Three steps that can save your life on the road

By Keletso Mpisane, Head of MiWay Blink.

Motorists who’ve spent years behind the wheel can get blasé about vigilance and road safety. Intersections and overtaking manoeuvres that once seemed daunting can become routine, breeding complacency. This false sense of security where we believe everything is under control  leads us to lower our guard, inviting mistakes.

South Africa is ranked last on a list of the world's safest roads across 53 countries. Long-term data from Statistics South Africa highlights factors like reckless and distracted driving (often due to smartphone use), driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and fatigue as major contributors to road deaths. These factors slow our judgement and reaction times, making accidents more likely.

“There are also times when our safety isn’t in our control,” says Keletso Mpisane, head of digital vehicle insurance at MiWay Blink. About 23 000 cars were hijacked according to 2023 crime stats. Here are some of the steps one can take to reclaim control of our safety.

Step 1: Be prepared for hijackings

Criminals can target your car at any time or place. Prevention should be your first priority in these cases, making it essential to be aware of your surroundings. Watch out for hijacking hotspot signs and avoid these areas if you can.

In standstill traffic keep a gap large enough to see the back wheels of the car in front of you. When approaching an intersection at night, give yourself about 200m before a red light so you have room to move if you sense danger.

You can’t always avoid this traumatic situation, and when it happens it's safest to comply with the hijackers. Don’t resist or stare because this may be perceived as a threat.

“Small details matter,” says Mpisane. Noting the number of hijackers, the make and model of their car or even the language they speak can help investigators when you report the crime.

Anti-hijacking courses can also help you survive the worst situations,” says Mpisane. These programs should equip you with theoretical and practical skills. 

Step 2: Avoid collisions by being aware of distracted drivers

While advanced courses can also teach you to control your car in dangerous situations, the power of observation shouldn’t be underestimated. Use your rear-view mirror to keep an eye on the driver behind you, and if they are on their phone or moving erratically “you can pull over and let them pass or try to distance yourself by changing lanes” says Mpisane.

Basic steps like wearing your safety belt or monitoring your blind-spot, will keep you in the best position to react when something goes wrong.

Step 3: Know when to take a break

Studies on Gauteng road fatalities show that deaths are more likely in rural areas compared to cities. Limited public transport in these regions forces people to rely on private cars to get around to cover long distances between towns or villages.

Fatigue sets in when we spend long hours on the road. “An easy solution is to take a break every two hours or 200 kilometres,” says Mpisane. “Taking bathroom breaks, getting food or stretching your legs is highly recommended, especially if you’re driving alone.”

“At the end of the day,” Mpisane concludes, “being alert and aware puts us in the best position to respond effectively when things go wrong on the road.”