Tar!

Yes yes I know foul language is not acceptable and that one cannot bring up below the belt topics in front of children, but adults have to talk some times.

Why should we talk about something as disgusting?

As sad as it is, it is sometimes plain impossible to avoid tar roads to get to nice places.

Although tar is (supposed to be) a good surface, it has many dangers that needs to be taken care of. That is after all where most road deaths happen.

Probably the most important contributing factors are other drivers, pedestrians, bicycles and donkey cars that we don't get on gravel roads.

The common denominator with all the above is utilizing only enough of the central nervous system to barely keep a retarded amoeba functioning.

Since I need to spend so much time of my working life of tar, I have seen  a thing or two but if you think of it, it is not actually that much. It is all about attitude - or the lack of it.

Arive Alive Statistics

It is no secret. South Africa ranks high on the list as one of the countries with the most dangerous roads in the world.

As much as as I despise the rulers of the Arive Alive campaign for their utterly pathetic and amoebic implementation of methods to reduce the carnage on our roads, I am afraid to say that they somehow managed to record scientifically sound data of the actual cause of accidents.

With the above miracle achieved, one cannot expect them to act accordingly as well.

Do yourself a favour, go to the website to download the reports. By now, the newest one is many years old but the few years that are there correlates well and agrees on the following:

  1. Taxis - although often extremely rude road users that makes our blood boil - are not contributing anything near to road deaths as ordinary vehicles with one or two passengers. I know it is hard to swallow, but it is not them.
  2. Unroadworthy vehicles, as much a reality as it is on our roads, are not the main culprits either.
  3. Pedestrians makes out more than half of road deaths. We will come to that later.
  4. Most fatal accidents happens in narrow window of time - roughly about 4 hours after sunset.
  5. Almost two thirds of the above accidents happens on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
  6. On highways, the two biggest killers are roll-overs and unsafe overtaking, with unsafe overtaking comfortably taking the most lives per accident than any other accident type.
What then can me and you do to protect our selves and our loves ones against this madness?

Defensive Driving Style

The K53 testing method was created, apparently with defensive driving as the core.

Ideally, this means that you need to drive in a pro-active way first of all by learning best practices to limit your own unsafe actions and identify dangerous conditions early enough in order to act in time so that it does not become an accident.

The above is all great, but K53 primarily focus on YOUR actions and teach you to do things in order like a parrot. I is based on the point of view that all other road users behaves the same and if all does the same, accidents should not happen.

I agree that if all does the same and follows the standard it may be the case, but this is Africa not Europe and here people do as they wish. They are not scared for the policeman, simply because he is not there to see and enforce the law.

They can make the speed limits whatever they want, the alcohol limits can be lowered to zero, seat belts can be mandatory but if there are no people to enforce the law, the law has no teeth.

And so it happens that festive season after festive season dire threats are preached from the TV and in news paper that this year there will be zero tolerance for bad road manners. Yet, we never see the cops on the road.

Surviving in this environment therefore asks for unconventional things to be used - your brain!

Driving defensively means much more than simply checking the blind spots and adhering to the road rules. Above all it means that the driver needs to be prepared to take COMPLETE responsibility to get his passengers safe at the destination.

Yes, he even needs to take responsibility for the foolish actions of others and put himself in a position where he have as many options as possible to take appropriate action.

In condensed format, it is as follows:

  1. ALWAYS drive with your main headlights on, irrespective of day or night, rain or sunshine. It makes a huge difference so that others can see you.
  2. Know the blind spots of your vehicle and. For each driver/vehicle combination it differs and you need to find what is a blind spot to YOU.
  3. Be honest about your ability and skill. Go to a safe place and deliberately get yourself in trouble. You will be shocked how soon it happens. Stay well within your safe limits.
  4. Relax and don't ever get angry for other stupid road users. Just let it be, forgive them unconditionally and concentrate on what you need to do to avoid the danger.
  5. Never assume right of way - even if the road laws rightfully grant you that. Assume that without exception the other road user will violate your rights.
  6. Assume that all pedestrians, cyclists, donkeys and beggars are on the road with the main purpose to get hit. Without exception, if you cannot go wider around them, go slower and have your foot ready on the brake at all times.
  7. Don't ever use your hooter to warn others of their stupid actions! It wastes valuable split seconds that most of the time is more than enough to rather take action and either go wide, or reduce speed.
  8. Understand that 4x4 vehicles are fat and clumsy. Your options of dealing with trouble are considerably less than with sedans so you need to go slower to get some advantage back. I personally believe that 4x4 vehicles should not travel faster than 100 km/h under ideal conditions.


Reduce Speed

I do believe that the enforcement of speed has zero effect to make roads safer. Why? Simply because speed is way too condition specific and most drivers don't understand that. They feel that if they stay within the legal limits, they are safe.

With 4x4 vehicles however, I do believe that speed is a major contributor to accidents. It is true that in official road tests, 4x4 vehicles often record flattering stopping distances close to what sedans do. However, most SUV's are sold with tyres that are essentially only a slightly stiffened tar tyre that is a little more robust for gravel use. If you go off road, you need to change that tyre for an All-Terrain at the very least and immediately the lower grip even in dry conditions, cause stopping distances to be much longer.

Safe Overtaking

Overtaking on a highway is the single most dangerous action that road users needs to deal with. Yet, many drivers are so blasé about this, they don't think any more about it than they do about breathing. If something is in front, they simply pull out. I doubt they even hope for the best.

I can fully accept that some people do not value their own lives, but it would be nice if at least they would not involve others when losing it.

Overtaking is where head on collisions happens and speed has absolutely nothing to do with it apart from making the impact worse. Irrespective of the speed you are travelling at, if you pull out and you are in the face of oncoming traffic, you are putting both in serious danger. A head on collision even at 60 km/h is a very serious accident.

Perhaps the most important thing to realise is that if you pull out at 120 km/h and another car approach at 120 km/h, the two vehicles close the distance at 67 meters per second! Thus, even at 1000 meters apart the distance is covered in a mere 15 seconds.

Now, just think about how much time it takes to complete an overtaking maneuver and have time to spare should anything bad happens and you need to take affirmative action.

Lets take a typical scenario where you need to pass the interlink truck. Iterlinks are 21 meters long and lets say the truck travels at the 80 km/h it is allowed to. If you close the following distance from the minimum safe accepted time of 2 seconds to 1 second, you are 22 meters behind the truck when you pull out. If it blows a tyre and it flips up from underneath, you will most possibly hit the tyre because 1 second is less than the standard reaction time of normal people - which is 1.5 seconds.

You now need to cover 22 meters, plus your car length of say 5 meters, the 21 meters of the truck and to be safe, allow another 22 meters and a car length when you pull back in your lane. In total, 75 meters.

If you pull out already at a speed of 120 km/h and do not need to accelerate from 80 km/h, you are travelling 40 km/h faster than the truck and therefore needs almost 7 seconds to cover the distance. That is under absolute ideal conditions and you have 8 seconds of space between you and the approaching car.

8 seconds may sound like a very reasonable time frame to react should anything go wrong.

However extrapolate that to a fat 4x4 with a heavy trailer behind, that takes a while to reach 120 km/h and you were stuck at 80 km/h for starters. It really is no brainer to realise that 15 seconds are not enough time to safely overtake.

Many things can go wrong, most importantly simply the fact that for many reasons you may not see the approaching car and it could appear out of the blue.

Most people have less than perfect vision but don't need spectacles and that needs to be taken into account.

Most cars these days have slippery rounded shapes and no hard lines. That combined with popular metallic colours makes it tough to see even under ideal conditions.

The car from the front may be completely disguised in the shadows of trees.

On a hot day, the mirage on tar can play havoc with your eyes judging the distance and we have not even touched on the issues of judging distance in the dark or in the rain.

Some times you pull out to pass a long truck and find that there is another long truck in front of it which you could not see. Suddenly your overtaking distance almost doubled!

In short, overtaking is something that easily can and do go wrong.

So, let us dwell for a moment on ways to ensure that you and your family survive overtaking:

First of all, make 100% sure if and what is coming from the front. Scan the road with all the attention you have, pick out the shadows and the mirages and see if something is not disguised in there. Check intensely for cars in colours that blends in with the road. If you are not sure, stay where you are.

Never overtake at a solid line or even move with two wheels over it. Accidents where two cars hits each other on the front head light, is common and then 4 vehicles are involved - not 2.

If there is no solid line, it does not mean that you can see! YOU are the judge. There are countless places on our roads where long bends or blind rises exists and there are no solid lines. If you cannot see the entire road up to horison, consider it unsafe.

Don't be tempted to simply pass anything that pulls off in the yellow line. Many of those fools do it while there is already something in his way and when he gets close, he simply wants to move back in his lane with you next to him.

Don't participate in chain overtaking. The guy in front of you can NOT be used as a yardstick that is it safe and you cannot see what is in front of him, so if he pulls back in his lane, you may have an approaching vehicle far too close to you.

If you get to the situation that a string of cars piled up behind the truck, fall back and wait until it clears up. Sooner rather than later the drivers - usually those with the slowest vehicles - loose patience and starts overtaking at the most dangerous instant. Give yourself space. If the accident happens there other vehicles are involved and you could be in the middle of the chaos.

In peak December traffic, don't overtake at all and just keep up with the stream. Just think about: Traffic density on busy days easily goes up to 1500 cars per hour - that is one car about every 66 metres. Even at 500 cars per hours that means 1 car every 200 metres. Your chances of getting a big enough gap is almost zero - and getting it regularly enough to actually save you time is indeed zero.

Wet Weather

Add some rainy weather to any road, and the accident rate instantly gets into a different league.

For interest sake: On German Autobahns which is famous for having no speed limit, the speed limit when the road is wet, is 100 km/h! Why? Simply because production tyres - especially if they have a little wear - starts to aquaplane at about 110 km/h and rest assured, you don't want get there. Once grip is lost it does not matter what car you drive, it cannot get you out of that trouble.

Naturally, stopping distances increase on wet roads and with that, there is much less grip to use should you need to swerve out for something. The only way to give yourself some space, is to drop your speed to no more than 100 km/h.

Yes, you will probably frustrate many other drivers but while they pass, just sit back and watch how the stability of their cars are affected when they hit the little ponds on the road.

Most importantly, consider overtaking trucks on anything other than a double lane a big no. Usually, the spray from truck wheels are so thick that a vehicle coming from the front is completely invisible even with main headlight on, until the last moment that it exit the spray. Please don't take the chance. It simply is not worth the risk of saving an hour or two.

I have done many JHB - BFN trips of 400 km in 3 hours. In rain, it often added more than 2 hours to my time.

Driving at Night

If at all possible, avoid driving long distance at night. Accident statistics are clear that within the first few hours after dark, most accidents happens.

As a seasoned long distance driver, I developed my own way of dampening the risk if I do need to travel at night, but my first line of defence is not to drive if possible. On many occasions I simply pulled off at the next town and booked myself into a guest house even if I did not had a suitcase packed for the event. On some nights, the road conditions just was a nightmare and without doubt life threatening.

In particular, don't drive tired and don't take on the road with a drink behind you. If you need that few milliseconds extra in reaction time and the senses are numbed off a bit, it is too late. Be smart, you know it is the right thing to do.