The holiday season is all about spending time with friends and family. With so many people en route to festive celebrations and family gatherings or travelling up and down the coast, it can be a recipe for disaster. During the 2018 Christmas holiday period, there were 41 road deaths across the country.
While this was a decrease from 52 casualties the previous year, the only acceptable number is zero. So, before you get behind the wheel this holiday season, here are our five top tips for staying safe over Christmas.
Tip #1: Check Your Vehicle
When was the last time you checked your oil? The first thing you should do before hitting the road this Christmas is give your car a thorough inspection. Start by checking your oil, coolant, brake, steering and washer levels, and make sure you keep some spare (and tools) in your boot for emergencies. If your car does overheat, the last thing you want to do is walk several kilometres to the nearest petrol station.
Make sure your brakes are operational and all lights are working, don’t forget to check the air pressure in your tires. If you are planning on travelling interstate over Christmas and the New Year, it might be worth getting your vehicle professionally serviced to guarantee it’s in tip-top shape.
By taking the time to inspect the finer details of your vehicle before you get behind the wheel, you’re already increasing your odds of arriving safely.
Tip #2: Buckle Up
This one may seem obvious. But considering that 150 people across Australia die each year as a result of not wearing a seatbelt, it’s a message that needs repeating.
While buckling up doesn’t prevent crashes from occurring, they greatly reduce your risk of injury. According to a Carrs-Q report, unrestrained drivers and passengers are eight times more likely to be killed in a road crash. Before putting your keys in the ignition, it’s up to you to lead by example and ensure that all your passengers are wearing their seatbelt.
According to Australian law, children aged seven years and up can use an adult seatbelt, but only if they’re big enough. If you’re travelling with young children over Christmas, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Seat your little ones in a child restraint or booster seat, and make sure all straps, belts and in-built harnesses are properly fastened before taking off.
Tip #3: Be Hyper-Aware
The Christmas period is a hectic time to be driving on Australian roads. Because it’s the holiday period, there are more caravans and cars towing trailers on the road than usual, along with an increased number of trucks and heavy vehicles. Due to their increased weight, these larger vehicles take longer to react to changing road conditions and slow down.
10 per cent of all road fatalities last year involved trucks, but it’s estimated that only 20 per cent of those crashes are the fault of the truck driver. Other drivers are one of the biggest factors behind heavy vehicle incidents, so always be extra cautious when you’re driving around trucks and other large vehicles.
Keep a safe distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you, especially if it’s a heavy vehicle, and only overtake if there’s a designated overtaking lane and it’s safe to do so. If you’re behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle, be courteous to other drivers and pull over so cars can safely pass you, especially on unsealed roads.
Don’t just watch the vehicle in-front, but those in front of them and cars that could pull out too. Check your blind spots regularly and keep an eye on the cars behind you, as well as those coming from the opposite direction.
Tip #4: Take Your Time
Before setting foot in your vehicle, take the time to plan the safest route possible. Just because a route is the fastest doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best, as factors like pot holes, dirt roads and narrow bends can greatly increase your chances of an incident. It also helps to be aware of the most dangerous travel times in the areas you’re travelling through.
Sometimes, taking the scenic route is best for the well-being of you and your passengers. You can take your time to stretch your legs and recharge or grab a coffee. Plus, it’s a great way to take in Australia’s stunning natural scenery.
We’re sure you’re excited to get to your destination, but even the slightest bit of fatigue can have drastic effects on your driving. Fatigue reduces your attention span and impair your judgement which leads to slower reaction times and potentially falling asleep behind the wheel. In a survey by Budget Direct, more than one in three NSW drivers have experienced microsleeps behind the wheel, with 74 fatigue-related fatalities recorded across the state last year.
It’s estimated that 20 to 30 per cent of all fatalities on Australian roads are due to fatigue, so if you’re doing some long-haul driving this Christmas, be sure to pull over and take the time to rest every two hours.
Tip #5: Eliminate Distractions
Most drivers like to think of themselves as safe and responsible, but according to a recent Finder survey, around 11 million Aussie drivers admit to doing dangerous things behind the road. We all know about the dangers of texting while driving, but according to the survey results, your mobile might be the least of your distractions.
The most common dangerous habit by Australian drivers is eating food while behind the wheel, while a quarter of respondents drive in their thongs. Some of the other common distractions include smoking, reaching back to deal with young children or paying more attention to the changing landscape rather than the road.
When you’re driving over Christmas, make sure your phone is secured in a hands-free cradle (or connected to the vehicle’s car play system) and keep your music down to a reasonable level. If you’re travelling with young children and need to intervene, pull your car over and take the time to savour a well-deserved caffeine hit at a rest stop.
The Christmas holidays are a frantic time on Aussie roads. By taking precautionary measures and being mindful of other road users, we can all enjoy a happy and, most importantly, a safe holiday season.