Don’t stop up someone’s tail.
Don’t stop up someone’s tail.

8 tips on how to be safe on the road

By Omeshnie Naidoo Time of article published Dec 23, 2016

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Festive season carnage on our roads is no secret.

The Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters, released a statement this week saying 845 people have lost their lives on our roads in crashes between December 1 and 19. The statistic represents a 17 percent increase over the same period last year.

For parents with children eligible to apply for a learner’s licence and enthusiastic to begin lessons over the long break, or even those with children who are new drivers, this time of year is fraught with anxiety.

Accidents in South Africa are said to be largely due to driver incompetence.

The minister’s statement cited as major factors: Driver aggression, over-confidence in their own and their vehicles’ abilities, risk-taking and blatant disregard for the rules.

To ensure young people – indeed all of us – drive better this Christmas, we asked expert trainer Johann von Bargen for advice.

A one-time policeman (when it was Durban City Police), von Bargen began doing daily traffic updates from a helicopter for the then Radio Port Natal as an aspect of his work.

Now, 33 years later, he is widely known as the Traffic Guy and apart from his regular radio updates on our roads, he runs Pro Driving Tactics that teaches safer, advanced driving skills to any one anywhere in South Africa, from teens to truck drivers.

This is what he said:


More than 50 percent of all accidents in South Africa occur because of lack of following distance. Here’s the point to remember: you need about three-quarters of a second to see someone coming. So if the car in front of you suddenly brakes, you need about that time to take your foot off the accelerator and place it on the brake -when you are sober and wide awake. This is reaction time.

If you take the speed you are travelling at (say 60km an hour) double that speed (120km) and divide it by 10 (12km) you will get the distance you will travel in that time that you do absolutely nothing. Would you have hit the car in front of you in 12km? How many of us drive at 60km/* ?

Ideally, you should be three seconds behind the car in front of you. Use a marker ahead of you (such as a light post or building) when the car in front of you passes that point count 1001, 1002, 1003. You should only arrive at the marker in three seconds, no less, to ensure you have a safe following distance.

By the way, hitting someone from behind will hike up your insurance premium, which is already high if you are a first-time driver, and this only goes up.


How often do we look but not see the things around us. The second biggest cause of accidents is that we don’t notice enough.

You’ve heard stories of people meeting in an accident on a bend they have driven for years – it’s because on that particular occasion they didn’t see the sand, the water or oil on the road surface.

You can minimise your risk by simply staying observant on the road.

Be sure to pay attention to triangular traffic signs, because these mark approaching danger. The triangle should tell you what is about 100m to 150m ahead and so you should have ample time to plan a response.

Many of young drivers look at the fancy yellow Porsche, its tyres, but not at what it’s doing.

Cars communicate with lights -indicators, brake and reverse lights – and for the most part, people use them to tell us what they’re doing next.

You can even tell from a driver, where he’s looking, and where he’s thinking of going. If you've stopped at a traffic light – most tyres are straight. The car with tyres turning left or right mean the driver is thinking about going there. Vigilance is all it takes.


A driver licence feels like such a fabulous achievement – but it’s not a prize, award or certificate that you are a marvellous driver. Young people need to know that a licence is a permit to drive by yourself. A car is a weapon if misused and if you have passengers, their safety is your responsibility.


Sounds simple enough. There is a recommended speed for a reason – it is to ensure you don’t lose control over your vehicle.

When that road bends, it's important to decrease speed – it’s necessary to ensure you don’t lose control over your vehicle.

Too few drivers understand the dynamic of the vehicle they’re handling. A perfect example is when you get a new car and at first hit the brakes too hard. It’s because you don’t know the dynamic yet. The same applies when cars are flipped etc. The speed limit is there to be fair to everyone.

Don’t be a big shot in a car – the road is not your stage. You are responsible for those in and around your vehicle.


If you’re going to drink or do drugs stay indoors. Don’t get into a car.

Alcohol will retard your reactions – it makes you slower.

It makes your reaction time slower.

It affects your visibility. Drunk driver don’t look at what is up ahead – they’re too busy looking at the white line to make sure they staying in their lane.

They don’t see the warning signs.

if you’re drunk – rather call a parent, apologise and get fetched – that’s surely what they would want.

Don’t get caught up or thrown behind bars over “one drink”; someone with a heavy hand may put you over the limit. Rather, don’t drink and drive period.


Ever been in a car with a reckless or just plain bad driver? Everyone likely knows that so-and-so is terrible behind the wheel. You too will earn a driver reputation.

Don’t frighten people with stupid stunts.

Even if you’ve been on a course – the lessons you may have learnt on a track are surely not suitable for the road. There are just too many variables.


We all chat in the car while we drive. Maybe it's the talking, maybe it's the subject matter. Maybe it's your cellphone, your whining child, your business deal – don’t deal behind the wheel. Know what distracts you and cut it out.


Don’t stop up someone’s tail. Not too close or so far that a taxi will edge in – aim to see the back tyres of the car in front of you touch the road. If you have that in sight, you’ve got just the right stopping distance.

This will serve as an advantage too, if someone tries to smash your window, approaches your car to hijack you, or if the car behind you looks like it is about to hurl into the back of your car, you will have the space to swing, check and change your lane.

Just about anything can happen and will. So always be alert.

* To find out more about Johann von Bargen, anti-hijacking techniques and defensive driving, visit

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