File picture: Karen Sandison / 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:

Car prep: Make sure your car is up to the task of getting you there safely and without breaking down. Before you hit the road check your vehicle’s lights, windows and wipers, wheels and tyres, brakes, suspension, battery, belts, cooling system, fluids, exhaust, accessory mountings such as roof racks, safety and warning equipment and child seats.

Buckle up: 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.

Stay sober: Like buckling up, don’t drink and drive 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 sober driving enough. This tip also extends to the night, or even nights, before you leave as alcohol can remain in your system for up to 36 hours depending on how much you’ve had.

The smart speed: Going too fast or too slow can significantly increase the risk of an accident. Go too slow and other drivers 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.

When it's wet: 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.

Overtaking sanely: Not everyone has the presence of mind or the engine power to drive at a reasonable speed so you’ll inevitably end up overtaking some vehicles. Never overtake if you’re not absolutely sure you’ll get to the other side safely and always leave margin for error.

Defensive driving: While it’s easy to drift into auto-pilot mode, your observation skills will save your life. Defensive driving 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.

The brighter option: Many prefer to do their long-distance travels at night because the roads are quieter, but the stats show that driving in the dark is a lot more dangerous. This is due to the significant decrease in visibility as well as diminished speed/distance judgement and the increased 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.

The sleep you need: Make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep the night before you leave, and be sure to keep your mind fresh along the way by stopping every two hours or thereabouts. Plan the best stopping points before you set off. 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 rest as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Planning ahead: Whether you’re using paper 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.

And yes, 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. Why not be adventurous by booking accommodation midway to your faraway destination and have some fun exploring a new town.

IOL Motoring