Vishal Premlall, national director of the Tyres Equipment Parts Association (TEPA)
Vishal Premlall, national director of the Tyres Equipment Parts Association (TEPA)

Many parents tell their children who are learning to drive that it is not necessarily them who will cause an accident; you have to anticipate what other drivers may do.

And in a country with such a high road fatality rate as South Africa’s this is indeed sage advice, says Vishal Premlall, national director of a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry (RMI).

Last year’s festive season (1 December 2021 to 11 January 2022) claimed the lives of 1 685 people, according to the Road Traffic Management Corporation. This is an increase of 14% on the previous year.

In releasing the 2021 festive season fatality statistics, Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula said the main causes of the road fatalities during this period were: jaywalking, speeding, wet/slippery roads, overtaking across barrier lines and poor visibility.

He concluded the release of the grim statistics by saying: “We all shoulder the responsibility to ensure that our behaviour saves life and limb on the roads.”

Premall agrees wholeheartedly. 

“The biggest cause of road crashes is driver error – anything from an honest last-minute lapse of judgement to recklessness and distracted driving, and many other actions,” he says.

“Because so many drivers blatantly disregard traffic laws, to stay safe on the road calls for increased alertness of the cars around you and learning to defend yourself against the threat of errors by other road users.”

Eugene Herbert, CEO of MasterDrive, elaborates on distracted driving, saying a driver must be ‘driving’ not doing anything else.

“When you are fully concentrating on driving, you are able to pick up on small cues drivers give when they are about to do something foolish or dangerous, like drifting toward the centre line before they suddenly change lanes,” he says.

Herbert explains the skills and techniques required to defend yourself against the recklessness of other drivers is known as defensive driving. When driving defensively, you are alert and ready for whatever happens.

“Defensive driving is the practice of maintaining an awareness of road and weather conditions, other vehicles, road users and potential hazards and then taking steps to prevent causing or becoming involved in an accident.

“Defensive driving candidates at MasterDrive are taught ‘zone control’. This is how to manage all six areas in which there could be a hazard on the road. These include the front, front left, front right, rear, right and rear left. You need to be aware of what is happening in these zones at all times and ideally predict what the actions of another in a zone might be,” he says.

“Another way of driving defensively is this is to drive as though you are behind the wheel of five cars – your own, the one in front of you, behind you and the two on either side.”

Following distance is vital. Premlall explains the “3-second rule”.

A driver travelling at 120 km/h will need 227m to bring their vehicle to a standstill. That is  from observing the problem, reacting and applying the brakes. Then if you have to add wet roads, worn tyres and brakes,  this 227m grows exponentially.

“So the best way to work this out when driving, is to pick a non-moving object along the road, like a road sign or a tree, and when the vehicle in front of you passes that object, start counting – one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three and note when your vehicle passes that object.

“If you pass it before finishing counting you are following too close.

“The 3-second rule as we have said only applies to good, daylight driving conditions. If you are driving in heavy traffic, at night or in bad weather, consider doubling the 3-second rule to six seconds as a safety precaution.”

Blind spots are another leading cause of accidents and TEPA advises the following:

  • Always be alert to the fact that the driver next to you might not be aware of your presence. Rather increase or decrease your speed to avoid being in his blind spot.
  • Stay out of the blind spots of large vehicles like trucks.
  • Check and adjust your mirrors and find your blind spots. As a guide, when adjusting your side mirrors there should only be a sliver of your vehicle in the mirror.
  • Check your blind spots by turning your head to look over your shoulder before changing lanes.
  • Signal when you want to change lanes and check again to make sure the way is clear.

Premlall concludes that the golden rule is to respect the rules of the road.

“Road rules are there for everyone and to promote safety. Ignoring the rules of the road by for example speeding or tailgating is selfish and puts other drivers at risk.

“Practice defensive driving techniques if you are travelling this festive season and plan your trip well so that you do not have to speed or take unnecessary chances in order to meet your commitments.”