Road accidents happen as a result of a fault, error, miscalculation or poor judgment. We will not be able to cover all the causes of road accidents in this article. We will only confine ourselves to those that are common and dangerous.
Road worthiness: Firstly drivers must insist on vehicles that are safe and roadworthy. They must do so more for their own safety than to avoid getting nabbed and fined by the police at road blocks.
All road users must take ownership of road safety and as well as that of others. Drivers must exceed expectations by going beyond what is expected of them. They must not compromise on the road worthiness of vehicles by settling for second best nor for the bare minimum. Everyone must be their own judge by applying the highest standards in testing their vehicles for road worthiness instead of only looking out for those that will constitute an offence and will get them into trouble. We must see police at the road blocks as people who are there to help us instead of seeing them as obstacles.
Tyres: Ensure that tyres are not worn out and are within the legal requirements. This can be checked using a coin by slipping it in between the treads. If it holds and does not fall off it will be okay. The best tyres must be in front because it is the area where the vehicle gets most of its control from. If that is not the case switch them across such that the left back tyre becomes the right front tyre. This only applies to tyres that are in good condition and are road worthy. Those that aren’t should not be in either of the wheels. Regularly check your wheels for balancing.
Tyre pressure: Pressure must be checked for over inflated and under inflated tyres using a functioning gauge so that the correct pressure can be used. Recommended pressures will usually be written on the cap or along the frame of the drivers’ door. Ensure that the spare wheel is of the right pressure and that it is roadworthy. This is important because wheels that do not have any weight on them and might have not been “working” may look normal when in fact they would not have any air inside them. Do not forget your wheel spanners and jack.
Check Wipers before going on a long trip: Because we do not have much rain, we never get to know the state of our wipers until it rains. Wipers in our type of conditions tend to wear out easily because of the heat. Also ensure there is enough water inside the container for the wipers. Some people add a bit of recommended soap inside the water so that it would be able to dissolve the dirt and debris left on the windscreen after insects would have smashed onto it.
Be honest and true to yourself: It does not serve much purpose to hide a drink or to rap the seatbelt around ourselves so that it may look like we have buckled up when we jolly well know we will be trying to deceive police officers. Being able to pass the police at a road block without getting into trouble shouldn’t be our primary goal. We must first be honest to ourselves because road safety is all about our lives and not about officers at the road block.
The seat belt: Many passengers cannot appreciate why they get charged for not buckling up whilst they are in someone else’s vehicle, especially if they are not driving. After all, they would say, it will be their lives they would be risking and not anyone else. Many may not know, but suicide is illegal and the law ensures that everyone’s life is not endangered in any way. Many passengers believe that it is not their business if the buckle got tucked away under some seat nor if it functions at all. Yet when an accident does occur it would not matter who the owner of the seat will be but the person who had sat on it before being thrown out of the vehicle.
Road blocks are for our own good: Unbuckling the seat belt and pressing on the pedal as soon as we get past a road block should not be our goal either. We must remember that it is not the road blocks which cause deaths during accidents but what we often escape from being fined or charged for at the roadblocks which does. Road blocks are not meant to give the police a chance to get us whilst we are stationary but for our own safety. The notion that the police are on a mission to raise funds and reach their targets should not derail us from doing what is right.
Traffic lights: Please obey all road signs. Traffic lights are synchronised by experts for good reasons. Red means stop and green means go. Amber cautions those who would have been in the process to cross the lights quickly and those who would not have crossed should stop. A lot of fatal accidents happen at the robots will because some drivers try to squeeze themselves in before the lights turn red. Others from the other sides will want to step on the gas as soon as the lights turn green. Do not try to anticipate the changes in lights because they are programmed differently and depending on the type of road or junction they happen to be at.
If traffic lights aren’t “working”, all vehicles must treat the situation as a Four-Way stop. That is, the vehicle that would have arrived at the stop first should take off first. Vehicles behind it must not automatically follow. They must allow others that had arrived before to proceed first.
Headlights and visibility: Headlights are a major cause of road accidents. Headlights are not only meant to enable the driver to see the road during the night but are also a necessary tool to enable all traffic to be seen in the most limited conditions. Drivers should not wait for darkness but must switch on their lights as soon as visibility drops and when lighting conditions become limited. This is before sunset, when there is thick cloud cover or when it is raining. This will enable oncoming traffic to be visible and not tempt other drivers to overtake thinking there isn’t any oncoming traffic and therefore cause a head-on collision.
Vehicles that are painted in dark colours are a hazard on the roads. This is because dark colours tend to blend in with the tarmac road. Blue colours in the horizon will also look like they are part of the sky whilst the greens and the browns will most definitely disappear into the landscape. If oncoming traffic is camouflaged and blend in with the environment it will make it difficult for other road users to notice and subsequently be tempted to overtake when they should not be and again cause a head-on collision.
No overtaking signs: A solid white line in the middle of the road isn’t a warning nor a suggestion that there might be an oncoming vehicle. It strictly means “no overtaking”. Solid lines are often preceded by broken lines accompanied by arrows pointing away towards the left side of the road. Broken lines before the solid line mean that it would be too late to overtake. Those who had not already started overtaking must abandon the idea altogether and prepare for the solid line that will prohibit overtaking. Vehicles that had already started overtaking before the warning appeared, and depending on how far they will be from overtaking should either quickly do so by stepping hard on the pedal or slack down to get back into their lane. They must continue following the slower vehicles in front until the road is once again clear and safe to overtake.
Head-on collisions often occur as a result of drivers overtaking whilst not being able to see oncoming traffic from the opposite side of inclines, curves, sharp bends and junctions. Therefore deciding not to obey solid lines and preceding broken lines can be fatal.
Making decisions: Drivers must be decisive especially when overtaking. Once a decision has been made do not hesitate. Pressing hard on the accelerator if you have decided to overtake or apply the brakes during a retreat. Make sure not to press too hard on the brakes otherwise the vehicle will skid and probably lose control. Any hesitation will cause confusion and panic to other road users and will also rob you of the much needed time to manipulate the situation.
Overtaking: Overtaking often requires more than what meets the eye can. Establish that the distance between oncoming traffic and that of the vehicle that is being overtaken is safe. Before overtaking have a good look at your rear mirror, side mirror on your side to establish if there are other vehicle that are overtaking or about to overtake. Given that it should only be done when the line is broken, drivers must learn to change down and do that in the quickest time possible.
As soon as all sides are clear press hard on the pedal in order to overtake quickly. All eyes must be looking forward throughout the overtaking process in order to keep everything in check and ensuring that nothing new unfolds like another oncoming traffic suddenly appearing. Peeping over to look who is inside the other vehicle whilst overtaking will not help a bit.
Make sure you have cleared the vehicle you will be overtaking and that it is far enough by using the mirrors again. Always indicate after overtaking and before going back to the left lane. Drivers should not try to do anything fancy in order to impress or to make a statement to others while they are in the process of overtaking. Keep it simple because there is a thin line between life and death during such moments.
The steering wheel: Holding the steering wheel depends on what the driver feels is most comfortable as long as two hands are kept on the steering wheel for most of the time. It does not mean that drivers must be tense by holding tightly on the steering wheel. Drivers must also not hold the steering wheel as they please. Maintain a reasonably relaxed grip on the wheel around the “10 to 10 o’clock’ position and not too relaxed in the “twenty-past-five” position. It is important to maintain a good and relaxed enough grip on the wheel so that the driver will always have control of the vehicle even when an emergency situation crops up.
Complacency: Many accidents that happen during long distance driving occur just before arrival and around the 30km radius from the destination. This might be as a result of a mind-set that one may have arrived safely and then cause the driver to become complacent. Traffic on the outskirts of towns and cities will travel at a lot slower speed from that of long distance drivers. Drivers that would have been on a long trip must drastically drop their speeds before entering urban areas. The speedometer reading must be checked to ensure that it does not exceed the speed limit of 80kmh or 60kmh well before the outskirts of towns.
Drive safely and arrive alive!