Five simple tips that could save your life

By Liz Dobson

Even the best drivers can protect themselves (and others) better by observing these simple rules.

Nasty accidents can be avoided by turning on headlights in dark, stormy conditions, being extra careful when making right-hand turns, giving other vehicles space and reducing distractions, such as cellphones, while driving. Photo / HBT
Nasty accidents can be avoided by turning on headlights in dark, stormy conditions, being extra careful when making right-hand turns, giving other vehicles space and reducing distractions, such as cellphones, while driving. Photo / HBT

A truck laden with a large container is trundling along Auckland's Southern Motorway in the middle lane, doing about 90km/h and leaving a five-car gap between his rig and the vehicle in front ... until a small hatchback, seeing a "gap", moves from the left lane to straight in front of the truck, without indicating.

Fortunately for the hatchback owner, the truck driver saw the car coming and slowed down - and prevented what could have been a nasty accident.

What the hatchback driver should have thought about was that the truck wasn't leaving a huge gap ahead of him for bad Auckland drivers - instead it was because he needed a huge amount of space to stop in an emergency.

Being aware of trucks, and moving into spaces safely, is just common sense, but there are some driving tips that could save your life - and others.

Give me some space

If there was just one tip the Automobile Association would give all drivers it would be keeping safer following distances, says Mike Noon, the AA's general manager of motoring affairs.

In good driving conditions motorists should leave at least a 2sec gap between themselves and the vehicle in front, and double that to at least 4sec if the road is wet or visibility is poor.

"No matter how good a driver you are, sometimes unexpected things are going to happen on the road and the greater your following distance the more time you will have to react," says Noon.

Police data shows poor observation is the most common factor in crashes causing injury in New Zealand and a landmark study in the United States that recorded 241 drivers for more than a year found nearly 80 per cent of their crashes involved some form of driver inattention in the seconds before the incident.

"Keeping a good buffer between yourself and the vehicle in front means you will have more chance to recover if you have missed seeing something or are distracted for a moment.

"It can also reduce the amount of petrol you use because it requires less hard braking and accelerating, plus less tail-gating will make our roads calmer with less anxiety and aggression. It's a win-win-win."

I see, you see

According to the NZ Transport Agency, one of the most important things you can do is look well ahead when you're driving. The earlier you spot a potential hazard, the more time you will have to take evasive action.

Rather than looking only as far as the vehicle in front of you when driving, you should actually be scanning the road in front to a distance of at least 12sec ahead of where your car is - that is, the place you will be after driving for 12sec, says the NZ Transport Authority.

As a rough guide, at 50km/h, 12sec is 166m or about two city blocks. At 100km/h, 12sec is 333m. This means at 100km/h you should look ahead as far as you can see.

Many people only look ahead of them when driving. This means they're not getting the full picture of what's happening on the road.

You should also use your mirrors to look to the sides and behind every few seconds. This will help you spot dangerous situations that could be forming around or behind you.

Moving your eyes regularly and concentrating on what's going on around you will also help you to stay alert on long journeys.

Light up your life

Being seen on the road is one of the most important aspects of road safety and using your headlights correctly can lessen your chances of being involved in a crash, says Noon.

"Drivers shouldn't just use their lights at night. Stormy winter days like the ones that have just swept the country can be very dark and overcast, making it harder to see vehicles. Turn on your headlights whenever it is dim, when it is raining or at any other time that visibility is poor."

Police data shows poor observation is the most common factor in crashes causing injury, so all road users should do everything they can to make it easier to see and be seen.

Motorcyclists and cyclists in particular should use lights to make themselves more obvious to those around them. "You only have to look at a line of traffic where some vehicles have their lights on and some don't to see how much more eye-catching a vehicle with its lights on is. "A good rule of thumb is if you are having trouble seeing other vehicles then you should turn on your own lights."

The flipside to this, though, is that drivers using their lights incorrectly can be irritating and even dangerous to those around them.

"Do not put your lights on beam [full] when other vehicles are in front of you or coming towards you as this can be blinding to them," says Noon.

"Vehicles with fog lights should also only use these in fog. Using fog lights in normal conditions, even during the day, can be dazzling and distracting for other drivers."

Right isn't always right

One of the most dangerous moves you can make in your vehicle is a right-hand turn at a non-signposted intersection.

You have to be extra careful and extra sure that the move can be completed safely. You never know what other drivers are planning.

Sure, that car is indicating it is turning left, allowing you to turn, but there could be another vehicle "hidden" behind it that is going straight-ahead or a motorcycle that decides to make a move.

So a handy tip is to look right, then left and then right again, and if you are totally confident that you can make the move, do it.

Back up

It may seem a simple idea but backing into a carpark space can prevent an accident. You have much better visibility leaving a parking spot facing oncoming traffic - or pedestrians - moving into your path, compared with backing out.

BONUS LIFESAVERS

Here are some more ideas that can help you on the road:

* Mental approach: Drivers must realise fellow road users are likely to do something stupid at any time, so keep your distance and let speeding, aggressive drivers get ahead of you where you can see them.

* Trust no one: Drivers should not assume others will notice them, especially when merging or even pulling up at a red light.

* Escape plan: Drivers must position their vehicles where they can see and be seen, and also have space to move into if they need to get out of danger at short notice.

* Evaluate the risks: There will be more than one risk factor on the roads, drivers should keep them all in mind - attention may be drawn to the aggressive driver rather than the motorist using the cell phone, but both are a threat.

DOB 'EM IN

If you see an idiot on the road, there are three things you can do.

* In an emergency ring 111; dial *555 to report such incidents as minor crashes (non-injury), poor driving, traffic congestion, breakdowns, and obstructions on the motorway; or make a community roadwatch report. The police say you should dial 111 in the case of injury, dangerous driving or something that requires immediate attention.

* The *555 calls are answered with lower priority than 111 calls, while the roadwatch report is used by the police to let the owner of a motor vehicle know about driving behaviour you have observed - such as overtaking on no-passing lines, following too closely or driving too slowly.

* Just take down the car's rego and fill in a form online. And don't worry, your name is kept confidential.

COLLISION COURSE

The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states the top six causes of accidents are:

1 Distracted drivers The most dangerous activity is reaching for a moving object inside the car, followed by using cellphones.

2 Fatigue Being over-tired slows reaction and depth perception.

3 Drink-driving Alcohol makes people disorientated and confused.

4 Speeding The higher the speed, the longer it takes to stop.

5 Aggressive driving Loss of self-control and also of complete control of the vehicle.

6 Weather Usually it's a case of driving too fast for the conditions.

- NZ Herald

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