The average driver shares the road with an incredibly diverse range of people and vehicles – the everyday office worker on their daily commute, tradies who are on and off the road throughout the day and truckies on their way to deliver a load.
With these different drivers sharing the asphalt, all with their own degree of driving ability and experience, the risk of an incident increases. While road incidents and fatalities have decreased in recent years, we still have a way to go before we reach zero road deaths and the road is a safer place for everyone.
By sharing best practices and some not-so-common knowledge, we can implement change and keep vehicles of all shapes and sizes out of danger.
Here are seven safety tips that every driver should know.
1. Know how to spot a distracted driver and keep your distance
We’ve all heard the term “defensive driving” when it comes to sharing the road. One of the best defences against risk is to stay aware of drivers who appear distracted behind the wheel. While you’re ideally keeping yourself free of distractions, you can’t guarantee others are doing the same. Some tell-tale signs of a distracted driver are:
- Having trouble staying within a lane
- Braking suddenly or swerving
- Showing delayed reactions to road signals or signs (e.g. taking a little too long to get moving once a light turns green)
- Not sticking to consistent speed within the limit (e.g. constantly speeding up and slowing down)
- Failing to recognise hazards and react accordingly (e.g. don’t give way or slow down for emergency services until the last second)
- Wearing head phones or listening to loud music
- Constantly turning their heads to check on, or talk to, their passengers
- Driving cars unfit for the road (e.g. unnecessarily lowered [modified] or dilapidated vehicles)
- Exhibiting negative behaviour (e.g. road rage)
Safety is not only about your actions but about how easily and effectively you can identify hazards. The quicker you can spot a distracted driver, the more time you’ll have to act if they do something dangerous.
2. Make sure everything in the vehicle is adjusted properly for you
One of the easiest ways to increase safety is also one of the most overlooked. If you share a vehicle with multiple people, it’s easy to just use the seat position or mirrors that are set to someone else’s preferences. Take the time to check that all mirrors, the driver’s seat and steering wheel are in the correct and comfortable position before the start of every trip. It’s important that you’re able to see what’s happening all around you without taking your eyes off the road and that your head, arms and legs in the right place.
- When adjusting the position of your mirrors, make sure your vehicle isn’t visible in the reflection at all. This gets rid of unnecessary blind spots and keeps your eyes clear to spot potential hazards from all sides.
- Set your head restraint so it protects the top part of your head and keep the distance between your head and the restraint as small as possible. This reduces the chance of whiplash or other head/neck injuries during a collision.
- Remember to set the driver’s seat close enough to the steering wheel that your elbows and knees are slightly bent. If your arms are locked in a straight line you risk broken fingers, thumbs or elbows in the event of a crash.
3. Give others (especially trucks) the space they need
When you’re in a rush and the traffic seems to drag on forever or you’re in a rush to make an appointment, it’s easy to get frantic, push boundaries and get a little too close to others. If someone suddenly brakes or turns, ensuring you have extra space to slow down or stop safely is important. This is especially true when driving around heavy vehicles that aren’t as nimble as a light vehicle.
Handling a truck is a more specialised skill than driving a car or ute, as they can pose serious risks if not treated safely on the road. In fact, 60 per cent of heavy vehicle-related fatalities are caused by light vehicle drivers. This is due to cars getting too close to trucks or hiding in blind spots, meaning the truck driver can only do so much to prevent an incident.
When congestion gets heavy on the road it’s easy to forget about safe driving distance, but it’s an essential step to keep everybody safe. A good rule of thumb is to leave two seconds of distance for a light vehicle and three seconds for caravans or vehicles with trailers attached in ideal conditions (more when conditions deteriorate) For heavy vehicles add one extra second for every 3 metres of length. If you need to move into someone’s two seconds of distance, indicate your intent to merge with enough warning time so that the other driver can give you enough space to stay safe.
4. Be wary of the kind of music you listen to
Music is a great way to make driving more enjoyable, especially on long trips. You probably don’t want to give up your favourite tunes, but they could be putting you at risk. Studies show up tempo music of up to 120 beats per minute (BPM) makes drivers twice as likely to run red lights and more prone to incidents.
Fast paced, loud music causes your heartrate to fluctuate, leading you to concentrate more on the sounds than your surroundings. You need to give the road your complete focus, so you might want to reserve the hard rock or techno for another time.
Stick to slower songs, have your passengers use headphones if they wish to listen to loud or fast bpm music, keep the volume to a respectable level (playing music too loud can see you get slapped with a fine) or just stick to old fashioned peace and quiet while on the road.
5. Keep an eye on the traffic
Drivers who pay attention to road conditions are far more likely to act safely than those who don’t. Keeping track of your surroundings is as important as keeping enough space – it gives you the luxury of time to react and be proactive with your journey and foresee anything that may occur. Some examples of not paying attention include:
- Zoning out and not keeping an eye on road signs ahead of you, or letting signs become a blur.
- Sticking to the speed of the traffic around you instead of the limit.
- Changing lanes without looking or while others in front do the same.
Paying attention of trucks and other large vehicles is especially useful, as they can see road situations much more clearly and before anyone else due to their vehicle height.
Looking beyond just the cars around you could be the difference between life and death. Do you see children playing on the side of the road? Slow down, their ball might suddenly run onto the road. A group of cyclists in the distance? Merge lanes safely to avoid doing so at the last minute.
6. Understand your vehicle and what it does
When purchasing a vehicle, many opt for every safety feature under the sun. While this is great, you might not know what those features actually do or what happens to the vehicle once it becomes activated. For example, an anti-lock brake system is a common feature in many vehicles and, once triggered, causes the brake pedal to pulsate. This tends to make drivers panic that something is going wrong and lose focus. Radar cruise control is also a misunderstood feature that’s often treated as a foolproof tool to maintain speed and distance. When using the feature, you should still be relying on your own driving skills to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. Many drivers also are unaware that the SRS printed on the steering wheel stands for ‘supplemental restraint system’. This means the airbag installed is designed to provide additional protection alongside the seatbelt and will in fact provide more harm to the driver if not used in conjunction with one another.
Take the time to research your vehicle and what to expect when emergency features kick in. That way you maintain control of your surroundings and know that the features are working the way they should be.
7. Sign up for a defensive driving course
Whether you’re on your learners or it’s been a few decades since your probationary test, there’s no such thing as being too prepared when it comes to road safety. Defensive driving courses provide both new and experienced drivers essential skills to share the road safely. These courses focus on teaching drivers to control their fear, make safe decisions quickly and improve reaction times, as well as what to do in an emergency. Learner drivers increase their logbook hours while also becoming better prepared to enter the world of driving. More experienced drivers refresh their knowledge and tighten up any skills that have faltered over the years. It’s an effective way to pick up problematic habits that would otherwise go unnoticed and helps to demonstrate the importance of safe driving, teaching you to avoid hazards when possible and remain calm during stressful situations.
Being as safe as possible is everyone’s responsibility. While no one actively goes behind the wheel to break laws or act recklessly, being mindful and taking extra precautions means everyone begins to build better habits. Often, it’s the things we’re not aware of that put us most at risk.