Few of us can claim perfection when it comes to our behaviour behind the wheel. But there are some people who know what it takes to stay safe.
They understand that this isn’t just about obeying the rules of the road. It’s about your whole attitude to driving, and behaving courteously, safely and attentively at all times.
The challenge for the rest of us is to learn from their behaviour, and seek to improve our own performance. So here are five habits to follow from brilliant drivers.
That way, those of us who aren’t quite up to scratch will know where we’re going wrong. Putting you in the driving seat to remedy your misdemeanours.
1. They know the speed limit
The first, and perhaps most obvious, thing to say about good drivers is that they know what speed they should be driving at.
That is not always as straightforward as you may think. Road signs aren’t always clear, and many motorists aren’t always sure of the basic rules. For example, unless signage indicates otherwise, you should always stick to 30mph when there are street lights alongside the road.
Some drivers do know the limits, of course, but choose to ignore them anyway. The dangers are plain: reduced time to react if something unexpected happens in front of you, and much less control over your car.
Drive too fast, says Sarah Sillars, chief executive officer of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), and it’s not just yourself you put at risk. “[People who speed] are playing with their own lives and others,” she says. “They are accidents waiting to happen, and [we need] a major shift in [their] attitudes to think about safety.”
The lesson, then, is simple: if you want to minimise your chances of causing an accident, stick to the limit.
2. They focus on the road
We live in a world of instant communication. We’re assailed on every side by the ping of a text message, the beep of an urgent email or the ring of a phone call. And even when we are behind the wheel, the temptation to respond is all too great.
But Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), says we need to resist. “Research shows that using any type of mobile phone while driving is distracting and dangerous and increases the risk of crashing,” he states.
The advice from road safety experts is straightforward: if you really must take a call while driving, only do so with your phone connected to a hands-free device. And never, ever, read or type an email or message. That can wait until you’re safely at rest.
This is about physically keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, which is a factor in the majority of road accidents in the UK. Indeed, as Mr Clinton reports, “failing to look properly [causes] many thousands of accidents on our roads”.
Of course, it is not just phones that cause distraction. The best drivers avoid fiddling with stereos or satnavs, or allowing their minds to wander. They keep their focus firmly on the road, and they’re all the safer for it.
3. They take regular breaks
Since driver fatigue is a major factor in road accidents, causing as many as 3,000 a year in the UK alone, it ought to go without saying that the best drivers stop regularly to recharge their batteries and stay alert.
Yet according to the AA, 63 per cent of British motorists do not take effective breaks while travelling long distances. One in 20 admit to never stopping at all, and 28 per cent say they keep driving even when they are tired because they want to press on to their destination. But such actions are inherently risky, and as many as one in 10 motorists have nodded off while behind the wheel.
The dangers are clear, as Prof Jim Horne, a sleep neuroscientist, observes. “Sleep-related crashes are twice as likely to result in death or serious injury because of the high-impact speed and lack of avoiding action,” he warns.
So how do good drivers deal with this risk? According to Adam Ashmore, a former winner of AA Patrol of the Year, the answer is obvious: “When planning long journeys, always factor in breaks and allow extra time to reach your destination.”
Meanwhile, if you feel tired, stop, drink a strong cup of coffee or energy drink and take a 20-minute nap. You should then find it easier to concentrate for the remainder of your journey.
4. They stay stone cold sober
Driving while tired is a dangerous habit for motorists to get into. But there’s another one that is even more likely to result in an accident: namely, taking control of a car while drunk or under the influence of drugs.
“Around 250 people are killed in drink-drive accidents every year,” reports RoSPA’s Mr Clinton. “It is not just the drivers who suffer, but often their passengers, people in other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists, and the families of everyone involved.”
That’s 250 good reasons to follow the example of the best drivers, and not touch any alcohol or drugs when you know you’re driving. But if you do, be sure to stick to the government’s legal limit – and remember that, since 2014, the rules are much stricter if you’re driving in Scotland.
5. They aren’t actually confident
If you’ve kept up with the points so far, you’re probably justified in feeling fairly pleased with yourself. It’s clear that you are one of the safer drivers on the road, with a healthy respect for the rules and a genuine concern not to endanger yourself or other road users.
But before you get too smug, it’s worth heeding the advice of Philip Gomm, from transport policy and motoring research organisation the RAC Foundation. “The key to safety on the roads is not to be over-confident,” he notes. “Few people believe they are bad drivers, but thousands of us still have accidents each year. Driver error is a factor in almost three-quarters of all crashes.”
Complacency is obviously an issue here. Drivers who feel they’ve got it sorted behind the wheel are much more likely to make mistakes than those who are ever-vigilant for danger.
Good drivers also make clever use of safety equipment such as Blind Spot Monitor or Emergency Collision Autonomous Engine Braking. The latter uses radars to monitor the road ahead, and uses the engine to slow the speed by a maximum of 12mph if a crash looks imminent, in order to reduce the severity of the impact. Such features play an important role in minimising the chances of an accident.
That’s a pretty good summary of the characteristics of great drivers. They stay in control, don’t take unnecessary risks, and read the road for signs of danger. Which just leaves one question: are you one of them?
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