Safety tips to consider before hitting the road

By Staff Writer

Summer holidays are around the corner, and soon some of us will be setting out to our favourite destinations. But before you start packing those bags it’s important to ensure that you’re ready for the road ahead.

We spoke to the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA), who have provided a list of safety tips to maximise your holiday time and minimise your stress.

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How long should you drive before taking a break?

The AA advises that you take a break after every two hours, or every 200 kilometres, of driving. However, this is just a guide. If you feel tired you should take a break immediately. 

“If you are not concentrating as you should, or you feel your body is weary, then certainly you need to take a break. Only proceed with your journey once you feel comfortable that you are in the right frame of mind and you are alert and able to handle the vehicle,” says the AA.

Stretch your legs and revitalise yourself before commencing your journey. This is especially important if you have passengers in the vehicle with you. If you take turns at driving, it’s still important to take breaks.

What checks should you carry out before leaving?

First and foremost, the AA notes that the car you intend to use must be in good working condition, mechanically sound and ready to be taken on a long trip. The following are the most critical checks.

  • Are the tyres in a good condition?
  • Are the tyres pumped up to correct levels, in other words, not inflated too much or too little?
  • Do you have a spare tyre and is it in good condition?
  • Do your windscreen wipers work properly?
  • Do your brakes and brake lights work?
  • Do your indicators work?
  • Are your vehicle’s wheels aligned?
  • Is the airbag operable and do the seatbelts work? 

What should you do if travelling in tough weather conditions?

The weather can be unpredictable. If you are driving and it starts to rain, there are very strong winds, or another weather condition makes it difficult to drive, it’s especially important that you maintain a safe following distance.

The AA maintains that you should always ask yourself, “At the speed at which I am travelling, if the car in front of me were to suddenly brake, would I be able to stop with enough space to avoid a collision?”

A two-second gap between your vehicle and the car in front of you is the minimum following distance the AA recommends. To calculate this, find a marker on the side of the road and count the time between the car in front having passed it, and you passing the marker. This should total at least two seconds. 

In tough weather conditions, the AA suggests increasing this distance to six or eight seconds. In addition, it’s important to ensure that you are visible on the road, and to reduce your speed.

“If you feel at any stage that you cannot drive because the winds or the rain are so hard that you physically cannot see, or you cannot go any further, it’s advisable to pull off the road and to wait it out. Rather wait an hour or two and be safe, than continue with a journey that may be extremely dangerous,” says the AA.

What should your vehicle packing list include?

There are a number of items you should always keep in your car, irrespective of whether you are planning a long journey. These include:

  • An emergency first aid kit
  • A spare tyre
  • Tools to change a flat tyre
  • A red triangle for use in the event that you do breakdown – it’s the law for all vehicles to carry this

If you are a member of the AA or you have another form of roadside assistance cover, keep the contact number and your membership information with you.

Tips for travelling with small children

It's easy to get distracted when there are others in the car. This is particularly true when travelling with small children, who may want your attention or be doing something to detract your attention from the road.

Most importantly, it’s vital that you buckle children in to their seat.

“If you are travelling with children who are aged three years or younger, it’s now a legal requirement that they are in a SABS-approved seat, that it’s installed in the correct way, and that they are buckled up in it,” says the AA.

It’s also advisable to ensure that the children are comfortable and looked after, and this includes taking regular breaks.

What’s the best time of day to travel?

This is a personal choice that comes down to driver preference. However, the AA stresses that irrespective of the time that you depart, you must always follow the rules of the road.

In the early hours of the morning, you may find more trucks on the road, and this should be taken into consideration. There are also roads where street lights are not installed.

“Obviously if you are night blind or you have issues seeing at certain parts of the day, you shouldn’t be driving at those times of day. It’s all about when are you most comfortable and when it will be safest for you,” notes the AA.

Drinking and driving

Coming up to the festive season, it’s especially important that you don’t drink and drive. The AA uses the slogan, “drink or drive”. If you are planning to go out and drink, have a designated driver in the group, or make use of a get-home service.

There are several banks and insurance companies that offer get-home services to their customers, either free of charge or for a fee.

If you are on the roads and you see others who are driving recklessly, the AA advises that you contact the nearest police station or the municipal traffic authority to inform them as soon as possible. In addition, you should avoid getting too close to the vehicle or driving next to them.

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