These days, it’s rarer to find someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license than it is to find someone who doesn’t own their own car. The learner’s driving age of 16 across most of Australia ensures that droves of teenagers are being unleashed onto our roads every year, and many senior citizens continue to retain their driver’s licenses well into their 70s and 80s. Not to mention, all the young urban professionals and middle-aged full-time workers commuting to work each and every weekday. Considering this, it’s not surprising that driving has become the overwhelming norm – anyone and everyone can, and does, drive, which means that it can be an easy activity to take for granted.
The crucial point is that this shouldn’t be the case. At the end of the day, driving will always require a great deal of concentration and coordination, and it can put people’s lives seriously as risk if the driver isn’t as ‘on the ball’ as is needed. In the modern world, there are numerous distractions that could conceivably put drivers and their passengers in danger, including technological devices, stress and fatigue, bad weather conditions, and of course, the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
With so many factors impacting a person’s driving ability and overall focus, it’s important for Australian drivers to constantly educate themselves on their own driving behaviours and other potential dangers on the road. After all, safety is imperative when you’re a license holder, so what’s more important than learning to become a capable and responsible driver? If you need a little guidance, check out the helpful list we’ve compiled below, detailing all the driving dangers you’ll need to keep an eye on. Remember that no matter how long you’ve been driving, it pays to be vigilant!
You may be an excellent driver when it’s nice and sunny outside, but there’s no doubt that driving in bad weather conditions is a whole different kettle of fish. Even the most competent drivers need to be cautious and alert during these times. Strong wind, rain and hail can not only affect the roads by making them slick and slippery, but may even buffet your vehicle dangerously while you are driving and also worsen your depth perception. Driving at night has the similarly debilitating effects, by limiting how far and how much you can see. This is why it’s so important to be diligent in using your lights and signals correctly to help out other drivers and protect your own safety.
When it’s windy, rainy, or foggy outside, use the following advice to help you on the road.
- Examine your vehicle. Make sure that your car is well-serviced and prepared for bad weather conditions. It’s a good idea to check up on your battery, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, windshield wipers, exterior lights, tyres, and windows.
- Give yourself more travel time. If you need to be at your destination by a specific time, ensure that you leave home early so you won’t feel the need to drive in a rush to get there. It’s extra important to take it safe and slow on the road when it’s wet outside, as tyres do tend to slid more easily when it’s raining or hailing than when the weather conditions are dry.
- Turn on your headlights. Even if it’s only a light shower, your visibility will definitely be compromised when it rains, so be sure to illuminate your way with your headlights.
- Look out for pedestrians. When it’s inclement outside, it can be much harder for both drivers and pedestrians to see and hear their surroundings. People crossing the roads during wet weather may be distracted trying to get out of the rain as quickly as possible, so make sure you’re alert to their movements.
- Be careful using your high beams. When it’s foggy, your high beams can impair your own ability to see and can also temporarily blind other drivers, so refrain from using them unless it’s absolutely imperative. It’s also best to avoid flashing your high beams at another vehicle that already has its high beams on, as this can affect both your visibility and the other driver’s.
- Increase your crash avoidance space/following distance. This will make it easier for you to spot potential dangers on the road and will give you the time to respond accordingly.
Wake Up, Sleepyhead
If there’s a number one activity you definitely shouldn’t be doing when you’re sleepy, it’s driving. Feeling fatigued will result in you being less alert and slow to respond, even at the best of times, so it makes sense that controlling a giant hunk of metal probably isn’t the best move when you’re in this unfocused state. Tiredness can strike anyone at any point during the day or night, so if you have an irregular sleeping pattern or you haven’t been sleeping well lately, try to catch up on your sleep debt as soon as you can. If you find yourself yawning heavily, daydreaming or zoning out frequently, or if your eyes feel sore or heavy, it’s best to back away from the car.
Sometimes, you might not even realise you’re too tired to drive until you actually hit the road. If you’re exhibiting the following signs while you’re behind the wheel, it might be high time to pull over:
- Difficulty remembering the last few kilometres
- Drifting in the lane
- Variations in driving speed
- Slower reaction times
If you’re feeling too tired to drive but you haven’t yet reached your destination, the best thing to do is pull over on the side of the road and have a quick power nap (roughly 15-30 minutes) to temporarily top up your sleep levels. After all, when it comes to driving, it’s always better take a timeout and get home safely a little later!
Everyone knows they should never use their mobile phones, either to txt someone or to make a call, while they’re driving. Unfortunately, it’s a rule similar to jaywalking – some people just can’t help themselves, even against their better judgement! You might think that it’s not a big deal to squeeze in a sneaky txt message while you’re waiting at the traffic lights, or to make a super quick call to your partner about a last-minute grocery item. But in Australia, it’s against the law to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, and the truth is that even hands-free phone calls can divert your attention from the traffic conditions around you. You never know when you might be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it only takes a split second of distraction for you to place yourself, and others, in serious danger when you’re on road.
A series of studies have collectively shown that using a mobile phone whilst driving can:
- Impair your ability to maintain the appropriate speed limit
- Result in you having longer reaction times
- Result in you missing traffic signals
- Increase your mental workload, by overwhelming you with different sources of information
- Reduce your awareness of what is happening in your surroundings
No matter how safe you think you’ll be, the best policy is to refrain from using your mobile phone at all. So before your fingers hit the keypad the next time you’re driving, always remember to ask yourself: is it really worth breaking the law and risking people’s lives?
While feeling fatigued and using your mobile phone can really wreck some havoc while you’re driving, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is a whole other ball game. When a person’s mind has been altered by external substances, they are unable to make the rational decisions and judgement calls required to safely drive their vehicle. Unfortunately, drink driving is still a serious problem in Australia; alcohol causes more road crashes than any other single factor, and one in four fatal crashes across the country involve drivers and/or passengers who have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit of 0.05.
Consuming alcohol or drugs, even medicinal ones, can cause the following problems when it comes to driving:
- Delayed reaction times
- Reduced coordination
- Decreased decision-making skills
- Extreme drowsiness
- Blurred or unstable vision
- Increased risk-tasking behaviours
There is no ‘safe’ limit of alcohol that will ensure your driving ability and focus is unimpaired, so when in doubt, always arrange for another mode of transport (such as a taxi, a family member, or public transport) or stay somewhere overnight (such as at a friend’s place). Organising a designated sober driver ahead of time is another great way to ensure that everyone can get home safe and sound after a social event.
The Final Word: Safety First And Foremost
A lot of people can drive, but in order to be a good driver, it’s important to always stay vigilant and remember that safety comes first. Any activity that has the ability to distract you from fully focusing on the task of driving is one that you should never engage in while you’re behind the wheel. It doesn’t matter how far or how long you’re driving for – it’s in your best interests (and everyone else’s!) to be fully alert and aware of everything happening around you.