JOHANNESBURG - It’s that wonderful time of year again when many are fortunate enough to clock out and hit the road for the festive season holiday, but it’s also a time of tragedy as many lose their lives on South Africa’s largely lawless roads. You’ve probably come across a lot of ‘get there safely’ articles, many with tips that are blatantly obvious, but it always pays to brush up on the basics before your trip, even if you are a brilliant driver - just like everyone else!
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.
Careful how you pack
Be sure to pack all heavy objects into a closed boot (rather than on the back seat) as they really can become a lethal weapon in a crash. And so can your occupants if they're not buckled up.
Choose the smart speed (and lane)
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, but your speed must also be appropriate for the situation at hand, so slow down around road works or in built-up areas with lots of pedestrians and when it's raining.
Also ensure you're in the correct lane for the speed you're driving - the ultimate rule of the road being to keep left and pass right!
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 certain that 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. You should also pay attention to pedestrians near the road.
And Think Bike
When changing lanes or making any turns, always check your blind spots for motorcycles. Remember that a motorcycle in your mirror is always closer than it looks - and they come up from behind incredibly quickly.
If a rider comes up behind you while you are waiting for a safe opportunity to overtake a slower vehicle, let the bike through - motorcycles accelerate much faster than cars and can safely overtake where you can't.
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 heat, when driving during the day but it's still by far the brighter option.
Switch your lights on
Yes, even in the bright of day. But do remember to turn them off when you arrive at your destination.
Know your route
Whether you're using paper maps, Google Maps or satnav, it's always a good idea to get to know your route ahead of time 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.
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.
Booking a 'halfway holiday' overnight stay is also a great idea as longer journeys do drain your concentration.
THE REALLY OBVIOUS STUFF
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.