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Driving to avoid accidents...


An important part of taking care of your vehicle is keeping it from being damaged in an accident, or written off altogether.  Being involved in an accident on the road is one of the most expensive and inconvenient mishaps to experience as a vehicle owner.  Itís even more important to avoid serious injury to other people and to yourself in an accident.  Hereís a collection of driving habits which will go a long way to avoiding accidents on the road:


Always leave a safe distance between you and the vehicle in frontÖ

Always leave a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front so that if it stops or slows down, you have enough time to stop, slow down or change lanes and avoid colliding with the back of it.  This is the most fundamentally important rule of safe driving.


Always check your blind spot when changing lanes...

Always check your blind spot when changing lanes by looking over your shoulder briefly to the left or to the right towards the lane that youíre changing into to make sure that there isnít a vehicle already in that lane right next to you.  Failure to adopt this practice as a habit will mean that youíll eventually have an accident or, at the very least, a near-miss.  Itíll happen sooner rather than later.  Accidents of this type are particularly nasty and are entirely avoidable.  You owe it to other road users and to yourself to always check your blind spot when changing lanes, even if you think that there are no other vehicles around.

Before checking your blind-spot, always check that the road ahead that you will be travelling on while checking your blind-spot, is clear of all obstacles of any description, including motor vehicles.  Failure to perform this check before checking your blind-spot could result in you having a collision with an obstacle as a result of taking your eyes off of the road and checking your blind spot.

The basic rule is that all obstacles including the vehicle in front need to be far enough away from you before checking your blind spot so that, once you have finished checking your blind spot, you still have enough distance between you and the obstacle to allow you to brake and come to a complete stop short of the obstacle to avoid a collision with it in the event that checking your blind spot reveals another vehicle in your blind spot which prevents you from changing lanes.


Leave a safe distance when overtakingÖ

Similarly, when approaching another vehicle ahead in the same lane with the intention of overtaking it, always be sure to check your blind spot (in preparation for overtaking it) when youíre still a good distance away from it.  Failure to leave sufficient distance when checking your blind spot could easily result in a collision into the back of this vehicle if it slows down (for whatever reason) while youíre checking your blind spot, or if you detect another vehicle in your blind spot which prevents you from overtaking the vehicle in front.

By getting too close to the vehicle you want to overtake, youíre not allowing for the possibility that checking your blind spot reveals another vehicle in your blind spot which prevents you from changing lanes.  After you finish checking your blind spot and identifying this other vehicle, youíll have to brake heavily to avoid colliding with the rear of the vehicle that you were intending to overtake.


Avoid uncertain situations on the roadÖ

Itís best to avoid changing lanes from the outer or middle lane of a two or three-lane highway into the clear kerb-side lane in the vicinity of a side-street in which a vehicle is waiting to turn onto the highway on which youíre travelling.

The driver in the vehicle in the side-street may decide to turn onto the highway, thinking that the lane into which their vehicle is going to turn is clear, at the exact same time that you decide to change lanes into this clear kerb-side lane.  In this case, you would collide with the vehicle turning into this kerb-side lane out of the side-street.

Conversely, itís best to avoid turning out of a side-street into the clear kerbside lane of a two or three-lane highway when thereís a vehicle approaching in the outer or middle lane because the driver of that vehicle could decide to change lanes into this clear kerbside lane at the exact same time that you decide to turn into it.  In this case, you would collide with the vehicle changing lanes into this kerbside lane from the outer or middle lane of the two or three-lane highway.


Donít drive faster than visibility safely allowsÖ

Itís important to always drive at the speed that is slow enough to allow you to bring your vehicle to a complete stop on the length of road that you can see in front of you because the reality is that you simply donít know what is on the road beyond that.

For example, if youíre driving around a blind corner so that you canít see whether the road ahead around the corner is clear of all obstacles, be sure to slow down sufficiently so that if it turns out that there is an obstacle in the middle of the road on the other side of the blind corner, youíll be going slowly enough that youíll be able to brake and bring your vehicle to a complete stop in front of the obstacle, rather than colliding with it.

Examples of obstacles are a pedestrian crossing the road, a broken-down vehicle in the middle of the road, a cyclist whoís been knocked off their bicycle and is lying in the middle of the road or one or more vehicles that have been involved in an accident and which are stationary in the middle of the road, blocking it.


Exercise caution when driving on wet roadsÖ

Itís important to exercise caution when driving on wet roads since the level of traction between the tyres and the road is considerably less than when the road is dry.  For this reason, itís also critically important for you to be aware of the depth of tread on all tyres of the vehicle.  While the tread-depth of your tyres is not as important when the roads are dry, since the tyres still maintain good traction with the road, tread-depth is absolutely critically important when the roads are wet.  It will have a strong influence over the speed at which the vehicle can be safely driven in the wet.

If the tyres are low on tread, itís important to allow for greater braking distance and to also drive more slowly around corners so as to avoid losing control of the vehicle.  The adverse handling characteristics in the wet of tyres with low tread-depth is exacerbated by other suspension or steering deficiencies such as worn shock absorbers or poor front (or rear) wheel alignment.


Replace worn tyres as soon as possibleÖ

Once a tyre on the vehicle wears down to the tread-wear indicators on that tyre, itís no longer offering any substantial traction and it should be replaced as soon as possible.  If sudden, hard braking is required to avoid an unexpected collision (such as when a vehicle suddenly pulls out in front of you without realising that youíre there), a tyre with tread-depth at the tread-wear indicator is unlikely to provide the high level of traction needed to avoid the collision.


Be aware of the handling characteristics of front-wheel-drive vehicles...

Because front-wheel-drive vehicles handle differently to rear-wheel-drive vehicles, itís important to know the tread-depth of the front and rear tyres of your vehicle if itís front-wheel drive.  Having front tyres with good tread-depth is important on either type of vehicle because theyíre the tyres that steer the vehicle.  However it becomes even more important for safety when the vehicle is front-wheel drive.  Basically, the driven wheels, whether front or rear, are more prone to slipping if their tyres are low on tread.

On a front-wheel drive vehicle, accelerating, changing gears or simply going too fast while the wheels arenít pointing straight ahead can cause the front tyres to lose traction and slip or slide, particular when the roads are wet.  This is very dangerous and can lead to loss of control of the vehicle and even death.  When the roads are wet, itís very important to exercise the utmost caution and care to avoid losing control of the vehicle.  You can avoid a lot of problems when the roads are wet by simply driving more slowly, since the traction between the tyres and the road increases as the vehicle speed decreases.  This applies to rear-wheel-drive vehicles also.


Donít get caught out by reverse-cambered roads...

Itís important to be aware that many curved sections of road or sweeping corners are Ďreverse-camberedí, which poses a serious safety risk.  That is to say that instead of the road sloping down into the curve (as is the case with curved sections of railroad tracks to prevent the train from overturning), the road slopes down away from the curve so that the traction between the vehicleís tyres and the road decreases as the vehicle travels around the curve.  If the reverse-cambered road is curving around to the right, then it is sloping down to the left, and vice versa.

I have no idea why road builders have seen fit to build many public roads this way.  Itís one of the stupidest and most dangerous things that Iíve ever witnessed on the road.  Maybe they thought that the reverse-cambering of curved sections of road or sweeping corners would cause drivers to slow down out of fear of losing control of their vehicles.

One thingís for sure, itís a very unpleasant feeling driving around a sweeping corner which is reverse-cambered.  And itís definitely necessary to slow down to prevent the vehicle from losing traction with the road, particularly when the road is wet.  Basically, a reverse-cambered, curved road exacerbates the centrifugal force that ordinarily pushes a vehicle away from the imaginary centre of the curve (as though the curve was part of a larger circle around this imaginary centre), by reducing the much-needed friction between the vehicleís tyres and the road.


Know the condition of your vehicleís shock absorbersÖ

Knowing the condition of the shock absorbers on your vehicle is important because their condition affects how well your vehicle handles, particularly when the roads are wet.  Furthermore, knowing their condition is critically important when embarking on high-speed freeway driving.  Itís important to exercise a lot of care if the shock absorbers on your vehicle need replacing, particularly the front ones which affect steering, if you need to drive on a high-speed freeway.

Handling, steering, traction and ability to brake quickly are all impaired when the shock absorbers are worn, particularly the front ones which carry the majority of the weight of the engine bay and which are connected to the front, steering wheels.  Add to this the peril of reverse-cambered sections of freeways and there is significant risk involved, which should not be ignored.

I donít drive at more than 90km/h when the shock absorbers on my vehicle are worn and need replacement because the vehicle is unsafe at such higher speeds, particularly on curved sections and particularly when itís the front shock absorbers that need to be replaced.  Furthermore, I avoid freeways altogether until theyíve been replaced since driving at only 90km/h is not fast enough to avoid mishaps with other faster-travelling vehicles on freeways.

For information on how to determine whether the shock absorbers at each wheel on your vehicle are still functioning properly or whether they need to be replaced, please see the section titled, Suspension and Steering.


Slow down on the freeway during high windsÖ

Itís important to slow down on a high-speed freeway when there are gusty crosswinds in order to have better control over the vehicle.  The faster the vehicle is travelling, the more likely it is that the winds could cause the vehicle to lose traction with the road, particularly when travelling around a sweeping corner, especially if itís reverse-cambered.  A loss of traction with the road at high speed could result in a serious accident and possibly death.


Donít swerve to avoid hitting an animal on the roadÖ

Itís best to never swerve to avoid hitting an animal on the road.  Itís a bad habit to get into since if you swerve to avoid hitting an animal at a low speed like 50km/h, then youíre more likely to swerve to avoid hitting an animal at a high speed like 80km/h or 100km/h, which could easily result in you losing control of the vehicle, crashing and dying.  Even worse, you could hurt somebody else when you swerve to miss the animal and end up hitting a pedestrian or a person in a parked vehicle.

By all means, brake heavily in a straight line to avoid hitting an animal on the road but never swerve.  Animals like cats can run out in front of your vehicle in an instant because they often donít have any conception of what the road is all about and they donít know how to judge the speed of your vehicle.  I love animals, I really do, but swerving to avoid hitting an animal in your path is a dangerous habit to develop that could really come back to bite you.


Donít lock the steering wheel when the vehicle is in motionÖ

It is critically important to never turn the ignition off past one notch when the vehicle is in motion because the steering wheel, which requires the ignition to be on in order to function properly, will lock, causing you to lose control of the vehicle, crash and possibly die if youíre travelling fast enough.

Itís advisable to NEVER turn the ignition off at all while in transit (even just one notch) due to the inevitable danger of losing control of the vehicle if the ignition is turned off more than one notch.  However, if the engine does need to be turned off while in transit, be sure to put the vehicleís transmission into ĎNeutralí beforehand and be extremely cautious to only turn the ignition off one notch so that the steering wheel, and hence the steering, will not lock and will still allow the vehicle to be controlled.  In any case, it is EXTREMELY important to check beforehand that turning the ignition off one notch will not cause the steering wheel to lock.  If you are in any doubt, do NOT turn the ignition off one notch while in transit.

It is seriously not advisable to even turn the ignition off just one notch in this manner after putting the vehicleís transmission into ĎNeutralí because the brake pedal will become much more difficult to depress owing to the loss of vacuum assistance when the engine is turned off.  This much heavier brake pedal will be readily noticeable and will make the vehicle much more difficult to control.  The bottom line is that turning the ignition off just one notch should be avoided as much as possible.


What to do if you run out of fuelÖ

If you happen to run out of fuel while in transit, causing the engine to shut off, leave the ignition in the existing ĎOní position, enabling the steering to function properly, put the vehicleís transmission into ĎNeutralí, put the vehicleís hazard lights on and bring the vehicle to a stop at the side of the road as quickly and as safely as possible.

Running out of fuel while in transit will cause the vehicle to slow down immediately, posing a risk of collision with surrounding vehicles since your dramatic decrease in speed wonít be accompanied by the activation of your brake lights to warn of this change in speed.  Itís very important to get the vehicle off the road as quickly as possible before it loses all momentum and becomes stationary in the middle of the road which poses a grave danger to other road users and to yourself.


Use your hazard lights to warn other drivers of dangerÖ

Itís important to use your hazard lights to warn other drivers of danger that they could not anticipate without your assistance.  For example, if youíre driving along a busy road and you suddenly come across stationary vehicles ahead of you so that you have to come to a stop quickly in the middle of the road, itís important to put your hazard lights on to prevent the vehicle behind you from obliviously colliding with the back of your stationary vehicle.  Examples of situations that could cause the traffic in front of you to be stationary are a broken-down vehicle ahead or an accident ahead.

Itís important to never be embarrassed about using your hazard lights in a situation like this.  Youíll absolutely minimise the chance of another vehicle running into the back of you and the other driver will appreciate the care youíve taken to warn them of the danger.

Itís a good idea to familiarise yourself with the position of the button for the hazard lights on your vehicleís dashboard and to practise activating your hazard lights while braking when there are no other cars around.  Then when it comes to a real-life situation where you have to come to a stop quickly in the middle of the road and use your hazard lights to warn the driver behind you, youíll be able to react quickly out of habit instead of fumbling around to figure out where the button is for the hazard lights.



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Copyright 2016 Andrew Mackinnon.  All rights reserved.