The average driver shares the road with an incredibly diverse range of people and vehicles. When out and about this holiday season, remaining alert is always essential because of increased traffic volumes, congestion, fatigue and the fact that Kiwis are driving on unfamiliar roads and haven’t done much open road driving during lockdown. Many of these drivers may be less vigilant about road safety during holiday periods.
With these different drivers sharing the asphalt, all with their own degree of driving ability and experience, the risk of an incident increases. While recently New Zealand has witnessed an overall decrease in the number of road deaths, it is still a long way to go before we reach zero road deaths as our national road safety strategy, Road to Zero, has set out.
By sharing best practices and some not-so-common knowledge, we can implement change all together to keep vehicles of all shapes and sizes out of danger and drivers in our communities safer. As you prepare to hit the road, take a moment to review these seven driver safety tips to ensure your holiday travel is a safe and enjoyable experience.
Know how to spot a distracted driver and keep your distance
We’ve all heard the term “defensive driving” when it comes to sharing the road. One of the best defences against risk is to stay aware of drivers who appear distracted behind the wheel. While you’re ideally keeping yourself free of distractions, you can’t guarantee others are doing the same.
Some tell-tale signs of a distracted driver are:
- Having trouble staying within a lane
- Braking suddenly or swerving
- Showing delayed reactions to road signals or signs (e.g. taking a little too long to get moving once a light turns green)
- Not sticking to consistent speed within the limit (e.g. constantly speeding up and slowing down)
- Failing to recognise hazards and react accordingly (e.g. don’t give way or slow down for emergency services until the last second)
- Wearing headphones or listening to loud music
- Constantly turning their heads to check on, or talk to, their passengers
- Driving cars unfit for the road (e.g. unnecessarily lowered [modified] or dilapidated vehicles)
- Exhibiting negative behaviour (e.g. road rage)
- And in worst case scenario, seeing them using their phone
Safety is not only about your actions but about how easily and effectively you can identify hazards. The quicker you can spot a distracted driver, the more time you’ll have to act if they do something dangerous and the more distance you can put between yourself and them.
Make sure everything in the vehicle is adjusted properly for you
One of the easiest ways to increase safety is also one of the most overlooked. If you share a vehicle with multiple people, it’s easy to just use the seat position or mirrors that are set to someone else’s preferences. Take the time to check that all mirrors, the driver’s seat and steering wheel are in the correct and comfortable position before the start of every trip. It’s important that you’re able to see what’s happening all around you without taking your eyes off the road and that your head, arms, and legs are in the right place.
When adjusting the position of your mirrors, make sure your vehicle isn’t visible in the reflection at all. This gets rid of unnecessary blind spots and keeps your eyes clear to spot potential hazards from all sides.
Set your head restraint so it protects the top part of your head and keep the distance between your head and the restraint as small as possible. This reduces the chance of whiplash or other head/neck injuries during a collision.
Remember to set the driver’s seat close enough to the steering wheel that your elbows and knees are slightly bent. If your arms are locked in a straight line, you risk broken fingers, thumbs or elbows in the event of a crash.
Give others (especially trucks) the space they need
When you’re in a rush and the traffic seems to drag on forever or you’re in a rush to make an appointment, it’s easy to get frantic, push boundaries and get a little too close to others. If someone suddenly brakes or turns, ensuring you have extra space to slow down or stop safely is important. This is especially true when driving around heavy vehicles that aren’t as nimble as a light vehicle.
Handling a truck is a more specialised skill than driving a car or ute, as they can pose serious risks if not treated safely on the road. In fact, 60 per cent of heavy vehicle-related fatalities are caused by light vehicle drivers. This is due to cars getting too close to trucks or hiding in blind spots, meaning the truck driver can only do so much to prevent an incident.
When congestion gets heavy on the road it’s easy to forget about safe driving distance, but it’s an essential step to keep everybody safe. A good rule of thumb is to leave two seconds of distance for a light vehicle and three seconds for caravans or vehicles with trailers attached in ideal conditions (more when conditions deteriorate). For heavy vehicles add one extra second for every 3 metres of length. If you need to move into someone’s two seconds of distance, indicate your intent to merge with enough warning time so that the other driver can give you enough space to stay safe.
Be wary of the kind of music you listen to
Music is a great way to make driving more enjoyable, especially on long trips. You probably don’t want to give up your favourite tunes, but they could be putting you at risk.
Fast paced, loud music causes your heartrate to fluctuate, leading you to concentrate more on the sounds than your surroundings. You need to give the road your complete focus, so you might want to reserve the hard rock or techno for another time.
Stick to slower songs, have your passengers use headphones if they wish to listen to loud or fast bpm music, and keep the volume to a respectable level. Audio books and podcasts are increasingly popular with motorists commuting to work or road tripping to their holiday destination. You can keep the volume lower and still concentrate on the road ahead.
Keep your vehicle in top shape
Getting back on the road after a long period of lockdown is exciting, but vehicles are designed to run regularly, and your vehicle might pose a risk to you and others if it isn’t in top condition. Properly maintaining your vehicle before any significant road trip can lower risk behind the wheel and keep your vehicle running smoothly without any nagging problems. Consider running through a post-lockdown maintenance checklist, which can include:
- Inspect tire pressure to avoid both underinflated and over-inflated tires.
- Check and change oil regularly. Even when you don’t drive often, oil can degrade over time.
- Maintain proper fluid levels, including brake fluid, transmission fluid, radiator/cooling system.
- Have all lights tested, including the indicators, and replace bulbs once they start to dim.
- Check your battery. If your vehicle hasn’t been started for a while, your battery might not be charged.
- Make sure there are no cracks on the front wind screen, and the windshield wipers are not damaged or worn out.
By keeping your vehicle looking and running smoothly you can be confident that it is ready to take you wherever you want to go in a safe manner.
Understand your vehicle and what it does
When purchasing a vehicle, many opt for every safety feature under the sun. While this is great, you might not know what those features do or what happens to the vehicle once it becomes activated. For example, an anti-lock brake system is a common feature in many vehicles and, once triggered, causes the brake pedal to pulsate. This tends to make drivers panic that something is going wrong and lose focus. Radar cruise control is also a misunderstood feature that’s often treated as a fool proof tool to maintain speed and distance.
When using the feature, you should still be relying on your own driving skills to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. Many drivers also are unaware that the SRS printed on the steering wheel stands for ‘supplemental restraint system’. This means the airbag installed is designed to provide additional protection alongside the seatbelt and will in fact provide more harm to the driver if not used in conjunction with one another.
The same goes with reverse parking and rear cameras that now come standard in new cars. Don’t just rely on looking down at the screen – while it gives you a good view of what’s directly behind your car, a head check allows you to see beyond the bounds of the cameras, allowing you to spot cars or people approaching from a distance that you’ll need to watch out for.
Take the time to research your vehicle and what to expect when emergency features kick in. That way you maintain control of your surroundings and know that the features are working the way they should be.
Sign up for a defensive driving course
Whether you’re on your learners or it’s been a few decades since you got your licence, there’s no such thing as being too prepared when it comes to road safety. Defensive driving courses provide both new and experienced drivers with essential skills to share the road safely. These courses focus on teaching drivers to control their fear, make safe decisions quickly and improve reaction times, as well as what to do in an emergency. Learner drivers increase their logbook hours while also becoming better prepared to enter the world of driving.
More experienced drivers refresh their knowledge and tighten up any skills that have faltered over the years. It’s an effective way to pick up problematic habits that would otherwise go unnoticed and helps to demonstrate the importance of safe driving, teaching you to avoid hazards when possible and remain calm during stressful situations.
As we rejoice with freedom to travel, we must keep in mind that being as safe as possible is everyone’s responsibility. While no one actively goes behind the wheel to break laws or act recklessly, being mindful and taking extra precautions means everyone begins to build better habits. Often, it’s the things we’re not aware of that put us most at risk. With the festive season almost upon us, our team would like to wish you all safe and happy holidays!