Safe driving doesn’t happen all on its own!
The Transport Research Laboratory states that most people behind the wheel are only concentrating for 5% of their driving time. Therefore 3 out of 4 drivers around you on the road are not paying attention to as they are being distracted by something or somebody else. Distraction is thought to be particularly common for people driving on business and their risk of being involved in an accident is seen to be 40% greater than average.
Distracted drivers will be failing to identify the hazards around them and are ignoring the signs we have all seen drivers using a phone a phone, yawning, or even eating. Spotting other distracted drivers is the first step towards avoiding danger yourself.
The following tips are a great start to get you on the road to becoming a safer driver.
1. Keep your distance – You can’t crash into an empty space! The more space you keep around you and your car, van or lorry, the less risk of you having a collision. Rear-end collisions are the most common forms of road traffic accidents – but you don’t have to let it happen to you. You can manage the space around you, the distance of the driver behind you is just as important as the space you create in front of you. You will need to build into the space that you create, the distance of the driver who is too close behind needs to brake.
When stopping, using your brake lights to control the attention and slowing of the driver behind you may well prevent a bump from behind – this technique is seen to be so effective that the latest models of cars flash your brake lights if you brake hard and some even flash the hazard warning lights when the driver is braking extra hard.
A foolish driver breaks the 2 second rule.
It is advised that as a minimum, during dry weather conditions, you should always, always have at least 2 seconds of space between you and the vehicle in front of you on the road. When visibility is low such as during light fog, light rain or night-time driving, you should double the following distance to a minimum of 4 seconds and in severe weather conditions such as snow and ice, then double the distance again.
Always leave a way out. Remember to keep space to the sides of your vehicle and avoid wherever possible driving directly alongside another vehicle, especially if that places you in the blind spot of the other driver, for example a truck. Can the other driver see you? A good indication is whether you can see him in his mirrors. If someone pulls up beside you and matches their speed to yours, adjust your speed slightly to create space next to you. That way, if the need arises for avoidance, you have already built an escape route out of trouble.
2. More haste less speed – In busy congested conditions or in built-up areas give yourself time. There’s no need to speed and you won’t get there any quicker.
In 2010, 40% of all road-traffic fatalities happened in built-up areas compared up areas compared to only 6% on motorways ( Department for Transport – Road casualties Great Britain 2010). 75% of all traffic accidents happen in town where there are generally more hazards per mile.
The risk of fatality in your car is dependent on collision speed – a rear end shunt on the motorway is unlikely to be serious if the collision speed is low, but hitting a child, a pedal cyclist or a motorcyclist even below the urban speed limit can be fatal for them.
Don’t treat speed limits as a target and ensure you are constantly taking road and traffic conditions into account. Keeping your speed and distance means that hazards are more likely to dissolve ahead of you and you won’t fall foul of harsh acceleration and braking (which will also save your fuel too). Pay extra attention where there are junctions, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. In particular, try to anticipate what pedestrians and cyclists might do. If pedestrians, particularly children, are looking the other way, they may step out into the road without seeing you.
Knowing that you have plenty of time to complete your journey will help you to relax and avoid the temptation to push your speed.
3. Look ahead and anticipate – Don’t just look at the vehicle in front and in your mirror to observe what is going on immediately around. Anticipate what is happening ahead of you by looking at the furthest point along the road as well as observing the behaviours of your fellow road users.
One of the main causes of accidents is the failure to recognise a hazardous situation. If a driver fails to see the possible danger, he or she cannot take steps to avoid it. The average driver reacts to an expected event in 0.7 of a second – and up to three times longer when the event is unexpected or the driver is distracted. This means that it can take up to 2.5 seconds for a driver to see what is happening and then decide on a reaction – all this and then the overall stopping distance of the vehicle needs to be taken into account ( The Institute of Advanced Motorists ).
Satnavs are fast becoming a major cause of driver distraction where the driver often blindly follows instructions rather than anticipating the road ahead. What you see takes priority over what the satnav says. We’ve all heard the stories of people being stuck in narrow lanes, driving into rivers and directed into oncoming traffic. If the road looks wrong, don’t take it.
4. Think F.L.O.W.E.R – Ensuring that your vehicle is serviced regularly (in line with the manufacturers recommendations) will help to avoid breakdowns and accidents caused by vehicle faults. To ensure safety for both yourself and those around you and to keep your vehicle running smoothly, remember FLOWER:
Fuel – Play safe and stay topped up.
Lights – Regularly check main beams, indicators, fog lights, sidelights and brake lights.
Oil – Over-filling or under-filling the oil risks engine damage.
Water – Keep the screen wash reservoir full and use plenty of additive in winter, BEFORE it freezes up.
Electrics – Check battery, wiper blades, electric windows, horn and heater fan. Defects will only worsenif neglected.
Rubber – The safety implications of under-inflated tyres include the increased risk of suffering a blow out at high speed due to excessive heat building up in the tyre. The legal limit for minimum tread depth on your tyres is 1.6 millimetres, across the central ¾ of the tread around the complete circumference of the tyre.
Worn tyres reduce the effectiveness of braking, steering and acceleration, particularly in the wet. Worn tyres are not only dangerous, they are illegal – you could face a fine of up to £2,500 plus 3 penalty points per tyre.
5. The greater the investment, the greater the risk – Road markings and signs are essential to the safety of the road user. Most road improvements reflect past collision history. So in such areas be alert to what might have caused the hazard in the first place and so keep your distance and slow down.
As a general rule of thumb… More signs = more danger
By law, traffic routes must also be suitably indicated where necessary for reasons of health or safety. In particular, signs with a red triangular border are usually warning signs.
More paint on the road = more danger
Road users often seem totally unaware of the relevance of road markings, even when they see them. The more paint there is on the road surface, the more potential danger there is.
More street lights = more danger
Assume lamp posts mean 30 mph, until signs say otherwise – but remember it could be 20 mph. The law does not allow highway authorities to put repeater speed limit signs on 30 mph roads that have street lights. Instead the Highway Code advises that street lights usually mean the limit is 30 mph unless there are signs showing otherwise. However, on the open road, the presence of street lights seen ahead will indicate a junction or roundabout coming up – clearly an area of greater danger.
Not many people will recognise that every roundabout in the UK is lit by street lights at night.
6. You are only human – Although it is a familiar everyday task, driving is actually a very complex thing. Trying to do something else (use a mobile phone, use Satnav, unwrap a sweet) at the same time, is distracting.
Listening to music with the volume too high can encourage drivers to speed up. Distracted drivers find it much more difficult to maintain their awareness of what’s happening on the road around them, and are more likely to speed.
Using a mobile phone while driving is a classic example of this.The law requires drivers to be in proper control of their vehicle at all times, and drivers who, for example, smoke or eat while driving could be prosecuted under this law. There is also a specific law banning the use of hand-held mobile phones, or other communication devices, while driving.
7. Be safe, be seen – People don’t generally hit what they see – so put yourself where you can be seen. Why stay alongside trucks and vans where the driver cannot see you?
Every year about 400 people are killed in EU countries when drivers fail to detect objects in their blind spots while manoeuvring. Most victims are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. ‘Vehicle blind spots’ was a contributory factor in 21 fatal crashes and 2,081 injured people in the UK in 2009 ( Department for Transport 2009 ).
8. Safe parking – Damage to vehicles often happens in car parks where we least expect it. Think prevention! Use space – park away from other vehicles, trolleys and activity areas where possible.
40% of all company traffic accidents involve parking, manoeuvring or reversing.
It may seem easier to drive straight into a space, especially when you want easy access to your boot at the supermarket, but reversing into a space provides you with several advantages. The main advantage is that it is safer to reverse into somewhere you can see (the parking space) than reverse into somewhere you can’t (the line of moving traffic). It is also easier to control a car going forwards when it is first started.
Overall reversing means less vision, less experience and much more risk – so avoid it where you can.
9. Should you even drive?– Someone driving on a motorway at 70 mph who nods off for six seconds would travel more than 200 metres in that time.
Never drive whilst tired.
On long journeys stop for at least a 15 minute break every 2 hours.
Don’t drink and drive – Alcohol impairs your driving, even a small amount. Think carefully if you’re safe to drive the morning after too.
10. A word to the wise – C.O.A.S.T
As experience improves, often attention levels diminish. Get to know what affects a drivers attention levels and watch for those who are affected. Think COAST.
Concentration – Don’t become distracted. Focus on the primary task at hand, namely driving.
Observation – Pay close attention to other vehicles and changes in their movement.
Anticipation – Anticipate the good and bad intentions of other road users to avoid accidents.
Space – Keep your distance – remember the 2 second rule.
Time – Plan journeys, allowing enough time to arrive safely without the need to drive hard.
And finally, always be calm and courteous to other drivers.