Essential checklist for your road tripComment on this story
Johannesburg - It's the Wednesday before Easter and there are roadblocks of military dimensions on major highways all over South Africa as the authorities do their best to contain the river of blood that flows every time South Africans embark on a holiday weekend.
The numbers are scary: about one in every 3000 South Africans dies on the roads each year, to say nothing of a far larger number injured and disabled.
In May 2013 the authoritative International Transport Forum, in its annual road-safety report, ranked South Africa the worst out of 36 countries surveyed in terms of road-accident fatalities.
The carnage gets a lot more media attention on holiday weekends but the stark reality is that most crashes on South Africa's roads can be attributed to driving behaviour and unroadworthy vehicles - the huge spike in traffic volumes at those times merely exacerbates the effect.
And, short of assigning every licensed driver in the country their own traffic cop, there's not that much the powers-that-be can do about it unless they actually see you doing something stupid and stop you in the act.
"Look at it the other way around," says Charlene Bates, key accounts executive at Ariva vehicle leasing.
"Making road travel survivable, whether en route to the corner shoppe or the other end of the country, starts with you, on a very personal level."
She's compiled a bucket list of things to 'check your vehicle' and 'check yourself', before you fire an, at best, marginally guided missile at 33 metres a second down a crowded road.
CHECK YOUR VEHICLE
There are two key checks on your tyres:
Ensure that your tyres are always at the right air pressure and if you pick up a puncture - even a slow one - don't ignore it as sudden changes in tyre pressure - often caused by punctures - are the most comment causes of blowouts.
Not only can it cost you more to fix down the road, where you may have to replace the rims as well, depending on the extent of the damage, it's a major safety risk as a blowout can lead to a crash.
Make sure you have sufficient tread - on the inside and outside of the tyre - and that there are no signs of uneven wear, as this can upset your car's wheel alignment and reduce traction.
Worn shocks can have a significant impact on your vehicle's handling and road-holding, so it's important to have them tested regularly, and especially before taking a long journey.
Before a long journey, have the brakes and brake fluid, oil, water and the battery levels checked.
Visibility - it goes without saying - is critically important, though often people don't realise the influence that things stuck on the windscreen or hanging in front of it, or even cracks across the driver's line of sight, can have on the driver's perceived visibility - and particularly in the split seconds that can lead to an accident.
Added to this, as weather conditions often change on a long journey, it's also important to ensure that the windshield wipers are in good condition and perform sufficiently in wet - and particularly - harsh weather conditions.
It's quick and easy to check that both indicators and the hazard lights are working and they should be checked every day before you start driving your vehicle, as well as used appropriately to ensure other drivers are aware of your intentions on the road.
Most drivers use their car's hooter to express their irritation with other drivers on the road, but it's actually a safety feature. You should only hoot when you may be experiencing a problem with your vehicle, that could affect other drivers, or to alert other drivers to your presence - for instance, if a driver is crossing lanes and may collide with your vehicle.
In any event though, it's important to ensure that the hooter actually works.
Keep it clean
Clean and shinny paintwork not only makes your car more visible to other drivers, it's also important to ensure that there's nothing rolling around in the footwell that could get stuck under the driver's feet or the pedals.
Tired? Take a break
It's important to plan ahead before hitting the road - and particularly when going on a long journey - as fatigue is a major contributing factors to the high number of crashes on holiday weekends, as it can slow down the driver's responsive reactions to a hazardous situation.
When planning a long trip, if you are feeling tired, then rather postpone. Get some rest and start your journey feeling fresh and energised to ensure you're alert.
It's also important that as the driver, your seat is in a comfortable and position and that you stop regularly - every two hours or 200kms is widely recommended - as this will also affect your physical and mental fatigue.
Most people don't realise the difference that driving in the wrong shoes can make until it's too late - and their foot slips off one of the pedals. Avoid driving in high heels, flip flops or barefoot - go for comfortable, flat shoes with non-slip soles.
Hands on steering wheel - eyes on the road
Try not to let yourself get distracted from the road ahead and the vehicles around you - and these are the big culprits:
Eating while driving: Often we think that a take away will save time, though this places you and you passengers in danger. Rather stop and eat comfortably.
Fussing over a passenger: Small children in particular can be hugely distracting to a driver. When taking a long journey with small children, try to time your trip around times with the children will be asleep. Ensure they're safely strapped in and that you have another adult in the car with you that can fuss over restless children.
Fiddling with the GPS: Rather ensure you have your destination set and route mapped out before you start driving. Also, use of a hands-free kit that places the GPS unit on your windscreen, but not in the direct line of sight.
Fidgeting while driving: This may include smoking, phone calls or texting and even self grooming, any of which can distract your attention from the road and your hands from the steering wheel.
Arriving safely at your destination - and every time - is such an understated aspect of the journey in your life, so why rush? Plan ahead, be patient, courteous and vigilant to other road users and enjoy the drive.