With many Britons choosing a “staycation” this year, there’s going to be an awful lot of traffic on the roads when families take to their cars for their summer holidays.
Almost every road accident is caused by some kind of human error – and nobody wants their holiday ruined before it’s begun by an easily-preventable crash. So how can you make sure your journey is safe, relaxed and trouble-free?
The best place to start is with being organised: if preparing and packing is a last-minute panic, the journey is likely to be marred by higher stress levels and that nagging feeling that you’ve left the gas on/forgotten your passport/abandoned your youngest child at home.
So leave plenty of time for packing your cases and the car; if you’ve a mild case of excessive organisation, lists are a wonderful thing. Even spreadsheets are not unknown for the real nerds among us…
Check your vehicle thoroughly before you even think of setting out. If you don’t know what to check or how to check it, get someone who knows what they’re doing to check it for you. As well as brakes, lights, screenwash, etc., don’t forget that your car is likely to be very much heavier than normal – full of luggage and people – and so your tyre pressures will need to be adjusted accordingly. Check your vehicle’s handbook for advice. And make sure you can see out of the back window!
When you’ve prepared your vehicle – next, prepare your passengers. Passengers, especially fractious children, may sometimes be distracting. You may find it helpful to prepare them for the journey by: telling them where you’re going and what you’re doing; showing them the map and explaining where you’ll be stopping off – and you can give them landmarks to spot, too; making sure they have plenty of sleep; making certain they have enough things to keep them occupied; and having some snacks and drinks inside the car in case they become hungry or thirsty.
And if all the above fails, remember: silence is golden, but gaffer tape is silver!*
Now you’re packed, everyone is present and correct, and you’re ready to head out onto the highways and byways of our green and pleasant land. But take a moment to ask yourself a couple of questions – and answer them honestly:
- Am I well enough for this drive, or should someone else do it?
- Am I taking any medication which advises me not to drive because of its effects?
- Am I undergoing some form of treatment during which the doctor has said I shouldn’t drive?
- Am I well rested and ready for the drive?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, you should consider whether you should undertake the drive at all. And if you’re tired – which is likely after a day’s work and a couple of hours spent packing – consider sharing the journey with someone else.
Even if you don’t think you will fall asleep, tiredness will slow your reactions and affect your judgement, significantly increasing the chances of crashing. Singing, turning the radio up, opening a window, using air-conditioning will not keep you awake. At best, they will give you a few extra minutes to find somewhere safe to stop. If you’re that tired, you will fall asleep – even if you’re driving. You don’t need to look hard to find examples of accidents caused by people who fell asleep at the wheel…
Of course, I’m assuming that the weather is actually going to be summery – judging by the recent weather, it’s more likely that travellers will face heavy rain. In this case, drivers should remember to drive to the conditions, bearing in mind that cars will be more heavily loaded than usual. Keep plenty of distance between yourself and the vehicle in front and pay close attention to what’s going on down the road. Will you be able to stop in time if traffic comes to a standstill?
Now you’ve packed, and you’re awake, alert and fit to drive. Do you know where you’re going, and how to get there? It’s amazing how few drivers take the time and trouble to plan out their route in advance, and yet it can save hours and help avoid risky situations. Planning rest stops into your journey reduces fatigue and gives you a chance to escape the metal cage and stretch your legs.
If it’s hot, and the car’s occupants are getting impatient, there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a traffic jam. Planning your route properly can ensure you have alternatives to sitting on a patch of baking tarmac, quietly fuming as your destination appears to get further away.
As the Boy Scouts say: be prepared! It can save a lot of time and trouble, and ensure your holiday gets off to a flying start. Have fun!
*Please do not gaffer tape your children – RoSPA cannot be held responsible for any ensuing temper tantrums!