Who Ya Gonna Call?

Kath Heiman — 19 November 2020
If something goes wrong out on the road, do you know which numbers to call to help get out of trouble?

Many of us will remember ‘Who ya gonna call’ as the catchy theme song that accompanied the 1984 movie cult classic GhostBusters. Even today, if you’re stuck about how to deal with the weird goings-on of daily life, there’s a fair chance a smart-alec mate will suggest GhostBusters as a solution.

But what if you’re not dealing with supernatural predicaments? What if you’re dealing with a real-life problem? Whether it’s bushfires, petty crime, health advice or vehicle malfunctions, when we’re on the road it can be easy to be caught out scratching our heads wondering who’s going to help.

One thing’s for sure, use of triple-0 is not the go-to option. It’s reserved for serious injury, if life or property is being threatened, or if the caller has just witnessed a serious accident or crime. The other emergency numbers are 106 and 112. The 106 number is the 000 equivalent if you have a hearing or speech impairment. This number operates through a TTY (also known as a teletypewriter or text-phone). Otherwise, 112 is the international standard emergency number that can be dialled on a digital mobile phone via any carrier. This means even if your service provider is out of range, as long as your mobile phone can detect another carrier, you’ll be able to contact emergency services — and this works even if you don’t have a simcard fitted.

But whether it’s 000, 106 or 112, all of these are emergency numbers. So, unless we’re dealing with a legitimate crisis, we need to stay off the line. Reports indicate that about 30 per cent of the nine million calls received by the triple-O Emergency Call Service are non-genuine (ABC News, 15 Nov 2018). And that’s a worry because misuse of the 000 number diverts service operators away from legitimate emergencies and, besides, it’s an offence against both Commonwealth and State laws.

So the question remains — will we know who to call when our travel plans go awry? Will we rely on looking up a number via the internet while we’re on the road? Will that be enough? 

A little while back we found ourselves needing roadside assistance. Trouble was, we didn’t have the paperwork for our nominated provider close at hand. The sticker bearing the company’s telephone number, which was provided with our original policy, was probably still on the kitchen counter at home waiting for one of us to find a minute to slap it on the windscreen. 

None of this should have been a problem. After all, we weren’t remote, were safely parked off the road within telecommunications range, and had internet available from our mobile, so we could look up the details of the company we’d paid roadside assist premiums to for as long as I can remember. 

Or could we? To our dismay we found that the number listed on the (apparently legitimate) website was a scam. Having taken our personal details, the operator proceeded to tell us that the company had no record of our membership. So all we were left with was a $160 fee from the local tow company we called next, as well as a real fear we’d just become the victims of identity theft.

Never again. I have to say that, these days, I take considerably more care to ensure we have the numbers we may need on the road with us on the road. 

While our decisions about what numbers to carry will differ depending on, for example, who we insure our vehicle with, who knows our medical history, or where our next of kin live, there are a heap of 1800 and other numbers that can help us all out, regardless of where we find ourselves in this Great Brown Land. And it’s good to know too that most (not all) telcos allow calls to 1800 numbers for free, even from mobile phones. 

Some useful numbers to have on hand include, for example:

  • Police (non-emergency): 131 444 (this number will patch you through to that states call centre and inform the nearest police station, wherever you are)
  • Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000
  • Search and Rescue: 1800 627 484
  • Healthdirect: 1800 022 222
  • Poisons Information Centre: 13 11 26
  • SES (assistance in floods and storms): 132 500

Remember, too, that there are some great resources available that can help keep us be situationally aware as we travel. For example, as the national broadcaster, the ABC provides emergency updates across the country online via abc.net.au/emergency. Then there’s the live traffic reports provided by each State and Territory. And who can forget useful apps like ‘Fires Near Me’ during last summer’s horrible fire storms? 

Even when we’re out of telecommunications range, don’t forget the value of dropping into the local police station at remote communities to get the good-oil about what conditions to expect on the road and, importantly, to tell them that you’re out there.

In this age of global communication, it can be easy to get complacent and assume we don’t need to think too far ahead. But when shit turns to trumps, the time for planning has passed, and leaving important contact numbers at home can quickly become more than a mild embuggerance. 


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