Learning to drive is a rite of passage for most people, marking their transition from childhood to adulthood, and all the responsibilities that entails. While most people continue to drive throughout their adult life, the majority end their formal driver training when they are issued their licence. In some ways this is a backwards way to do things, as we are tested at a time when we have the least experience and practice the activities we’re mainly tested on. It’s only in special circumstances that we are tested on practical driving skills ever again.
While actual driving skills improve with age, to a point at least, formalised road safety awareness is only really aimed at very young drivers. In reality, it’s something we should all periodically brush up on. So here are some road safety pointers we all should keep in mind, no matter how long we’ve been driving for.
Driving is a privilege
Nobody has a right to be on the road, despite the commonly used expression “right of way”. But that’s not for the average driver to enforce either, and the best way to stay safe is to give way. If another driver is being aggressive, let them be. There’s no need to cause an accident because you think someone else shouldn’t be driving a certain way. Let them get as far away from you as possible, then go about your business. If they are driving in a particularly dangerous way, take down their registration and make an official report. But certainly don’t get into a competition with them over who gets more of the road. It might not end well.
The old boy scout motto applies to pretty much any situation, and is extra important for drivers. When a driving instructor first takes a student on a lesson, they will advise them to adjust the seat, check the mirrors, adjust the steering wheel if necessary and ensure the car is safe before even allowing the new driver to turn the key in the ignition. We should all do this out of habit, but it’s likely that only a few of us do, especially if we drive our own cars most of the time. Many people will have never even done a pre-drive check of their own cars as recommended in the owner’s manual, though it’s advised to check tyres, wipers, lights and safety equipment before every trip. We do tend to take these things for granted.
Being prepared is not just about the safety of the vehicle though, it’s also about the safety of the driver. There is an old joke about the most dangerous car part being “the nut behind the wheel” and this is fundamentally true. Very few collisions are caused by a faulty vehicle; almost all are a result of driver error. If you are too tired, or too emotional it’s recommended that you do not drive until clear minded or have had sufficient rest. No one should ever be in charge of a motor vehicle under any form of intoxication, including prescription medications that affect your mental state. Your mind is an essential piece of safety equipment.
Speaking of safety equipment, make sure you have all you need in your vehicle at all times. Most cars will come with the appropriate tools for changing a tyre, but it’s wise to carry a first aid kit and a simple tool kit. You may never need either, but if the situation arises where they are required, you will be glad to have them. Even consider having a blanket and some drinkable water. If your car breaks down or you have to stay somewhere for a while waiting for help, you will be happy with your past self for thinking ahead.
Obey road signs
Speed limits are not arbitrarily decided upon, and represent an upper limit. That’s how fast the road can be safely navigated, decided on by road safety experts. While there are arguments to the contrary, remember that not all drivers are created equally, and what might seem painfully slow for some drivers might feel incredibly sensible for others.
We all understand that speed kills. But it’s not just speed limit signs that dictate the speed, fixed and temporary signs also tell us details about the road surface and driving conditions, and yet many people ignore them. When a road sign says “changed conditions” what it’s really saying is to SLOW DOWN. The same applies to Give Way signs, Stop signs, Do Not Enter signs, and so on. They apply to everyone; they are not installed for their aesthetic properties.
Know and follow the road rules
It’s expected to have a solid understanding of the road rules before being issued with a driver’s licence. In fact, every prospective driver is required to pass a test on those rules before attempting to drive on the road. Despite these rules, nobody is tested on new or updated rules. This means it’s on you to stay updated and practice the new rules. The police expect you to know the rules, and will not hesitate to fine you for breaking them, or even seize your vehicle and/or licence in some cases. State and local governments will always highly publicise changes in road laws, so don’t be concerned about being kept in the dark.
Know your limits
Being aware of your own personal limits, and the capabilities of your vehicle, are essential to being safe on the road. Don’t plan to drive further in a day than what is reasonable, nor attempt to use roads that the car is unable to handle. ‘4WD only” signs generally mean your hatchback will struggle with the conditions.
Get some training
There are plenty of advanced or defensive driver training courses around that will improve on your skills as a driver, regardless of your level of experience. Skills that help you cope with unexpected driving situations will make you a better, safer driver, and consequently make the roads a safer place for everyone else. Knowing how to handle a vehicle in an emergency is much more useful if you learn before the emergency arises.
Take it easy
Nothing is that important that it’s worth risking an accident. Almost every traffic collision that doesn’t involve driver impairment is a result of someone being in too much of a hurry to properly assess their environment. This could be attributed to making bad decisions, and consequently to collisions. When you are travelling upwards of 15 metres per second, it doesn’t take long to come into contact with things, some of which are moving that fast or even faster. It’s almost always better to miss the light, or pull over and check something than to throw caution to the wind.
Use your senses
Looking and listening are some of the most important tasks for a driver. Seeing what is happening in your environment and listening for warning signs of danger (like an approaching siren or screeching tyres) are some of the only things a driver should be concentrating on, beyond controlling the vehicle itself. Your other senses may help out from time to time, for example smelling an overheating engine. But keeping your vehicle and your passengers safe is your job as a driver, and all your concentration should be focused on that task. That means following the laws around mobile phone use, and other dangerous distractions. (Link to recent car safety posts and infographic.) Driving gives us a great deal of freedom to go where we wish, whenever we choose, but with that freedom comes responsibility. Being able to drive can hugely improve life, don’t let it be the end of yours.
The Final Word
Insurance is a part of every driver’s reality. While third party insurance is compulsory, most people choose to have a comprehensive policy that covers their own vehicle as well as any other vehicle or property that may be involved in a collision or incident where damage occurs. It can be pricey though, depending on your age, location and car type. It’s wise to compare car insurance policies to ensure you’re not spending a single cent more than you need to, but read the fine print before you make a decision – pay special attention to your excess, and what kinds of events you may or may not be covered for. Stay safe!