On the road again: Stay safe on driving holidays

Whether in the short winter days or long summer twilights there’s a special joy in a driving holiday. But there are necessary cares and responsibilities, too. Here are some of our suggestions to ensure a safe and comfortable time on the road.

Be prepared 
Of course, getting ready for a road trip requires the basic administration of ensuring insurance is up-to-date (and adequate). So too, is taking out or renewing motoring organisation membership or at least vehicle recovery and repair insurance so you will never end up stranded. Good planning should also consist of having a motoring first aid kit in the car and carrying some water, even for main road driving, particularly in summer.

There’s a much longer checklist if the drive is one of Australia’s iconic 4WD tracks like the Gunbarrel Highway or Cape York. Then an EPIRB and satellite phone become necessities. But even for more conventional rural drives it may be worth getting a Telstra SIM card as it will provide coverage in many areas where other providers don’t.

Having the car serviced is certainly worthwhile – and repairing anything that may potentially create problems that may not be solvable outside large cities. Pay particular attention to the state of your tyres – including the spare. Indeed, just as pilots do pre-flight checks it’s worth taking a few seconds to visually check your tyres each time you stop. And modern tyres often don’t show if they are underinflated so regularly use a pressure gauge.

Plan your drive 
It’s worth planning each day’s drive so you are at your destination well before nightfall. Depending where you are in Australia kangaroos or roving cattle, plus other assorted wildlife, make night driving hazardous. And, as anyone who has pushed on to Broken Hill can attest, driving west into the afternoon sun is uncomfortably challenging. Add kangaroos coming to the roadside seeking moisture and it can be downright dangerous.

There’s nothing relaxing about driving too long to an unreasonably demanding schedule. And it can be more expensive too. Non-stop (apart from refuelling) you could drive from Melbourne to Darwin in two days but it’d cost perhaps $200 a day for fuel (and a considerably greater toll on your nerves). Extend that to 10 days and fuel may be down to $40 a day – and you’ll see a lot more.

Save money the easy way 
The easiest way to greatly increase the cost of a driving holiday is to pick up a few speeding tickets. If your vehicle has cruise control set it for the speed limit or just below and take away that risk. Doing so can also reduce fuel consumption as the car smoothly regulates its own throttle settings. While it might be tempting to set your cruising speed to substantially below the speed limit (better fuel consumption, no hurry) that may also result in drivers behind push their luck to overtake you and putting everyone in danger.

Take a break
Long hours behind the wheel make you tired and significantly more likely to make mistakes. Driving is a complicated process when you consider not just the mechanics of it but the perceptions and calculations you are constantly doing about distances and the likely moves of the vehicles around you. If your concentration drops even a few per cent that can be dangerous. It’s essential to know your limits and stick within them.

If you wear glasses for driving perhaps you should visit your optometrist before a big road trip. Seeing everything clearly is as important as being well rested. A clean windscreen and clean glasses help too, particularly under the glare of the summer sun. Regularly cleaning the inside of the windscreen is a help, too.

Consider alternative options
Finally, give some thought to not driving at all. If you aged are over 60 and work less than 20 hours a week you may qualify for a Seniors Card that offers extensive discounts on public transport both within and between cities. Each state’s card is accepted interstate.

These are just a few of many possible motoring tips. If you’d like to suggest your own (or comment on these), please do so below.