The Easter long weekend is traditionally one of those times when South African families from across the country pack up their cars, bakkies, buses and caravans, and hit the long road. It’s also a particularly treacherous time for those on the roads – the Easter holiday is notorious for the high fatality rate on our roads.

“To curb fatigue when embarking on long, cross-country journeys, motorists are cautioned to take breaks every 200km and to switch drivers often,” says Eugene Herbert, Project Coordinator for Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) South Africa, Ford’s responsible driver training programme.

“Driving Skills for Life adopts a multidisciplinary approach to training of drivers with a focus on both safety and eco-driving that both fleet and private drivers can benefit from. We’ve compiled a list of some of the top safety tips worth considering before you head out. Some may even give you pause for thought.”

#1: Check it out

Give your vehicle a thorough once-over before you hit the open road. Ensure the wipers and lights are in working order and carefully scan the tyres (including the often-neglected spare wheel). Legally, in South Africa, the minimum tread depth is no less than 1mm, which along with lumps and gashes on the sidewalls make tyres more susceptible to blowouts.

Ensure that you have the necessary tyre-changing equipment and always check your tyre pressures when the tyres are cold. Remember that vehicles under heavy load usually require higher pressures. For the guidelines relating to your car’s particular tyre, consult the owner’s manual or the information sticker usually found on the B-pillar at the driver’s door.

#2: Load up

Don’t overload your vehicle. Not only can this obscure your rear visibility but it can also affect your vehicle’s stability and its ability to steer and stop; cause premature brake and tyre wear; and increase your fuel consumption.

Where possible, pack heavy items in the boot and make sure to pack belongings securely. Sliding loose objects can distract and, if harsh braking is required, unsecured items could fly forward and hit occupants sitting in the car.

#3: Buckle up

Yes, it’s one of the most basic safety details, but according to the results of an independent study conducted on the N4 highway by the Road Safety Foundation, only 36.9% of drivers wore their seatbelts, while 30.8% of passengers were clipped in.* Childsafe suggests children be strapped into a suitable car seat from birth to ten years.

When used correctly, seatbelts reduce the risk of death and injury in a crash. Also, if your vehicle is equipped with airbags, which provide additional impact protection in crashes, your bags probably won’t deploy if your seatbelt is not secured. Food for thought: rear-seat passengers who are unrestrained often injure or kill other occupants when they are flung forward or to the side on impact. Two seconds is really all it takes to secure the vehicle “accessory” that contributes so significantly to saving lives.

#4: Be defensive

Defensive driving is one of the tenets of South Africa’s driver training curriculum, but is not readily practised. Plan a defence or exit strategy so that you’re prepared when dangers present themselves. This is also why a safe following distance is important. A longer following distance – 3 seconds  on dry roads is considered safe.- it increases your line of sight, which will give you more opportunities to spot and avoid potential problems. And if you can’t see the mirrors of the vehicle in front of you, that driver can’t see you.

#5: All-weather driving

Always adjust your driving to suit the road and weather conditions. When driving on wet roads ensure the following:

  • extended following distance as roads may be slippery
  • turn on your headlights ( if not on already )
  • avoid puddles which may conceal potholes
  • should your car aquaplane (when water is caught between the road surface and your tyres, causing a loss of traction), don’t brake nor steer. Remove your foot from the accelerator  until you feel your tyres make contact with the road again and then continue at a safe speed.

#6: Minimise Distractions

A recent Driver Distraction Survey commissioned by Ford revealed that one in four young drivers in Europe aged between 18 and 24, have taken a selfie, have posted an update to social media or checked social media sites while driving. But distracted driving is not just about motorists’ collective inability to ignore their smartphones when behind the wheel. Other common distractions are “rubbernecking” when passing crash scenes or roadblocks; shaving or applying makeup; tending to children; looking for dropped items; and eating or drinking.

But any driving requires you to remain focused at all times. The AA suggests you ensure children and pets are properly restrained and entertained before you start driving; plan your journey to allow sufficient time to stop and stretch your legs while you enjoy a (soft) drink and a bite to eat; never allow passengers to break your concentration; and avoid using your cell phone when driving. In the  United States it is estimated that about 25% of crashes are caused by drivers using cell phones

#7: Extra care required

We all know that the minute you venture out onto the road, you’re taking your life – and the lives of your passengers – into your hands. But there are high-risk periods when, according to the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA), accidents are statistically most likely to occur. These are:

  • Between dusk and dawn
  • During morning and evening peak traffic periods
  • At “closing time” for bars and clubs
  • Late in the week and at weekend when the use of alcohol increases

According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation, the following routes are expected to experience heavier than usual traffic volumes over the Easter long weekend. It would be wise to keep this in mind when planning your journey and practise extra caution when travelling at any time of the day:

N1: Pretoria – Polokwane – Beitbridge

N1: Mangaung – Cape Town

N2: Somerset East – Cape Town

N3: Johannesburg – Durban

N4: Pretoria – Nelspruit – Cape Town

R63: Aberdeen – Beaufort West

Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa has a team of certified professionals who train drivers around the country as part of its DSFL programme.

While many driving courses focus on performance dynamics at race tracks, the DSFL instructors impart invaluable knowledge for everyday driving scenarios. These include training on conserving fuel through smarter driving, advice on how to better read the flow of traffic, and other, practical money-saving tips. DSFL also focusses extensively on safety. This involves not only collision avoidance techniques, but also pointers for driver awareness in situations such as hijackings.

* Based on actual, filmed events over a one month 24/7 period at a tollgate on the N4 highway

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