasant scene. These types of P-bay camps are frequented by travellers in their caravans, and camper trailers and space can fill up before 4pm.

The worst ones are close to the road, offer nothing more than a bin and a stretch of road on which you can pull over with a long load. These types of P-bays are frequented by road trains who pull in at all hours of the night, letting air out of their brakes, and then depart off again well before sunrise. You would do well to avoid these.

Thankfully, designated roadside stops are usually well signposted. Blue signs featuring the P symbol or a combination of the P symbol with a graphic (tree and picnic bench, toilets, tent etc) will be given at least 1km before the turn-off. On some major highways where there are numerous rest areas along the way, you'll see a large sign indicating the distances to all P-bays in the vicinity - sometimes over 100 kilometres ahead. Take note of these and check them out as you pass - you'll soon come to recognise how to recognise which symbols best indicate the type of rest area you would like to use.

The best advice however is to plan your trip ahead. Purchase some books, view an online database, or take a map that pin-points all available rest areas for your journey. This way, you can plan to take a break in the most restful site in your vicinity and furthermore, if you're suddenly feeling fatigued, you can check your guidebook or map and feel confident of your options and make an informed, safe decision rather than just pushing ahead fruitlessly in hope of finding a tree and place to pull over.

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Free list of P-bays and Rest Areas

ExplorOz (this website), provides a massive database collection of Australian places. This is free to use. The database, called Places, holds 80,000 pages of references. Each Place is grouped as a "type". There are 47 different "types" of Places.

The allocation of these "types" has been assigned by us specifically to cater for the needs and interests of travellers so you'll find P-Bays and Rest Areas! But you'll also find Free Camps, Caravan Parks, and a whole host of specific points of interest like Historic and Landmark Trees, Toilets, Roadhouses, Airstrips, Grave Sites and of course, the entire Geoscience Australia database of Australia Place Names (which includes cities, towns, stations, etc).

All places listed have basic information provided for your personal use - GPS position and altitude, address, location given as distance from nearest towns in all directions (including driving time), Satellite image (from Google Earth), current weather data from nearest weather station, and climatic averages for each month of the year from nearest climatic station (if available), plus visitor contributed photos, description (if available), and icons showing any known features in addition to it's "type".

You can even create your own driving itinerary to, or from, any given Place, and you can SAVE the place (or your driving directions) to the My Plans feature for your next visit to the site for your trip planning convenience.

The unique thing about this database is that the public can contribute and extend the database. So you can read comments and see photos added by other travellers that have been to the place - and you can even add your own comments.

Members Bonus

Members can download the position data in either GPX, GEORSS, OziExplorer, or CSV file formats. Either download directly from the Place page, or save to My Plans and download everything you've stored in My Plans in bulk in one go.

We encourage our Members in particular, when they are on the road to also contribute to this database using your smartphone - simply take a photo (ensuring your phone has an inbuilt gps, which iPhones and most newer models do these days) and simply send this pic using your phone's email facility to places@exploroz.com - this will check our Places database and either append your photo to the existing page for that place OR, if it finds no match at (or near) that GPS position, it will create a NEW place in the database - this is very important feature of our evolving content.

TIP

To become a Member, you will need to subscribe for an annual Membership through our online shop.

Driver Fatigue

Driver fatigue is a silent killer and whilst the temptation for many is to put in the long haul to cover large distances in the shortest amount of time, it is a much safer bet to drive to arrive alive. Some drivers put unrealistic expectations on the daily distances they plan to travel just so to reach pre-planned accommodation, or caravan parks, however this can lead to driving tired and putting yourself and others on the road at great risk.

Some practical tips to avoid driver fatigue are:
  • plan your trip so you can take regular breaks, especially if taking children or pets
  • Avoid driving at times you would normally be asleep
  • Avoid starting a trip after a long day's work
  • Share the task of driving with another person if possible
  • Be aware of the effects of any medication taken
  • If you feel tired, the only way to keep safe, is to stop and sleep.
Research by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has identified that there are two periods of the day when the effects of fatique are most evident - between midnight and 6am, and between 2pm - 4pm.

Why does fatigue cause accidents?


Numerous Australian studies on effects of fatigue on driver performance have revealled three (3) main outcomes of fatigue in drivers:
  • Slower reaction times
  • Reduced attention to notice potential hazards
  • Reduced information processsing including accuracy of short-term memory

Recognising the Signs of Fatigue


Constant yawning, blurred vision, slowed reactions, heavy or sore eyes, poor concentration, impatience, not remembering the last few kilometres of the trip and so on.

Does power-napping help reduce fatigue?


Whilst there are a signficant number of factors that contribute to the reasons for driver fatigue (including road design issues), the number one solution to avoiding the onset of fatigue is simply to get enough sleep. Medical research suggests that 8 hours a night is the right amount for most people. However, that same well rested person can still become subjected to driver fatigue so the question is does stopping for a power-nap assist in lowering the effects of fatigue sufficiently to avert danger?

The answer is simply yes. However, how quickly each individual will respond to the power-nap is debatable and this can depend on the length of the power-nap taken. Researches at Flinders University have recently shown that a 10 minute power-nap can bring about an immediate and significant increase in alertness and mental performance - however they found this improvement wans about 1 hour after the nap. In another study, a longer nap (30 minutes) did not produce improvements until 30 minutes after waking - the improvement occurred but was just delayed. For travellers this could mean if you have an hour for a break, sleep for the first 30 minutes, then prepare and consume a snack and/or use toilet facilities for the next 30 minutes before commencing driving again.

Overall, the current theory on power-napping is that all it takes to reduce driver fatigue is just 10 minutes so the message is clear - take note of your fatigue responses and use any type of rest area, or P-bay as the difference between life and death could be just 10 minutes.

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