Let’s say you’re one of the majority of drivers on Australian roads who’s trying to do the right thing. You’re not speeding, not half asleep, not drunk, and you are wearing a seatbelt. That’s all you ever hear from our regulators: the so-called four ‘key result’ areas: speed, fatigue, alcohol and seatbelts.
If you’ve already bought into these concepts, where’s the official advice for you about getting to work – and home – in one piece tomorrow? Officially it does not exist.
You could try putting a tick in every one of these boxes:
Being seen is about half the battle, when it comes to staying safe. Leave your headlights on – rain, hail or shine, night or day. If someone else sees you, they’re less likely to take you out. Know your car. If it’s one of those modern cars with ‘daytime running lights’ just set the headlight switch to ‘auto’ and let the car work it out. Otherwise, just turn the lights on whenever you drive.
It’s dog eat dog out there, right? Maybe – but you need to build a buffer between you and the car in front. More distance means not ending up a collateral casualty in a mistake the guy in front makes. Drop back a bit. Then drop back a bit more. When you think you’re too far back … that’s about right. Two seconds worth of gap is almost safe. That’s – round figures – 35 metres at 60km/h and 60 metres at 110km/h.
Driving while fixated on the car in front is a bad idea. Look up – as far down the road as possible. The earlier you see something dodgy happening, the earlier you react – and the less critical that reaction is. The funny thing about vision is: When you focus on the car in front, you lose the ability to see what’s happening in the distance. When you focus on the distance, you don’t lose track of what’s happening directly in front. It’s a neat trick.
Left hand at nine o’clock; right hand at three o’clock – exactly where the thumb rests are on the wheel, coincidentally. Driving one-handed is a dud idea. If a kid – or a kangaroo – jumps out, you need to be able to swerve, avoid and recover control. Good luck with that, one-handed. And if you’re one of those idiots driving one-handed with your hand diagonally across the wheel – good luck with the airbag if you crash…
Half of all road trauma occurs at intersections – and not because there’s a defect in the rules. Intersections are dangerous because conflicting flows of traffic need drivers to get those rules right 100 per cent of the time. Sadly, they don’t. It’s hard to give way to someone you don’t see, and hard to stop for a red light if your blood-alcohol concentration is five times the legal limit. So, what you need to do is adapt your driving because you can’t guarantee everyone else driving today is infallible. If you’re about to drive through on the green, check left and right just to make sure everyone else is honouring their give-way obligations.
It’s so easy to get distracted in modern cars – even if you play by the rules. There’s the in-car entertainment and other menu-driven systems. The ubiquitous smartphone and, of course, the sat-nav. There’s the kids in the back and the spouse in the front – potentially. Or a car full of mates. A lot of things vy for your attention. If you’re the driver, your number one job is to manage risk – everything else comes second. So occupy the kids on longer trips. Get your co-pilot to manage the GPS and the in-car entertainment (kills two birds with one stone). See how dangerous your mobile phone can be – even when you use it legally. You could even – shock, horror – put your smartphone in your bag and shove it in the boot. Not the highest of hi-tech solutions to texting and driving, but effective…
Right and wrong don’t have all that much relevance if you – or someone you love – wakes up in a hospital bed. Wouldn’t it be nice if the regulators were more forthcoming with practical advice that would actually make driving safer?
John Cadogan is one of Australia’s leading motoring journalists. More at his website: www.AutoExpert.com.au