Are you too psycho to drive? 12 tips for a safe December road trip

Even if you’re a good driver, it pays to brush up on your driving skills ahead of that long December road trip.

Even if you’re a good driver, it pays to brush up on your driving skills ahead of that long December road trip.

Published Dec 12, 2023


With schools across the country closing on December 13 and many companies shutting down for their December break ahead of the long weekend, South Africa’s roads are going to get very busy as the long-awaited holiday season kicks off.

Sadly, amid all the excitement, our country’s roads have also become deadlier than ever.

"Traditionally, this is an extremely dangerous time to be on our roads,” the Automobile Association says. “Fatalities over this period spike, especially on those routes where volumes increase substantially, such as the N1 from Polokwane to Cape Town through Gauteng and Bloemfontein, the N2 along the Indian Ocean coastline, the N3 from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal, the N4 through Mpumalanga, and the N7 from Cape Town through Namaqualand to the Namibian border.”

Every decision you make could mean the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones. A good driver you may be, but it always pays to brush up on your basic driving skills this time of year and ensure your car is up to the job—more on that at the bottom of this story.

Below are 12 other important tips to keep in mind ahead of that road trip.

Packing badly can be deadly

It’s very important that you pack all heavy objects into a closed boot (rather than on the back seat), as they can become a lethal weapon in a crash. And so can your back seat occupants if they're not buckled up.

Don’t overtake like a psychopath

Do you have a habit of overtaking dangerously into oncoming traffic on a regular basis? It’s likely that you have a psychopathic personality disorder. Get off the road immediately and seek help from a mental health professional. Unfortunately, if this is the case, you probably won’t, but we can only hope that karma intervenes before you take any innocent lives.

That said, everyone is capable of making errors in judgement from time to time, so it’s really important to avoid passing another vehicle if you're not absolutely certain that you'll get to the other side safely. And always leave a margin for error. You might feel like a genius calculating that gap to the last second, but did you factor in what might happen if the engine suddenly loses power (a turbo blowing, for instance) or a tyre bursts?

Choose your speed, and lane, smartly

Driving too fast can significantly increase the risk and severity of an accident, but going too far below the speed limit can also be dangerous, as most motorists will be clamouring to overtake you. Staying within the speed limit is always a good idea.

Your speed should also be appropriate for the situation at hand, so slow down around roadworks, in built-up areas with lots of pedestrians, and when it's raining. Also, ensure you're in the correct lane for the speed you're driving; the number one rule of the road is to keep left and pass right.

Drive during the day

Many prefer to do their long-distance travels at night because the roads are quieter, but the statistics show that driving at night, or even in the early hours of the day, is a lot more dangerous. This is not only due to the lower visibility but also to the presence of tired truck drivers and even drunk drivers on their way home from a big night out.

Identify danger ahead of time

It's easy to drift into auto-pilot mode, but it’s important to concentrate on what’s going on around you, identify potentially dangerous situations, and develop a plan of action before they become a threat. Pay attention to pedestrians near the road as well.

Watch out for bikers

When changing lanes or making any turns, always check your blind spots for motorcycles. Remember that a motorcycle in your mirror is always closer than it looks, and they come from behind incredibly quickly.

Switch your lights on

Yes, even in the brightness of the day. But especially in situations of limited visibility.

Know your route

It's always a good idea to know your route ahead of time and the distance to be covered. Google Maps and Waze are your friends here. Also, stick to familiar routes as far as possible, and if you are venturing into the unknown, factor in some extra travel time in case the roads are not up to scratch. Be sure to pack emergency supplies like water, particularly if you're venturing into remote areas.

Avoiding fatigue

Make sure you get at least seven hours’ sleep the night before, and keep your mind fresh along the way by stopping every 200km or thereabouts. Plan the best stopping points before you set off, and you'll impress as a seasoned road tripper.

Just remember that fatigue is one of the biggest killers on our roads. If you feel you are about to nod off, open the windows immediately and stop to stretch as soon as it's safe to do so.


Buckle up

Well, yes. Make sure that you and the entire family—yes, even those in back seats—are wearing seatbelts.

Without these simple devices, your car’s other safety features, such as airbags, are completely useless, and your risk of dying or being severely injured in an accident increases exponentially. Also, make sure that smaller children are strapped into correctly-fitted child seats.

Over half of fatal crashes involve alcohol

Like buckling up, this one should really go without saying, but with stats showing that booze is a factor in 58 percent of road fatalities in this country, we can't emphasise this enough. With Uber and other drive-you-home services like Road Trip around, there really are no more excuses. It also pays to go easy on the booze the night before your long road trip.

Make sure your car is up to the job

If you have any doubts about your car’s ability to get you there safely, it’s a good idea to visit a professional workshop for an inspection. Also, be sure to inspect your tyres and sort out any slow punctures or visible sidewall damage, as a blowout could be deadly. Click here for tips on how to prepare your car for the trip ahead.

ALSO READ: 9 signs your car might need a service before the December road trip

Finally, ensure that you have the right emergency kit on board, including your warning triangle, spare wheel, wheel spanner, and jack. It also pays to have some emergency numbers on speed dial, such as 112, which will reroute you to the nearest emergency service.

IOL Motoring