Staying alive over Easter

00:33, Apr 16 2014

How do we limit the risk of accidents on our roads?

With all the recalls, it's tempting to say don't buy a new Toyota ... or a GM product ... or a VW. But then every manufacturer has recalls at some time; only those with their eye on the wrong prize seem to have more recalls than anyone else. The wrong prize would be global number one bragging rights and each of the three mentioned is in the running to be number one. Each has had a major recall programme recently - that seems to happen when you produce the most vehicles. It also suggests that when the end game is being top of the podium for global new vehicle sales, quality is the first casualty.

But we're not really here to talk about what goes wrong when big business gets big aspirations.

No, we're here to think about staying alive over the Easter weekend holiday period. Traditionally it is thought of as the last long weekend of summer, but that's often not the case; it's usually the first torrential weekend of sutumn. And that looks to be the situation for this year. Wet slippery roads, and lots of impatient Kiwi drivers; not a great combination.

There's plenty you can do to reduce the accident odds and keep yourself alive on the roads, aside from just the expected of obeying the road rules.

In no particular order:


If you don't like being in a long line of slow moving traffic, you don't actually have to be there. Pick an alternate route that the masses might not be taking. It's so much more relaxing driving where everyone else isn't, even if takes slightly longer. It probably won't if you're not held up. With less traffic it will almost certainly be safer.

Don't drive tired. Get plenty of sleep before a big trip. Too many working folk nowadays are doing the jobs of more than one person, and they're paying the price with sleep deprivation. Falling asleep at the wheel is an important cause of motor vehicle death. If you're feeling tired do yourself and everyone else on the road a favour and pull over in a shady spot and take a power nap. These work; you only have to doze for about 10-15min to get the full effect of revitalisation. Try it if you haven't already. Whatever you do, do not soldier on in the hope the sleepiness will evaporate. You might before it does.

Too many people on our roads are injured or worse because their tyres are worn or bald. You've only four contact patches and each supports about 300kg of weight, and that's before anyone climbs aboard.

If your tyres are shot, braking distances increase dramatically, grip in slippery conditions becomes next to non-existent and a crash is much more likely.

New tyres don't need to be expensive; better to put fresh rubber on that's cheap than to have useless contact patches. Better yet - buy the best rubber you can afford.

If your brakes don't seem quite up to it, then they're clearly not. Brakes are a service item; it's not necessarily pads that need replacing and often as not the brakes will just need bleeding. Brake fluid is hydroscopic (attracts water) and a simple bleed with new brake fluid takes next to no time, is inexpensive and can improve brake function significantly.

These days virtually no car is without ABS or antilock braking system.

If your vehicle doesn't have ABS brakes, you should ditch it and get something that has. No, really, you should. You only need to use them once to avoid a smash and realise how valuable they are as a safety item. ABS could save your life.

Buying a vehicle with ABS does not necessarily involve a big outlay either because all used imports nowadays have this feature, as do most older used imports.

If you haven't used antilock brakes or don't know how to you should learn. In an emergency situation most people will stand on the brakes automatically. Without ABS control, you immediately lose steering because the wheels lock up; no matter what you do with the wheel, the vehicle will continue to track straight ahead (often towards what you don't want to hit) with the wheels locked and skidding. With ABS you have maximum stopping power, but retain steering so you can actually steer away from the impediment you're heading towards.

Practice looking for escape paths on a regular basis. When there's an emergency you'll then know almost by instinct which way to steer. Practice using the ABS brakes too. Make sure your car is fitted with them first; you should see a warning light come up with ABS when you turn on the ignition. Find a long straight section of tarmac road somewhere with no traffic around. Be sure to check in your rear view mirror first. I realise that will be a novelty for some of you. When it's all clear, accelerate up to speed, say 50kmh if you're nervy, and stand on the brake pedal, full force. You won't break it. The car should quickly come to a stop without skidding. Check for traffic again, and this time try from a higher speed, say 80kmh. Work your way up to 100kmh. Then repeat this exercise and try changing direction slightly while doing so. Best to try this in a big empty carpark at lower speeds, around 50kmh. The car should obey your steering inputs while braking maximally.  

ABS isn't foolproof. It can malfunction as the car ages. If the wheels lock up during any of these exercises, stop and take your car to a service centre for a diagnostic check.

Hope you all have a swell and safe Easter break.