How to stay safe on the roads this Heritage Day weekend
Long weekends often spell carnage on SA roads. According to historical claims data from Auto & General Insurance, motorists are 25% more likely to be involved in an accident over the Heritage Day weekend than any other day of the year, and these accidents are 40% more severe.
According to Wayne Minnaar, spokesperson for Johannesburg metro police, “The offences which occur most frequently over long weekends are excessive high speed, unsafe overtaking, driving recklessly, overloading and driving with tyres that don’t meet roadworthy standards.”
“With the recent easing of lockdown restrictions and a long weekend to look forward to, many people want to get out of the house, spend time with loved ones and relax,” says Ricardo Coetzee, Head of Auto & General Insurance.
“Road safety, however, should never be a negotiable. Much as you can escape relatively unscathed from some accidents, others could leave you with thousands of rand in damage, injury, disability or worse. You might think ‘it can’t happen to me’, until it does.”
Auto & General offers the following advice for motorists travelling over Heritage Day weekend:
1: Start with the essential vehicle checklist
- Maintain it:Many accidents on SA roads are the result of vehicle un-roadworthiness and vehicle component failure, with tyre failure being one of the top culprits. Many motorists also find themselves stranded on the roadside at the mercy of potential criminals thanks to vehicle failure. No matter how you look at it, driving a car that is not properly maintained and fit for the road is compromising your safety.
- Check it:Before you take to the road, be sure to check your vehicle’s lights, windows and wipers, wheels and tyres, brakes, suspension, battery, belts and chains, cooling system, filters and fluids, safety and warning equipment and child car seats.
- Load smart:Make sure that the load is within your vehicle’s capabilities and that it’s properly secured. Tie a red piece of cloth to the ends of any object that protrudes past your vehicle’s edges. All trailers and caravans are required to have a safety chain, which helps in the event of tow bar failure.
- Covid-19 prep:Have your Covid-19 road trip kit ready: masks, sanitiser, wipes or soap - make sure they are handy to use at rest stops to keep you and your loved ones safe.
2: Be responsible behind the wheel
- Keep the space:Always keep a safe, two to three second following distance.
- Slow down: Speeding significantly impairs your ability to steer safely around corners and objects in the road and drastically reduces the time you have to react to a dangerous situation. It not only increases your chances of having an accident but it also drastically increases the severity of a crash. According to the World Health Organisation, you could save your own or someone else’s life with just a 10km/h decrease in speed. This small change reduces fatalities by almost 40%.
- Obey the rules:Don’t overestimate your own luck, timing ability or observation skills. Stop at a red traffic light and stop sign, without fail. Choose the correct lane for the speed that you’re travelling at. Even with lines permitting overtaking, always make double sure that it’s safe to do so.Avoid overtaking multiple vehicles in one go.
- Don’t drink and drive:SA’s legal limit is a breath alcohol content of 0.24mg per 1,000ml, or a blood alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml. As a rule of thumb, two drinks in one hour will put you over the limit. Bear in mind that you could still be over the limit the morning after. Alternate the alcoholic drinks you do have with soft drinks or water. If you’ve been drinking, do not take a chance and rather call a friend or a taxi.
- Focus:Avoid driver distractions like eating, drinking, minding kids or using your phone.
- Decide and act now:Plan your turns, as well as your highway entrances and exits, well in advance to ensure that you get into the correct lane early enough. Never switch to a lane if you can’t see what’s both well behind and ahead of you in that lane.
- Bear other drivers in mind:They also need to plan for your vehicle’s movements, so be sure to indicate clearly and timeously.With lane mergers, a “zipper” structure should be followed.
- Be alert:Always “think bike” and also keep a special lookout for heavy vehicles. If you’re behind a truck and you can’t see the mirrors, then the driver can’t see you.
- More than you think:A truck with a trailer needs two lanes to turn. Heavy vehicles also need a long distance to stop, so avoid cutting in front of them.
3: Beware the effects of fatigue
- Not for long hauls only:Although typically associated with long-distance driving, fatigue can set in after a long day at work or a late night out. Emotional stress, illness, boredom and sun glare can also cause fatigue. Motorists should get at least seven hours' sleep before a long-distance trip, and avoid travelling during their body’s downtime, which for most people is between 2am and 6am. If you find yourself battling to keep your eyes open, daydreaming, or swerving into the centre of the road or onto the verge, find a safe place to stop and rest, or let another driver take over.
- Time-out:Plan breaks as part of your trip and do not drive when you’re tired. Avoid having sugary or fatty snacks, energy drinks and caffeine to keep you going. Drink lots of water, eat healthy foods and pull over to rest and refresh properly when you need to.
4: Be prepared for the worst-case scenario
- Pull over:Switch on your hazard lights and, if possible and legal, get to the emergency lane.
- Be seen:Make sure that your vehicle remains visible – make use of your emergency triangle.
- Safe zone:If you get stuck in a dangerous spot, get out of your vehicle when it is safe to do so and walk carefully to the side of the road. Ideally, you should remain in your car with the doors locked.
- SOS:Call emergency services and your insurer for assistance.
“Most of these are minor adjustments, but each one of them could save a life and it could very well be yours or that of a loved one,” Coetzee concludes. “Despite your best planning, the unforeseen could still happen, so it’s always wise to have good, comprehensive insurance cover in place.”