Whether you’re driving to your local supplier or on a long road trip interstate, your safety must be a priority. Defensive driving skills take account of road conditions and the actions of others to help you avoid potential hazards. By employing these techniques, starting before you get into your vehicle, you’ll minimise your risk on the road. While you can’t plan for every situation you’ll encounter, the following tips will the minimise risks you face.
Physical and mental preparation
Journey management is one technique that can be used to help manage these risks. Before you enter your vehicle you need to consider whether you’re fit to drive. This includes making sure you’ve had enough rest and haven’t consumed anything that would impair your judgement. Make sure you’re always in good physical and mental condition before you begin your journey.
This extends to diet. Highly saturated foods and energy drinks lead to fatigue, only providing stimulation for 10-15 minutes. In order to avoid fatigue you should eat balanced and nutritious food when planning to drive, drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Similarly, you should spend no more than two hours on the road without a break.
While stopping and getting out of your vehicle will add time to your journey, it might just save your life. Certain brain structures and chemicals in our bodies produce states of fatigue and alertness. These circadian rhythms, or daily peaks and troughs, can be counteracted by replenishing the oxygen in your blood. Going for a walk will allow you to oxygenate the blood in your system so you can avoid driving drowsy, minimising your risk on the road and maximising your chance of arriving safely.
When preparing to get on the road it’s important to take into account how long your journey will take, factoring in external conditions such as weather and traffic congestion. Your ability to drive safely will be impacted by things like travelling directly into the sun or heavy rain. Minimise these dangers by ensuring you have a clean windscreen and working wipers. Keeping a pair of sunglasses is another way to improve visibility. Ensuring you have the right tools to complete your journey is half of the battle.
Always ensure your vehicle is in top condition, has been regularly serviced and employs adequate load restraint. All bags, phones and other objects inside your vehicle should be secured so that they won’t become a mobile hazard if you’re forced to hit the brakes.
Mobile phones should be switched off. With the advent of voicemail and caller ID, a missed call isn’t the end of the world, especially when taking it could jeopardise your safety and that of other road users. It’s also important to be aware of the risk that distractions such as radios and other passengers pose. This includes ensuring that any music you’re listening to is played at an acceptable volume and that no passenger is obstructing your vision or speaking too loudly.
Once you get on the road, hazard perception is another way to minimise risk and ensure your safe arrival. You need to be aware of your surrounding environment, not just what’s directly in front of you. This means being aware of your own driving behaviour and that of others around you. Improving your hazard perception lowers the risk of collision with other vehicles.
Maintain a safe zone around your vehicle, ensuring you aren’t driving parallel with another vehicle or tailgating. More than 10,000 rear-end crashes are reported in NSW each year, with a much greater number remaining unreported. Don’t be tempted to brake test a vehicle that’s following too closely, try to change lanes wherever possible. It’s important not to alter your driving habits by braking or speeding up to move away from another vehicle. You should continue to check your mirrors and maintain a safe position. Ensure you leave a two to three second gap, four to six when wet, to ensure you always have enough time to react.
There’s a tendency to become complacent when driving close to your home of business. Familiarity is one of the biggest killers on our roads, with most incidents occurring during the rush hour to and from work. In 2014, 16% of all fatal road incidents occurred between 3:00pm and 6:00pm. When driving on an everyday route, you’re concentration automatically drops significantly. Yet it’s on these routes that we need to be most careful.
Adopting theses simple defensive driving techniques will minimise the risks you face and help to keep you safe on every journey. These might seem like a lot to remember, but with a little practice they’ll soon become second nature.