Be heedful of dangers on the open road
Road trips are a great way of exploring our beautiful country, but care needs to be taken while on the road, writes Lerato Matebese
The year is nearly over and I can hear you sighing with relief and looking forward to a well-deserved break as the holidays are looming ever closer.
Of course, as we all know, many holiday makers will be taking to the roads en masse to various destinations within SA and neighbouring countries. However, during this festive time, precious lives are sadly lost on our roads largely through incidents that could have been avoided altogether.
I recently undertook a road trip in our Renault Kadjar long-term test car, first to Botlokwa in Limpopo and then to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape — a round trip of close to 4,000km.
To the former, I decided to set sail in the late afternoon on a Friday, which was unfortunately met with inclement weather.
Along the N3 freeway stretch alone, I counted three accidents, all within a space of a few kilometres. Of these, it was the third one that I almost fell victim to.
There seemed to have been an accident involving a motorcyclist a stone’s throw from the London Road off ramp, which saw traffic backed up to Gillooly’s off-ramp and that took us about 30min to get through.
As the traffic ahead cleared, a gentleman in the latest Merc C-Class was obviously in a big rush and was making haste away from the rest of the traffic, including yours truly. In fact, we were right behind said vehicle, perhaps a few vehicle lengths adrift, when suddenly he hit a puddle of water and decided to brake. If you have ever experienced aquaplaning, which involves a vehicle driving through a patch of standing water where the tyres are unable to dispel water through the tyre treads, the car then skids as though on solid ice.
While I am not certain of the condition of the vehicle in question’s tyres, I have been caught unawares by aquaplaning, on fairly good tyres. However, what I have learnt from the numerous advanced driving courses I have attended is that when you find yourself in that situation, braking is the last thing you should do.
You see, under braking, the weight of the vehicle shifts towards the front and hitting the brakes does nothing to slow the vehicle down as the wheels simply lock as the ABS is rendered obsolete under these conditions. As a result, the Merc did a 180° spin from the fast lane and skidded through all three lanes, clipping a Toyota Corolla, which faced oncoming traffic, before the Merc slammed the barrier on the emergency lane. Fortunately, there were few vehicles behind us due to the prior accident, so we all managed to stop in time and there were no casualties as a result.
However, seeing all this unfold in front of you is quite a sobering experience, one that makes you realise just how you could easily fall victim to a road accident. So, the next time you hit a patch of standing water and feel the front of the vehicle going light as the tyres lose contact with the tarmac, refrain from using your brakes and rather keep the steering pointing to the direction of you trajectory when you hit the water.
There were a series of accidents on the N1 past Tshwane, and fortunately there were no casualties, but it was clear that a sufficient following distance — or lack thereof — is not adhered to by some motorists under inclement weather conditions.
Leaving enough space between you and the vehicle ahead is crucial, however, I was taken aback by how many vehicles took liberties of the space I had left between myself and the vehicle ahead. Patience, it would seem, is something many people have little of and they would rather prefer to drive kamikaze style to get to their destination in record time.
Also, the N1 highway between Kroonstad and Bloemfontein (a dual carriageway for the most part) on my way to Port Elizabeth was littered with 18-wheeler trucks, so patience is needed to overtake these vehicles safely.
While there were a few truck drivers who yielded for faster moving traffic, there were those who simply refused to do so, resulting in a back-up of some 10 cars or so looking to overtake. This can leave some drivers frustrated and, on more than one occasion, opting for dangerous overtaking manoeuvres over blind rises and bends.
While I am aware that many trucking companies prohibit their drivers from driving in the yellow lane, I reckon drivers need to use their own discretion and yield to faster traffic, but only when it is safe to do so.
Let us all do our bit to ensure not only our own safety but that of our fellow road users, too. The prevention of road accidents remains a collective effort.