Almanac Life: The Western Ring Road

The M80 Ring Road [Source:]


Sometime in the not so distant past, some public servants somewhere in the city decided that, henceforth, the Western Ring Road should be referred to as the ‘M80 Ring Road’. Occasionally, I have mused on the possible reasons for this official change of name, and drawn a blank. Because, really, they could have called it anything – perhaps the Sunshine Highway, maybe even the Yellow Brick Road – and still I would be hesitant to drive on this modern monument to the motor vehicle.


Like a Groundhog Day with far less nuance or humour, every morning the traffic report on the radio is the same, speaking of slow-downs and accidents. ‘…and there are delays on the M80 Ring Road from the EJ Whitten Bridge, Altona-bound…’ Going about their morning ablutions, this is not what the morning commuter wants to hear, for as anyone who has ever ventured onto a major Melbourne road in peak hour can attest, one accident can bring the entire network to a frustratingly grinding halt. I worked with a fellow who lived in Beveridge and he was constantly late for work. ‘Maaaate,’ he would drawl as he walked through the door at morning-tea time, ‘the Ring Road was like a car park!’


It would be a stretch to say you are taking your life into your own hands when you venture out onto the Ring Road, but when you are travelling at in excess of 100 kilometres per hour, and only a metre or so behind you sits a fully laden B-Double which is dominating your rear-view mirror, you do have reason to question your life choices. How fast would be fast enough to shake it from your tail. 120 km/h? 150? In those moments, beads of sweat forming on the brow, you do wonder why your frugality prevented you from merely forking out for the CityLink toll to travel down the ‘Tulla’ to the airport…you also gain a renewed appreciation for Keith Miller’s famous quote regarding a Messerschmitt and your tail.


On the Ring Road, it would seem that the use of indicators is optional, cars and vans veering from one lane to the next without warning. With poker faces, drivers play their cards close to their chests until the very last minute, with nary a signal of intent. I find the concentration required to be migraine-inducing, the clairvoyance required to be Nostradamus-like. This phenomenon of driving idiocy is not gender exclusive – I have seen countless female drivers road-raging with the best of them.


When behind the wheel, if you are not festooned in either a garish yellow or bright orange shade of high vis on the Ring Road, you just do not fit in. But on my increasingly infrequent safaris into the wilds of this particular blacktop, I do pity those for whom work or life dictates that this arterial is their daily lot. I have seen minor bingles and witnessed countless near-misses in the stream of traffic, but thankfully never a major incident – although I am aware they occur regularly, particularly with the hotch-potch of roadworks and diversions associated with the tunnel’s eternal construction.


The closest I have come to fearing for my life was when a wheelbarrow became untethered from a tradie’s ute only metres in front of me. The barrow was caught by the wind and pitched thirty metres into the sky, missing my car, but coming to rest with a sickening thud on the bonnet of a following vehicle. Driving at the speed limit (or just a *little* over), there is barely time to take stock of such an incident and react.


‘Take another route’, I hear you say! Sometimes that is simply not an option. For example, to get to Ballarat by road, one must travel on the Deer Park Bypass, which is the Ring Road’s equally rabid but much narrower two-laned younger cousin. On the DPB, if you are not travelling at least 10 kilometres above the speed limit, you have no right whatsoever to be in the right-hand lane. If you have forgotten this important detail, the vehicle tail-gating you will remind you.


This past August, I cruised up a busy eight-lane freeway from Anaheim to Los Angeles, all the while adjusting to driving a car with a steering-wheel positioned where the front-seat passenger sits in Australia. And all the while concentrating on driving on the wrong side of the road. My wife, sitting adjacent to me in a state of white-knuckled fear, wondered aloud how I possessed the bravado to weave in and out of the traffic while remaining cognizant of our approaching off-ramp amid the unfamiliar surroundings.


‘You call this pressure?’ I replied. ‘This is not pressure. Pressure is driving on the Western Ring Road’.




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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Smokie I admit this makes me appreciate driving in Adelaide more ! I detest driving in Melbourne and give a lace out handball to get out of it – I remember when I had to back in my drinking time when arrived at the destination I reckon I had 3 stubbies out the fridge before I commenced breathing again

  2. Tony Taylor says

    Radio stations use to compound the pressure by saying there was an accident “city bound” on the Ring Road, which always made me go “Which way’s that?”

  3. Ha ha this is brilliant. Should be the basis for an episode of Utopia with ol’ Keith observing from the heavens.
    Perth has a lot to be grateful for from the mining industry (taxes/ royalties) re funds for roads.

  4. Hayden Kelly says

    This resonates with me .Twice a week I take the Ring Road to Altona to pick up my grandkids from Altona Primary and sit and play with them for a couple of hours until their parents get home .It’s a magical 2 hours of connection and then i face the nightmare from hell .Altona to Keilor at around 6pm on the Ring .Everything you say is spot on and it came home to roost for me in May last year . A fair bit of traffic perhaps doing 80 minding my business in the middle lane .Whack I am taking out by a Kenworth trying to get in behind me from the right to the middle lane .He poleaxes the rear passenger door on the drivers side and my door won’t open . The biggest Maori i have ever seen [bigger than an All Black ] gets out of the truck and strides over and wrenches my door open .My 1st thought is if this bloke is on the gear I am dead . Thankfully he says ‘my fault bro I was trying to get in behind you and just misjudged ‘ .which may have been an understatement given he misjudged by half the length of a Mercedes S350 .
    Car written off I survived and got into a better car [Lexus] but jeez it’s the drive from hell .Tonight a tradie cut right in front of me as 100k is too slow for a tradie wanting to rip the top off a VB after a hard day on the tools . I looked up and his ladders seemed to be tied down with cut up bike tubes masquerading as giant rubber bands . I decided it might be better to get into another lane rather than sitting behind my tradie mate .
    I do battle again on Wednesday pray for me .

  5. Well said Smokie. Might be time to bring forward the move to Ballarat! I don’t miss that horrible ring road in the slightest.

  6. Thanks for all your comments.

    To drive the Ring Road is an exercise in torture.

  7. Mickey Randall says

    Thanks Smokie. As a regular visitor to Melbourne, I gave up driving there when I began to fly over instead. I don’t miss it. I’m sure there’s an entire library devoted to the hook turn. I later had more than sufficient experience with what some may call the grandaddy of ring roads, London’s M25. Traffic and roads are like weather for me in that they’re endlessly curious and worthy of conversation.

  8. Excellent Smokie, and top effort punchline!

    Decades ago living in Rosana and working in Ringwood I had to get there via Manningham Rd. I had only recently arrived from Perth and was used to far less traffic. During morning peak hour Manningham Rd became Manningham Speedway. After that I spent a couple of years in Western Sydney. Driving the M4, M5 and M7 was almost enough training to tackle the Western Ring Road. Almost.


  9. Peter Fuller says

    Coming to this rather late, and I probably should defer to regular users whose experiences have been detailed in earlier comments. I do recall the frustration of driving the Ring Road during what seemed the interminable construction phase, but now, it certainly works satisfactorily for us, although we rarely find ourselves on the road in either peak hour. Our occasional trips along it take us to Greensborough to our son and his family. The gratifying aspect of this trip is that we encounter a single traffic light virtually at the conclusion of our 125k journey. Even less frequently we drive to the airport.
    As a now confirmed country bumpkin, I find Melbourne traffic increasingly daunting and driving in the suburbs is now a frustrating and dispiriting experience.

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