The road rules are forever changing to keep in touch with modern vehicles and traffic conditions, eg NSW recently introduced a fine for using a child seat in the front seat of a vehicle fitted with a passenger side airbag. Every year when you renew your registration log on to the RTA web site www.rta.nsw.gov.au and download the latest road rules, it could save you a fine.
Remember the last time you took an aeroplane trip and the flight safety message said please fit your seat belt “low and tight” well you should do the same when driving. Keep your seat belt low across your hips and remove the slack about every 15 - 20 minutes. Correct fitting of your seat belt can reduce internal injuries in a crash.
Air bags are a great safety device, but in order for them to have maximum efficiency the steering wheel height must be adjusted to suit the driver’s build. Adjust the steering wheel as low as possible ensuring you can still see all the instruments clearly and that you can operate the foot petals correctly. It is a good idea to be at least 200mm away from the steering column. By the way SRS stands for supplementary restraining system, this means it is used with the seat belt.
In days gone by drivers were told to pump the brakes in an emergency. A more effective technique with the modern vehicle is three-stage braking. Stage 1 is to quickly but gently take the free-play out of the pedal. Stage 2 is to feed in pressure progressively. Stage 3 is to ease off pressure just prior to stopping. The benefits of three-stage braking are that there is less chance of “locking up” and it can be used every time you use the brakes not just in emergencies.
As most good drivers know all vehicles have a “blind-spots” where the mirror doesn’t pick up, and the only way to safely change lanes is to have a “head-check” before you start steering. The only problem is that not all drivers have a blind-spot check, so it is a good idea not to drive in other vehicle’s blind spots in multi-lane traffic. Simply keep behind the line of their back bumper bar or in front of the driver.
Many drivers externalise after a crash as a means of protecting their self-esteem. That is to say they blame outside influences like the weather or the road condition for their misfortunes. Drivers who externalise often make the same mistake many times “I’ve only ever had 2 crashes, they weren’t my fault the cars in front stopped suddenly”. Good drivers internalise, they consider what they could have done differently that may prevent the same situation happening to them again.
If you are going on a long trip don’t fill up before hand; start with your petrol tank half full. This will prevent the temptation of driving for 400km before your first stop. Before you leave drink 2 glasses of water, and try to drink at least a litre of water every 2 hours. Dehydration is a real problem when driving in air-conditioned vehicles.
Many things have an influence on our speed – traffic, weather and road conditions and of course speed limits. Arguably the most significant influence is vision. We can only safely travel as fast as our brain’s ability to see, process and respond to information. In order to drive safely we need a minimum of 5-seconds clear vision. If an oncoming vehicle is approaching at the same speed as you, you only have 2 ½ seconds in which to see it and take action if it is on your side of the road. In fog, around corners and approaching crests if you don’t have 5 seconds vision SLOW DOWN.
In days gone by when tyres, brakes and suspension were not as advanced, people were taught to try and straighten out a corner. With modern cars this cornering line is not only unnecessary, it is potentially very dangerous. With increased speeds on the road and the increased traffic the likelihood of a head on collision or running off the road is much greater. For our modern traffic environment a much safer line is to simply slow down and keep left away from the head-on zone.
Many people commence an overtaking manoeuvre from immediately behind the slower vehicle. This is very dangerous, not only because you have limited vision but also you are next to the vehicle whilst you build up speed. A far safer way to overtake is to start further back. This allows you to build up speed whilst you still have the ability to abort the manoeuvre if necessary it also minimises the dangerous time where you are along side the other vehicle.
To lessen the effect speed humps have on your vehicle and passengers, try taking advantage of the suspension bounce back. To do this, brake right up to before the speed hump and at the last moment gently accelerate. This maximises the front suspension travel and lightens the front of the vehicle. This technique also works well when crossing cattle grids on rural roads.
In strong sunlight a vehicle reflects its surroundings and becomes camouflaged. Once only a problem in rural situations, with the large amount of glass found on modern vehicles it is now a problem in suburban areas as well. Having your vehicle’s lights on low beam can improve the chances of being seen in some conditions.
Hazard perception is the new name for defensive driving. What it really means is your ability to recognise potential dangers and to implement appropriate actions prior to the situation becoming a real threat. The RTA in their “Hazard Perception Manual” suggest a simple strategy of “see, think, do”. An updated version of the traditional OPR observe, perceive, respond strategy.
Even when stopped it is important to think defensively. If you are hit from behind whilst stationary, getting shunted into the vehicle in front will not only increase the damage to your vehicle but injury to yourself. As a guide, when stopped you should be able to see the tyres of the car in front touching the ground. This is an absolute minimum; a full car length is preferred. This will easily allow you to drive around the vehicle in front in the event of it breaking down.
Sadly each year many children are killed or seriously injured as a result of driveway reversing accidents. These are often in shared driveway situations such as town houses or duplexes. These simple rules may help avert a tragedy. Check toddlers are properly supervised. Always walk around your vehicle before reversing. Reverse slower than a walking pace. Never reverse further than you have to. Turn car stereo off when reversing.
With the introduction of air bags it is better at speeds over 30 kph to use push pull steering (shuffling the steering wheel), as this will allow the airbag to deploy without interference from your forearms. At lower speeds where the airbags would not deploy hand over hand steering is acceptable. It is important no matter what steering method you use, to keep your hands on the outside of the wheel and your thumbs along the rim of the steering wheel. This will reduce the likelihood of wrist or thumb injuries.
Distractions are a real issue in our modern day traffic environment, they can be anything from passengers, stereo, mobile phone or an interesting view. If our attention is drawn away and it takes us a second longer to react in an emergency at 60kmph this means we would have travelled an extra 16 metres further before braking. The best solution is to avoid engaging in unnecessary diversions and if unavoidable stop and address the distraction.
Tyres cost a lot of money but generally air is free. Keeping your tyres at correct pressures will not only extend the life of your tyres but will also improve handling and safety. Consult the manufacturer for the correct pressure and check all tyres weekly, including the spare. Service station gauges have a large variation in readings so it is best to buy your own gauge. Some service stations do not regularly drain their compressors so prior to filling up with air spray on the ground to see if any water mist comes out. If it does, spray until the mist stops.
Over recent years a lot of attention has focused on long trip fatigue but less has been done to make drivers aware of short trip fatigue. Short trip fatigue is a very real problem for commuters who travel upwards of 45 minutes. The following strategies may help. In the morning take the time to wake up fully before you begin your journey. If you have to get up extra early one day try getting up earlier each day prior for a couple of days. After work, at the end of the day have a short break at work before commencing your trip home.
Scanning is the skill of keeping your eyes moving. Progressively work your eyes from far away to objects nearby. A good pattern is to look in the distance, at the road surface, to the sides of the road, your mirrors, then your instruments. This pattern should be repeated continuously every 5 to 10 seconds. As part of your scanning to the sides look through fences and under parked vehicles for signs of pedestrians or animals.