December and January are historically two of the most dangerous months on our roads, with the highways at their busiest and the greatest number of crashes.
Wearing seat belts and not driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs should go without saying but there are other ways you can reduce your chances of being in a crash this holiday season and make your driving less stressful as well.
INCREASE YOUR FOLLOWING DISTANCE
The AA gets asked a lot what would be our number one tip for safer driving and keeping a large following distance is right at the top of the list.
By simply keeping at least two-seconds back from the car in front of you, you are going to have more time to react to anything unexpected that happens on the road ahead. If you are following closer than that, you are leaving yourself no safety-margin and if the car in front of you brakes suddenly when you happen to be checking your mirrors or speedometer you are going to have trouble stopping in time.
To check your following distance, watch the car in front go past some type of landmark like a sign or power pole and start counting as it does. If you can't say "one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two" before you pass the same landmark, you are too close.
Remember, it is two-seconds in good conditions, and four seconds if the road is wet or visibility poor.
THE PRICE OF SPEEDING
Going too fast for the conditions is a factor in one in three fatal crashes.
Putting your foot down gives you less time to react, increases the distance it'll take you to stop and is likely to hurt you in the pocket.
Police will be enforcing the lower speed limit tolerance of 4 kmh over the holiday period from December 23rd to January 3rd, and at higher speeds you'll also use more fuel to travel the same distance. AA testing found travelling at 110kmh rather than 100kmh used 13 per cent more fuel (or an extra 26 cents per litre).
LET FASTER VEHICLES PASS
If you aren't comfortable driving at the speed limit or have several cars building up behind you, the Road Code says you must keep as far left as possible and pull over where it is safe to do so and let other people pass.
A major frustration for drivers is when a vehicle that had been travelling slower speeds up at a passing lane. This can easily happen without a driver realising it because they subconsciously feel more comfortable on the wider stretch of road.
If you aren't passing, make sure you don't let your speed creep up when you hit a passing lane so it's easier for others to overtake.
AVOID DRIVING WHEN YOU'RE TIRED
In 2010, fatigue was a factor in 174 fatal or serious injury crashes.
When you are tired, your ability to concentrate drops and your reaction time increases.
Make sure to get a full night's sleep before a big drive and take a break every two hours.
Avoid driving at times when you would normally be sleeping and if you are facing a really long journey, consider breaking it up into a couple of days rather than doing one massive drive.
Motorcyclists are about 18 times more at risk of being in a fatal or serious injury crash than car drivers.
With little physical protection if things go wrong, it is even more important that riders do all they can to minimise their risk of a crash.
One issue motorcyclists face is not being as easily seen by drivers and wearing reflective or flouro clothing, a white instead of dark helmet and riding with your headlight on during the day (required by law for bike's made post 1980) have all been shown to reduce the risk for motorcyclists.
People returning to riding after a long time tend to be over-represented in crash statistics so need to make sure they refresh their skills and ride within their ability as they return to the bike.
The rideforever.co.nz site has some good info for riders about how they can improve their safety on the road.
* Dylan Thomsen is a motoring affairs communications adviser with the New Zealand Automobile Association.
- © Fairfax NZ News