According to government statistics, the car is the main mode of travel for most people. In 2014, 73% of adults held a driving licence, and 73% of households had at least one car. With so many of us relying on our cars for commuting, personal and family commitments, making sure we drive safely and responsibly is essential.
While manufacturers are providing better motoring technology and safer cars to help tackle accident prevention, drivers must do their bit too. Wherever you are driving to, and whatever the length of your trip, these 11 safe driving tips will go a long way to protecting yourself and your passengers against legal motoring offences and car accidents during the journey.
Check the car before you set off
Before you switch on the engine, make sure your car is ready for the trip. When was the last time you checked the tyre pressure? It’s important for all tyres (including a spare wheel if you have one) to have the correct pressure, particularly for longer journeys, as insufficient tyre pressure can affect both your steering and braking. Also check the tyre tread to make sure you’re well within the legal minimum limit of 1.6 mm depth of tread.
Spotting and dealing with any problems before you set off could save you having to change a tyre in mid-journey, or end up with a fine and penalty points on your licence.
Also don’t forget to check all fluids, such as oil, water and screenwash, and top them up as required.
How good is your eyesight?
When was the last time you had your eyes tested? Poor vision will directly affect the quality of your driving, and the eye strain can cause tiredness and headaches which will impact on your concentration levels.
Your eyesight can deteriorate at any time, and it’s important to have regular checks and wear glasses or contact lenses as prescribed to meet the official standards of vision for driving. Did you know that over 90% of the information needed to drive comes from the eyes? Just imagine the danger you could be putting yourself, your passengers and other road users in…
Wear a seatbelt
It is a legal requirement that every car driver and all passengers must wear a seatbelt, if one is available. The brutal fact is that you’re twice as likely to die in an accident if you don’t, so a casual attitude towards seatbelt wearing will expose both the driver and passengers to huge risk, even on short and familiar journeys, and even at low speed.
If you’re caught by police driving without a seatbelt, you’ll be facing an on-the-spot fine of £100 and you could be prosecuted.
Break your journey
We’ve all seen the signs ‘tiredness can kill’. Studies have shown that driving when tired can affect your driving almost as much as drinking alcohol. It’s advisable to stop for a break after every 2 hours of driving. Get a drink or a bite to eat, stretch your legs or even take a nap, or let someone else take the wheel.
Be prepared for bad weather
While it’s always recommended to avoid driving in bad weather if at all possible, sometimes it’s unavoidable to take the car, so you need to adjust your driving according to outdoor conditions. If it’s rainy or foggy, slow down, keep your headlights dipped and only use fog lights if necessary. Don’t overtake unless absolutely necessary and make sure you keep a safe distance from the car in front of you.
In snow and ice, stay in lower gears and use your brake and accelerator gently. If it’s really bad, stay at home unless your car is equipped with four-wheel-drive or winter tyres.
Watch out for bikes
Cyclists and motorcyclists can be notoriously difficult to see – they seem to come out of nowhere, often with inadequate high visibility clothing. Always be mindful of the two-wheeled traffic around you, particularly when turning at a junction; check your mirrors and blind spots thoroughly.
Watch out for any signs that a bike may be about to pull out (hand signals, looking over shoulder) and give them plenty of room when you’re overtaking.
No tailgating or middle lane hogging
Recent legislative changes have made it an offence to drive too close to the vehicle in front of you or needlessly staying in the middle lane. These actions are now considered as careless driving and carry an on-the-spot £100 fixed penalty fine plus 3 points added to your driving licence.
The police will have the option of offering educational training as an alternative to the endorsement, and drivers will still be able to appeal the decision in court.
Observe the speed limit
Speed is a decisive factor in all road traffic accidents, and drivers with one speeding ticket per year are twice as likely to crash as those with no speeding violation. Breaking the speed limit or travelling too fast for the traffic or weather conditions was a factor in 23% of fatal crashes in 2015.
Legal speed limits – 30mph in built-up areas, 60mph on single carriageways, 70mph on dual carriageways and motorways – are there for a reason, so don’t exceed them. Some local councils may also set their own speed limits, for instance 20 mph near schools.
Be aware of stopping distances
Driving can be unpredictable. If something untoward happens on the road in front of you, eg a child runs into the road, your speed will determine if you can stop in time. This is why reducing and managing traffic speed is critical to road safety.
Always drive at a speed that will allow you to stop comfortably within a clear distance. Leave enough space between your car and the one in front, i.e. a gap of at least 2 seconds in fast moving traffic, and at least twice that on wet or icy roads.
Park safely and securely
Choose your car parking space carefully to deter any opportunity thieves. For on-street parking, fin a busy spot near shops or under a street lamp. Make sure you don’t leave any valuables or bags in the car (however well hidden), and ideally leave nothing at all on display.
Switch your mobile phone off
Using a mobile phone while driving distracts the driver from the surrounding traffic; even a split second lapse in concentration can have fatal consequences. That’s why it’s illegal to use a hand held mobile in the car, even at traffic lights or while waiting in a queue, unless you’re making an emergency call.
Stricter laws have just come into force whereby anyone caught using a mobile phone behind the wheels will now be issued with 6 penalty points and a £200 fine.
Even the most careful driver can find himself at the wrong end of the law for a driving transgression on occasion. From failing to wear a seat belt to speeding, drink driving or document offences, motoring laws are becoming ever more extensive and complex. It is highly recommended that you have access to a specialist legal adviser who can explain all legal procedures and guide you through any legal proceedings, should they become necessary.