File picture: David Ritchie / Independent Media.

Johannesburg – What is meant to be the happiest time of year is also the most tragic time on our roads as the holiday season gets into full swing and our long-distance routes become clogged up with fun-seekers eager to get to their destinations. Here are 10 ways you can make your journey a safer one:

Make sure the car's ready

Make sure your car is up to the task of getting you there safely and without breaking down. Click here for our car-prep tips.

Choose the smart speed

Going too fast or too slow can significantly increase the risk of an accident. Go too slow and everyone will want to get past and many will take chances doing so - putting you directly into the path of danger. Drive too quickly and you won't be able to slow down in time if something goes wrong, and the impact will be far deadlier when it does. 

Your safest bet is usually somewhere in the region of the speed limit. Also slow down when it rains as stopping distances will be longer and visibility is reduced. Avoid any sudden braking or steering moves while the roads are slippery.

Careful around slower vehicles

So not everyone has the presence of mind or the engine power to drive at a reasonable speed so you'll inevitably end up overtaking more than just a few vehicles. But here's the number one rule of safe driving – never, ever overtake if you're not absolutely sure you'll get to the other side safely and always leave margin for error. 

You might feel like a genius calculating that gap to the last second, but did you factor in what might happen if the engine suddenly loses power (a turbo blowing, for instance) or a tyre bursts? Better to arrive late than dead.

Be a keen observer

While it's easy to drift into auto-pilot mode, your observation skills will save your life. It takes a bit of discipline, but ultimately you need to constantly and closely watch the scene around you and identify potentially dangerous situations, and develop a plan of action, before they even become a threat.

Drive during the day

Many prefer to do their long-distance travels at night because the roads are quieter, but the stats show that driving at night is a lot more dangerous. This is due to the obvious significant decrease in visibility as well as diminished speed/distance judgement and the presence of drunk drivers. You might have to contend with more traffic, and summer heat, when driving during the day but it's still by far the safer and therefore brighter option.

Know your route

Whether you're using paper maps, Google Maps or satnav, it helps to know the route you're taking and the distance to be covered. Also stick to familiar routes as far as possible and if you are venturing into the unknown, factor in some extra travel time in case the roads are not up to scratch. Also pack emergency supplies like water, particularly if you're venturing into remote areas.

The rest factor

Make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep the night before, and be sure to keep your mind fresh along the way by stopping every 200km or thereabouts. Plan the best stopping points before you even set off and you'll really impress as a seasoned road tripper.

Just remember that fatigue is one of the biggest killers on our roads. If you feel you are about to nod off, open the windows immediately and stop to stretch as soon as it's safe to do so.

Halfway holiday

Sure, you really want to get to your destination as quickly as possible, and get that long journey and all the “are we there yet?” headaches over with. But a one-day journey, particularly if it's over 800km, will drain your concentration and you'll be tempted to take more chances to speed things up. Be smart and adventurous by booking accommodation halfway to your destination (or thereabouts) and have some fun exploring a new town.

AND THE REALLY OBVIOUS STUFF

Buckle up

Well, yes. Make sure that you and the entire family – yes – even those in back seats – are wearing seatbelts. 

Without these simple devices any other safety features your vehicle might have are basically useless and your risk of dying or being severely injured in an accident increases exponentially. Also make sure that smaller children are strapped into correctly-fitted child seats.

Only drive sober, and take it easy the night before

Like buckling up, this one should really go without saying, but with stats showing that booze is a factor in 58 percent of road fatalities in this country, we really can't emphasise this enough. With Uber and other drive-you-home services like Road Trip around, there really are no more excuses. 

It also pays to go easy on the booze the night before your trip.

IOL Motoring