Heels & Horsepower Magazine

10 Common Driving Mistakes South African Motorists Make

We all know that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a big no-no and as such cannot be categorized as a mistake.

Drunk driving plays a huge factor in road fatalities annually but there are other causes of accidents and fender benders.  Here are just 10 of the most common bad driving practises which can be seen on our roads almost daily.

1. Speeding

Driving at a speed that is unsafe for the current road, weather and lighting conditions can make it difficult, if not impossible to control your vehicle effectively.  Bringing a speeding vehicle to a stop or trying to avoid an obstacle on the road can have fatal consequences as you may lose control completely.  Speed limits are designed to keep drivers safe and it is dangerous to exceed them. Regardless of your environment, aim to drive at a pace which allows you to safely manoeuver your vehicle through curves, down a hill or in the rain.

2. Unsafe Lane Changes

Executing a safe lane change involves quite a few essential steps such as checking your mirrors and blind spot, adjusting your speed, turning on your indicators, finding a safe gap then merging smoothly into the lane.  It is important to remember to look out for cyclists and bikers as these motorists are incredibly vulnerable in an accident.

3. Distracted Driving

Three things are critical for safe driving being: your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road and your mind on the task at hand.  Driving distracted negates these essentials, putting all road users at risk.  Multi-tasking is not something motorists should attempt to do because of the ever changing environment of the road and general traffic.  Anything can and most likely will happen without notice and you need to be ready to react immediately – something you may not be able to do if you are texting, eating or your eyes are on the radio controls.

4. Not Maintaining A Safe Following Distance

Many motorists drive distracted resulting in their following the vehicle ahead of them too closely.  The best way to ensure you have a safe cushion of space between your car and the one ahead is to wait for the leading vehicle to pass a fixed point on the road, then start counting to three.  Should you pass the same point before reaching the count of three then you are most likely following too closely.  As a general rule of thumb always increase your following distance at night, when driving behind a truck, in bad weather or when driving behind a motorcycle or cyclist.

5. Driving Too Slowly

This may surprise a few but driving too slowly for the current traffic conditions can be dangerous.  Driving too slowly forces other drivers to either slow down or attempt to pass you and the more often cars pass each other, the greater the chances of there being a collision.

6. Failing To Read/Understand Road Signs

Road signs are there to give motorists information relating to the road or traffic conditions.  It is important not to ignore them as you could find yourself driving too fast into a curve or blasting through a stop sign.

7. Drifting Between Lanes

Failure to stay in your lane is a definite way of annoying other motorists or causing an accident.  In many instances drifting between lanes is due to driving distracted but can also be thanks to poorly marked roads or unskilled driving practises.  With the exception of changing lanes always aim to steer your vehicle within your chosen lane.

8. Driving An Unroadworthy Vehicle

Sadly, driving a less than mechanically sound vehicle is common practise on our roads which leads to avoidable road accidents.  Ranging from worn brakes, faulty indicators and tail lights, to cracked windscreens, dim headlights and damaged wiper blades, driving a vehicle which isn’t in tip-top condition puts you and other road users at risk.  When you think about it, the cost of changing certain car parts is far less than the cost of repairs to a car so it’s worth getting your vehicle regularly by a professional.

9. Poor Evasive Skills

Being attentive on the road is a highly underrated driving skill, but one which could save your life.  Should a toddler dash onto the road in front of you, or if a parcel falls off the truck in front you, you need to be ready to take evasive action.  Attentive driving includes being aware of your surroundings and knowing where the open spaces are that you can escape to.

10. Driving While Drowsy

Similar to driving under the influence, there is no excuse for driving while drowsy.  A safe drive includes being alert, attentive and in control of your vehicle, all of which you cannot do if driving while drowsy.  Make sure you get sufficient rest before getting behind the wheel as tiredness can be fatal.

CAR TIP OF THE WEEK: How to Calculate a Safe Following Distance

For some curious reason some motorists seem to think that they closer they drive behind the vehicle in front of theirs, the sooner they will reach their destination but all they do is create an unsafe driving environment.

Keeping a safe following distance is one of the most basic safety tips most drivers seem to forget, yet by creating space between your car and the one ahead of yours all drivers immediately minimise bumper to bumper crashes and frustration.  

Regardless visibility, weather conditions and traffic volumes maintaining a three-second following distance is a safe thing to practise. 

To calculate a three-second following distance:

  1. Identify an object on the side of the road ahead of you
  2. When the leading vehicle passes that object, start counting as follows – one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three
  3. If you get to the object in less than three seconds, your following distance is too small and needs to be extended.
  4. Simply let off the accelerator and create more space. 

In poor weather conditions such as fog, rain and snow, your following distance should be increased to at least six seconds. The more adverse the weather becomes; the more space needs to be created between your vehicle and the one ahead of yours. 

WATCH: How to Safely Overtake Trucks

Some drivers seem to adopt a ‘Tata ma chance” attitude when it comes to general road safety, including overtaking trucks which usually does not end well for those who miscalculate their ability to do so safely.

With the ever-increasing number of trucks on our roads, there is a growing need for motorists to remember the basics of driving safely around these long-wheelers. 

Done incorrectly, overtaking a long truck can be dangerous because, at times, the rear trailer can obstruct a driver’s view of the road ahead. Also, even when fully loaded and weighing anything from 10 to 60 tons, long trucks tend to swerve from side to side within their lane or cross over into another lane; making overtaking unnerving and dangerous. 

This video – courtesy of Arrive Alive – offers a safe demonstration that may help remind us how we can all safely share the road with trucks.

Driving in stormy weather

Southern Africa is the site of a weather anomaly as tropical storm Eloise, clashes with another weather disturbance, ex-Eloise. The result has been severe weather conditions across South Africa from mild rain to flooding. Drivers need to exert extra caution and be prepared for the challenges this will create.

First and foremost, try to stay off the roads or if you cannot, avoid low-lying bridges, areas prone to flash floods or large pools of water in the road. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Driving in rain

  1. Turn on your headlights.
  2. Leave larger following distances so that you have more time to respond if something goes wrong.
  3. Aquaplaning (skidding) is one of the biggest risks in rainy weather. 
    • If you do aquaplane, slowly lift your foot off the accelerator.
    • If you start to skid, do not slam on the brakes.
    • Do not jerk your steering wheel in an attempt to guide the direction you want to go in, rather continue steering in the direction you want to go 
  4. If the downpour becomes extreme and there is a safe place to pull over, and wait for it to subside. 

Pools of water:

  1. Estimate the depth of the water. Avoid driving through water that comes to the middle of the tyre or higher.
  2. Most drivers risk driving through a pool of water but roads that collect water are more vulnerable to collapse and it is easy to underestimate their depth.
  3. Where possible, drive in the middle of a road where the water is at its lowest.
  4. Be prepared for off spray from passing cars which can be blinding.

Fast-flowing water

  1. Never drive through fast flowing water as it is very difficult to judge its depth.
  2. If you are caught in fast-flowing water unexpectedly, drive slowly and steadily through while in first or second gear.
  3. Once you are through the water, lightly touch your brake a few times to dry them off.

If you are in danger of being swept away abandon the vehicle but only if you can get to a place of safety. Rather be overcautious because it is better to be safe than

8 Daily Driving Habits to Keep You Safe on the Road

Weather you are a seasoned driver or are newly licensed, it is imperative to cultivate good driving habits. 

As any motorists will tell you developing bad driving habits is all too easy, but by consciously making a daily effort to drive with care and consideration, it is possible to significantly improve your on-road safety. Here are a few basics to keep in mind next time you turn on the ignition: 

  1. Maintain a safe constant speed and avoid weaving in and out of lanes.
  2. Use the 2-3 second rule to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead of you. Increase this to 4-6 seconds when towing a trailer and or when driving;
    • in bad weather conditions, 
    • at night
    • on gravel
  3. Reduce your speed to suit the road, traffic and weather conditions you are driving in.  
  4. Always have an escape route – space to manouver your vehicle should your immediate path of travel be unexpectedly blocked.  
  5. Be aware of the position and proximity of other vehicles within your surroundings. 
  6. Keep to the speed limit at all times, as driving too fast could compromise your ability to stop the car safely. 
  7. Always drive defensively. 
  8. Obey all the road rules including:
    • stopping at red traffic lights,
    • slowing down when approaching an amber traffic light,
    • giving way to pedestrians, joggers and cyclists
    • yielding correctly at all intersections (traffic circles and 4-say stops)
    • coming to a complete stop at STOP signs

Remember that driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol could lead to accidents, injury or in extreme instances, fatalities. 

10 Tips for driving safely in the rain

Driving safely in wet weather requires an adjustment in your driving style. Here are our top-ten tips for minimising the risk of having an accident.

  1. Slow down: You are more likely to have better control of your vehicle when you drive at a slower-than-usual pace.  Also, reducing your speed gives you time to react in the event of any eventuality such as another car losing control. 
  2. Avoid large pools of water: When possible, avoid driving through large bodies of water as they could be covering potholes. Rather, opt to drive slowly at the shallowest part of the water (edge of the puddle) reduce your speed and drive cautiously.  
  3. Allow for extra travelling time: Plan ahead, be patient and prepare to arrive at your destination later than usual. Chances are that there will be a lot of slow moving traffic along your route. 
  4. Brake sooner and with less pressure: Gently braking reduces the chance of your tyres skidding while braking sooner allows for a longer stopping distance thereby minimising your chances of rear ending the vehicle ahead of yours.  
  5. Increase your following distance: The more space you have between your car and the one you are following the safer you are.  Keeping a safe following distance is good practice even when driving in good weather. 
  6. Demist your windows and windscreen, using your demister function and not a piece of cloth, your sleeve or tissue! Switch on the air con as this will help clear the fog quickly.
  7. Turn on your headlights: This increases your visibility to other motorists but can be dangerous if you use your high beams.  Switching your headlights to ‘bright’ could blind other motorists as the extra light is likely to bounce off the water droplets, causing a distraction to on coming traffic.   
  8. Give trucks a wide berth: As a general rule, always pass large vehicles as quickly as possible. In wet weather though, the spray from their tyres can make it extremely difficult to see which is why passing them as soon as possible or only when absolutely necessary is imperative. 
  9. Don’t cross running water: Not only could the water be deeper than you think but it could be flowing faster than the eye can see.  Attempting to drive through flowing water could result in your car being swept away thereby endangering the lives of everyone in it.
  10. Pull over if visibility is low: If the downpour is so heavy that you can’t see ahead of you, pull over in a safe spot and wait it out.  Remember to turn on your emergency lights so you are more visible to other motorists.