Driver Safety Tips for Long Distance Trips

With the festive season just around the corner, South Africa has to brace itself once again for the surge in road traffic accidents. We have heard time and again about the initiatives made by government in curbing the massacre but what are private citizens themselves doing about the problem. If you are planning to drive cross-country this December, try to use some common sense and stay alive. Some of the more important aspects to road safety is taking care of your health and modifying your lifestyle to ensure that you are a safe driver. Fatigue, lack of sleep and alcohol consumption are said to be some of the major contributors to the spike in accidents during holiday periods in South Africa.

Driver Fatigue

It is often though that driver fatigue is only a problem for long distance drivers but it can actually affect any person behind the wheel – even during short distances. Driver fatigue is not just about having a good night’s sleep. It sets in about 2 hours after being behind the wheel and this means that you could suffer with driver fatigue in crazy afternoon traffic on some busy roads in the country. Fatigue affects your senses and reflexes and hampers your ability to make quick and rational decisions. Yet it is easily avoidable.

If you are driving for a long distance, try to stop every 2 hours or about 160 kilometres. Just a short 20 to 30 minute rest can work wonders and possibly save your life. Most of the national roads between the major cities have rest stops that are safe, clean and entertaining for the kids. Grab a bite to eat, walk around for a bit and try not to stress over the time that you are losing. A short 20 minute power nap can work wonders in relieving driver fatigue. It is a 20 minute break that can save the lives of you and your family.

Lack of Sleep

Any person suffering with insomnia will know just how badly missing a full night’s sleep can affect one’s performance the next day. Both  on a physical and mental level. In fact people who suffer with sleeping problems also suffer with emotional disorders like depression and anxiety. Even if you do not have a sleeping problem, missing a good night’s sleep once off can affect you. If you are travelling for a long distance the next day it is important to get at least 6 to 8 hours and ensure that you are feeling energetic by the next morning.

Ideally every adult should be sleeping for about 7 to 8 hours. Some need an hour or so more, while others can manage with an hour less and still function at their peak. But if you are sleeping less than 5 hours per night, you may find that your senses, reflexes and judgement are significantly affected. A lack of sleep affects you in much the same way as driver fatigue but unlike driver fatigue, a 20 to 30 minute break will not remedy the situation.

Drinking and Driving

Every adult is well aware of the dangers of drinking and driving. And with the Arrive Alive campaign bombarding us every year about the horrors on the road from drinking and driving, it is difficult to not be concerned even after having a drink or two. Even if you think you can manage driving after a few drinks, remember the legal consequences. The Road Traffic Department is out in full force during the festive season and their Zero Tolerance campaigns during these periods can mean a night or two in the slammer if you plan on indulging and then driving.

Ideally, a responsible driver would never drink and drive. Not even a sip. But if you are going to get behind the wheel after indulging then you need to be aware of the legal alcohol limits in South Africa. These limits are as follows :

  • Blood alcohol limit less than 0.05g per 100mL.
  • Breath alcohol limit less than 0.24mg per 1,000mL.

So what does this mean in the quantity of alcohol you consumer? The blood alcohol limit of a person can vary depending on their body’s ability to metabolise alcohol and their body weight. Therefore to ensure that you are below the limit without getting into the intricacies of human physiology, you should not consume more than 1 unit of alcohol per hour.

One unit of alcohol is equivalent to :

  • Two-thirds of a beer or cooler with an alcohol content of 5%. You may have a little leeway with lighter beers or coolers with a lower alcohol content.
  • 75 mL of wine (red or white) with an alcohol content between 12% to 15%.
  •  25mL of spirits, including whisky and brandy.

Remember that these are the amounts of alcohol you can drink safely every hour to stay under the legal limit. However, the best bet is to abstain from alcohol entirely if you are going to get behind the wheel at the end of the festivities.

Last updated on 4 December 2012