‘Tis the season for safe travels

With the festive season upon us, there is an undeniable buzz in the air. However, amidst the cheer and excitement, there exists a sobering reality - the devastating annual death toll on South African roads during this period. While this certainly casts a shadow over the merriment of the season, drivers need to be cognisant of several factors before they embark on their journeys, writes Jules Mitouard, Head of Product: Peugeot and Opel.

The number of fatalities on South African roads during the festive season is alarming‌. This is as 1,451 people lost their lives during the 2022/2023 period. And while it is a 13.9% reduction compared to 1,685 fatalities the previous year, more needs to be done to prevent the loss of lives during all times of the year, and this starts with bolstering driver education and awareness.

In line with its commitment to safety, Peugeot believes that it is critical that motorists, and the greater public, be aware of several road safety imperatives that will ensure that they, and their loved ones, reach their destinations and return safely - particularly given that 85% to 90% of road accidents in South Africa are attributed to driver error. 

Stay alert to stay alive

Let’s face it, your car isn’t just a means of transport. It’s a powerful machine that, if mishandled, can become a deadly weapon. 

Considering this, drivers must maintain constant focus, stay aware of their surroundings, and take responsibility for their actions. A few key responsibilities include:

  • Possessing a valid driving license
  • Refraining from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs 
  • Adhering to speed limits
  • Obeying road signs
  • Maintaining a safe following distance of two to three seconds behind the vehicle ahead, increasing to five to six seconds in adverse conditions like bad weather, driving at night, or while towing
  • Steering clear of distractions such as loud music or one of the worst reckless behaviours seen on SA’s roads - using your cell phone while driving
  • And, importantly, wearing your seatbelt and ensuring that all passengers, including children, are restrained. The ‘Baby on Board’ stickers serve as more than just decoration - they alert first responders and paramedics to the presence of a child in a vehicle, or that the child may have been ejected in the event of an accident. 

Roadworthiness is a non-negotiable

Too often we encounter vehicles on South African roads that are clearly unfit for safe driving. These vehicles pose a significant threat, not only to those inside them but also to other road users. And while we may not have the authority to address their negligent behaviour, we can prioritise maintaining our own vehicles to the required standards. 

Besides ensuring your vehicle has undergone regular maintenance to avoid it breaking down on the road, a few necessary factors to consider include:

  • Ensure that your vehicle’s light, turn signals and hazards function correctly
  • Check your brake pads and discs for excessive wear, as well as brake fluid levels 
  • Check fluid levels such as oil and water 
  • Ensure that your vehicle’s shocks operate correctly
  • Do not overload the vehicle
  • Ensure windscreen wipers are in good condition and operate effectively
  • Check tyre pressure, tread depth and overall tyre condition. While a tread depth of 1mm across the width of the tyres is legally permissible, it is recommended that 1.6mm is the safer alternative. Moreover, be sure to check your tyres for excessive wear, tears or bubbles. Any of these signs means an unsafe tyre and one that requires immediate changing. 

The art of defensive driving

If you’ve been out on the roads, chances are that you’re well aware that not everyone can drive well, albeit that many think they do. It is for this reason that defensive driving skills and techniques must be a part of your road trip arsenal to help lower your risk behind the wheel. 

While we cannot predict the actions of other road users, it is important to ensure that you can mitigate any risk they pose to your safety. While it is advised that advanced and defensive driving courses are a must for all drivers, here are a few basics that you should be aware of before you embark on your journey: 

  • Frequently check your mirrors and blind spots and scan the road ahead and beside you for any hazards or slowing traffic
  • Be aware of what is happening in front of the vehicle ahead of you, as well as the lanes beside you
  • Observe the vehicles beside you and be alert for possible sudden lane changes
  • Go with the flow of traffic
  • Expect the unexpected and anticipate worst-case scenarios of what other drivers may do wrong and prepare yourself to act accordingly
  • Approach intersections with caution, irrespective if the traffic light is green or red
  • Be aware of pedestrians or cyclists

While avoiding accidents is often out of our control, partly owing to road conditions or the negligence of other road users, it is important to begin a journey with a companion you can rely on. This means partnering with a vehicle manufacturer that prioritises superior build quality, guaranteeing durability, reliability and top-notch crash test ratings. 

This, coupled with advanced driver aids such as Involuntary Line Crossing Alert (AFIL) systems, among other proactive safety innovations, actively work to prevent accidents and ensure drivers and passengers survive them. This investment not only elevates personal safety, but contributes to a safer environment on South Africa’s busy roads, offering peace of mind to all road users. 

While these are just a few tips to be aware of as the festivities begin, let's play our part in reducing the fatalities on our roads this holiday season. The key to this lies in education, awareness and a shared responsibility towards making our roads safer. We all carry the weight of this responsibility, but together, we can underscore the meaning of the season - spreading cheer and a time for celebration.