NRMA in the 80s: Computers, new looks, and motorcycle patrols

NRMA is celebrating 90 Years of Roadside Assistance in October. Here’s the seventh in a series of blogs about our story.


NO TIME FOR GAMES: Patrol vans were fitted with state of the art computing which gave  an accurate visual record of each job.

The move to the Villawood headquarters sparked fast upgrades in the dispatch department. At the dawn of the 80s, computers began to have a huge impact in the running and dynamic of road service.

As the decade broke, development and trialling began on the innovative Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. The change from the long standing conveyor belt system saw many positives but relying heavily on unfamiliar computer system had some dispatchers worried.

There was one instance where the CAD glitched and the dedicated call centre and dispatch teams ensured the continuation of prompt road service by reverting back to the manual process of recording breakdown information on job cards. The information would then be run between call centre and dispatch team to radio each job to the next available patrol until the problem was rectified.

The new computer-aided despatch and communication system at road service headquarters officially came into use after satisfying a 20-day testing period in September 1985. The system was the most up to date amongst the world’s motoring organisations and the first in Australia. The system featured high speed data transmission through a microwave communication network, messages were sent out over UHF.

Digital data terminals were installed in the fleet that recorded the upcoming job in text format. Dispatchers would send the job to a patrol displaying destination, map reference and member details these would remain on screen until the job was completed. This text based transmission ensured jobs were clear and streamlined the communication process.

Radio communications were also improved by the conversion to the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band with all 324 patrol vans transmitting in UHF. Dispatchers would now rely on their computer terminals to call up the whereabouts of the patrolmen to determine the most appropriate patrol for the job.

The road service job information would be read over the radio and the patrol only had to press a button to acknowledge. Upon completion of the job the patrol pressed another button and he would become available on the dispatch terminal.

Special equipment was also installed to make it easier for the hearing impaired to call for road service. A portable telecommunications device enabled hearing-impaired Members to send a message on a telephone line; the message was received and replied to in printed form.

The boys in blue 

The 1980s also saw the introduction of the iconic blue uniform. The brown serge coats, pants and shorts were replaced by the blue issue, which was based around patrol comfort and workability. Included in the issue were the standard blue shorts and trousers and shirts as well as an aviator style bomber jacket. Towards the end of the decade the uniform also incorporated reflective strips for high visibility on the road.


EXCUSE ME OFFICER: Motorcycle patrols were often mistaken for policemen whilst travelling through traffic prone areas of the CBD.

The other boys in blue

DON'T BLOW IT: Advocacy was still a big part of NRMA's cause with this anti drink driving campaign.

DON’T BLOW IT: Road safety was still a big part of NRMA’s cause. Anti drink driving was the concern for this campaign.

In 1988 NRMA reintroduced the motorcycle patrolmen. The ‘Jambusters’ as they were called were ideal for the busy, traffic prone Central Business District. Manoeuvring through the traffic jams, the motorcycles featured a basic range of tools and parts to cover minor breakdowns. With an emphasis on safety, the riders were specially selected and were issued with a yellow safety vest and motorcycle trousers with reflective strips ensuring night time visibility.

Initially the Jambusters were issued with the Kawasaki GT550 and BMW R65 and were then upgraded to the BMW K100 which was also used by motorcycle police. With the only difference being the amber lights, the blue uniformed NRMA patrols were mistaken for policeman.

Change of logo

In 1989 the iconic NRMA logo was changed. The long circular version which had been the emblem for 39 years was changed to the superimposed emblem becoming the new identification for NRMA. This was replicated on all cars and uniforms.

Patrol stories-Walter Fazakerley

“Back in the early 80s, Walter was called to the scene of a couple who needed roadside assistance. When he arrived he could only see the wife and wondered where her husband was. She led him to the back of the car and realised that her husband was in the boot and had been trying to check the seal inside for leaks. In doing so he managed to fall into the boot and lock himself in there along   with the only set of car keys in his pocket!”

Do you have any memories of the NRMA from the 80s? Did you ever see motorcyle patrols out on the road?

You can also commemorate this occasion with an NRMA 90 Years t-shirt. All proceeds go directly to the Leukemia Foundation.

NRMA in the 70s – 1 million Members, Escorts and pollution!

NRMA is celebrating 90 Years of Roadside Assistance in October. Here’s the sixth in a series of blogs about our story. 

2. road service communication

OVER AND OUT: Another radio channel was added to keep up with the increased calls for Roadside Assistance.

In 1972, NRMA reached its milestone one millionth Member. It had taken 38 years to reach half a million and then only 10 years to add the second!

This huge number was felt heavily by the call centre, dispatch and patrol teams. Increased calls demanded another radio channel be added, bringing the total to five. The new channel’s base station was at Westmead, improving the network’s overall coverage and performance.

On the 1 September 1974, NRMA HQ moved to a new state of the art building at Villawood. This custom building centralised all the teams; with the road service dispatch, call centre, administration and workshop staff in the same premises. The modern workshop located at the premises was required to build vans while also servicing the 271 patrol fleet and other NRMA vehicles. The workshop, providing a major support network for the company, took up an entire warehouse for its operations run by a total of 32 staff.

call centre


Call Centre and dispatch technologies were upgraded, ensuring efficient service for Members. A new call queuing system was used, standardising call taking. Calls were answered in turn with the aim to reduce caller wait time.

Ladies and gents

The call taking staff were always women, who would take down the Member details and breakdown information on a job card. This card was then sent on a large conveyor belt to be stamped with the correct division and then onto the dispatcher. The dispatchers were always men, plotting the patrols whereabouts on a map; they would allocate the job to the most appropriate patrol and radio the job to them. Sitting on either side of the office, there was no interaction between the two positions.

COOL RIDE: Apart from being more visible on the road, the white of the new vans helped to decrease the temperature.

1974 also saw a new vehicle trialed within the fleet, the Ford Escort. Following on from the larger Holden panel vans the Ford was smaller and lighter which made it more appropriate for the busy metro service jobs. The design comprised of a white roof, reducing the amount of blue on the vehicles which came about due an increase need for visibility, safety and comfort for patrols.

An A-frame was developed in 1975 to enable service vans to tow and immobilise vehicles in certain conditions. The frame was attached to a towing ball on the van and was designed for flat towing of cars over short distances or from parking stations and hazardous situations.

Vehicle Emissions 

From the 1960s to the 1970s there became an increased awareness of the way vehicles were effecting pollution in the air. Taking this on board the NRMA began an anti-pollution experiment, hoping to increase their environmental consciousness. A supervisor’s van was converted to run on LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) which involved fitting two gas tanks, a convertor and a different type of carburettor to mix the gas and petrol vapour. Road service patrols were also involved in the experiment whereby they would measure their emissions weekly for comparison. The aim of this trial was to reduce the carbon monoxide emissions and the results showed a positive 90 per cent decrease. There was also a small decrease in other hydrocarbon emissions.

Patrol Stories – Brian Wilson 

“Called for service, stinking hot day at Wakehurst Parkway at Oxford Falls. Burnt out clutch and when he got there old lady had fainted, was not very well.’

In days of 2 way radio, called for tow truck. lady and man called for rescue. The man wanted to thank the patrol and offered him to do a bit of painting. The patrol said no.  Several months later, saw him being interviewed on TV and then realised who it is. The man turned out to be Lloyd Rees the famous Australian Painter.”


Do you have any memories of NRMA from the 70s? Were you a Member then?

Let there be light… for fog’s sake


Do some drivers need to remind themselves when and when not to use their lights?

There is no two ways about it. Vehicles need headlights. Cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks, whatever your preferred mode of transportation, it’s safe to say at some point you’ll need to use them to see where you’re going on roads.

Close your eyes (not while you’re driving of course) and imagine trying to drive at night with no headlights on. Of course there are overhead street lamps illuminating the road ahead, but your headlights act as one of a vehicle’s primary safety measures. Without them there would be trails of destruction everywhere. Knotted and twisted metal would be strewn across highways and bi-ways, and there would as much broken glass as there would be broken bones.

The importance of vehicle headlights may be stating the obvious; however it is a constant bone of contention amongst drivers. A major complaint we often hear from road users is drivers whose cars have only one headlight working. As a result they use their high beam to compensate, dazzling others and proving themselves a considerable hazard. A relatively minor fix can, in the long run, prevent a relatively major expense should that one light be the cause of an accident.

Diligence and etiquette of other drivers is another factor which is just as important. Where and when to use your lights, is just as essential as the mechanical integrity of a vehicle. A second issue which is continually under the spotlight (pun intended) is the improper use of fog lights.

According to the Roads and Maritime Service, ‘Front and rear fog lights must only be used in fog or rain, or when conditions such as smoke and dust limit your vision’, and improper use can result in a fine of $104 for anyone caught breaking the law.

This comment from one NRMA Member through our SpeakOut platform sums up what many other drivers have experienced. If you agree or have any other suggestions now is the time to speak out and let us know what changes you want.

It is safe to say that it is not uncommon for some drivers to use their fog lights even when they don’t need to.

So what is the answer to solving these minor problems which can cause some major headaches? Increased vigilance and fines from our transport police, or increased signage to remind drivers and promote further awareness?

RMS safety rules for lights and horns

NRMA buying advice – fog lights

Tell us what campaign you want to see here

NRMA in the 60s – vintage tech, seatbelts, and Holden panos

NRMA is celebrating 90 Years of Roadside Assistance in October. Here’s the fifth in a series of blogs about our story. 

Holden - roadside job - 60s JOB FOR A HOLDEN: In 1965 the patrolmen were issued with the most popular car of the day, the Holden panel van.

JOB FOR A HOLDEN: In 1965 the patrolmen were issued with the most popular car of the day, the Holden panel van.

By the end of 1959 road service calls were totaling up to 10,000 per week. This number of calls required quick and efficient service, so it was planned that the total fleet of J Vans would be replaced by the more modern Morris Minor 1000 van. This new fleet would be fitted with the latest equipment, stored in such a way that it increased patrols’ efficiency.

Again, the number of calls overloaded the available radio network. By the end of 1961, a third radio channel was added to cope with the road service requirements. Inward lines to the call centre were increased by 20 per cent to keep up with the jump in demand and arrangements were made to upgrade the radios to more efficient transistor sets.

By 1966 the in car transceivers were capable of channel switching, allowing for greater accessibility and flexibility in peak periods. By this time, the NRMA also had a fourth radio channel added. The upgrades in communication technology had a positive effect on waiting times: 83 per cent of metropolitan jobs were serviced within 30 minutes.

Transistor Radio

DO YOU COPY: The iconic transistor radio receiver revolutionised communication in the 60s, leading to billions of sales worldwide.

With over half a million road service calls being taken annually, NRMA was again obliged to modernise its fleet. In 1965 the patrolmen were issued with the most popular car of the day, the legendary Holden panel van. The larger, heavier vehicle  was more comfortable for the patrolmen, as well as offering more efficient storage.

During the 1960s the first ‘patrol class’ was held. The course introduced the scope, limits and logistics of practical road service; patrols were taught how to relate to a distressed Member, radio operation and techniques, control room procedure and the sequence used for fault finding.

Funnily enough, the NRMA was initially against the bid for compulsory seat belts. It took the position that its Members could be trusted to drive at safe speeds. However the association did advocate the voluntary addition of seatbelts in cars. It even set an example by installing seatbelts in the entire patrol fleet.

60s uniform

DAPPER: NRMA Technician – K McLachlan – models a snazzy white coat, shirt and tie combo.

In 1967 a long standing practice was updated. The uniform of the patrolmen now included shorts in the summer. Whilst this casual addition was included in the uniform, the strict presentation of the patrols was still paramount. Shorts were only allowed to be worn as long as a tie and long sock were worn with them. Whilst on the job, patrols were still required to wear a dustcoat over the uniform to ensure they kept clean.


“I took a call from a lady who said she had a hole in her turn slowly. I could not wait to get to this call and find out what part of a vehicle was a ‘turn slowly’.

The lady and a friend were looking intently under the bonnet when I arrived; I hurried over to have a closer look. She certainly did have a hole, and it certainly was in her turn slowly, or radiator cap, to those of us more knowledgeable motor buffs.” Open Road

What do the 60s mean to you? Do you remember the first time you called NRMA?

Sydney CBD speed limit to be reduced to 40km/h soon

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Over the next fortnight there will be VMS road signs for motorists and a widespread advertising campaign including newspaper and radio ads to make sure anyone who missed the announcement in May is ready for the change.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Over the next fortnight there will be VMS road signs for motorists and a widespread advertising campaign including newspaper and radio ads to make sure anyone who missed the announcement in May is ready for the change.

Last week, NSW Minister for Roads and Freight Duncan Gay announced that a 40km/h speed limit will be introduced in a large part of the Sydney CBD  at the end of September.

“The CBD’s 40km/h speed limit zone will be rolled out from Saturday 27 September as we work to further improve pedestrian safety,” Minister Gay said.

“Considering a vehicle that hits a pedestrian at 50km/h is twice as likely to cause a fatality as the same vehicle travelling at 40km/h, this speed limit change will deliver significant safety benefits.

“The new 40km/h limit zone will operate in the area bound by Castlereagh Street to the east, Kent Street to the west and Hay Street to the south. It will also link in with the current 40km/h speed limit in The Rocks to the north of the CBD. The area will include a 40km/h speed limit on and adjacent to George Street.

“It’s not only motorist behaviour that needs to change – if you’re walking around, cross at the lights, obey traffic signals, look both ways before stepping onto the road and don’t get distracted by your phone,” Minister Gay said.

NRMA broadly supports the 40km/h speed limit. The average traffic speed in the CBD is around 20-30km/h so it won’t have any noticeable impact on traffic flow. We would urge people to be aware of the speed limit particularly where they might have come off the Harbour Bridge or Anzac Bridge at 70 or 60km/h and suddenly enter the CBD. Its important to know that the limit will be 40km/h, not 50km/h.

What do you think of this news?