Most of us love road trips. A weekend getaway or week-long adventure trip; whichever sort of drive it may be or whatever season it is, going away with friends and family, is among the most easy-to-take vacations. But while the idea of a driving holiday is great, there are some guidelines you should follow to make the trip safe and fun. Road conditions in our country are unpredictable, especially on highways with no traffic enforcers, it's basically a jungle out there. Therefore you must be even more cautious in these situations. So, here are some important things to bear in mind before you set off on that road trip.
1 Pick a speed and stick to it
Speed is one of the most overlooked aspects when it comes to highway driving. Maintaining high speeds on highways is easy as roads are wider and traffic is generally light. If there are signs that show a speed limit of 80kph, use them as a guide and stick close to those. They're primarily for your safety and that of others on the road and you should always try to comply with them. This, however, isn't easy. There's no enforcement to begin with and then, you often try and keep up with the rest of the traffic, all of whom are likely to be going too quick. So, the best thing to do is assess the road, see the conditions and set your pace. Wet roads, night driving, high speeds and tightly packed highways should instantly set off alarm bells. Take heed, slow down. If the road opens up and the visibility is good, by all means, speed up a bit and enjoy the road, but be smart about it and always keep braking distances in mind.
2 Lane changing
Switching lanes is among the most important driving manoeuvres. It becomes especially crucial on highways where most vehicles travel at high speeds. Do it wrong and the consequences can be severe. One of the most common mistakes made is driving in the wrong lane. Before you change from one lane to another, recognise the speed differences between the lanes and accordingly, alter your vehicle’s speed. The right-most lane is just for overtaking. Called the fast lane, it is often misused as a secondary driving lane. A slow-moving car can be a danger here. If you need to change your lane, make sure you give the appropriate signals and keep an eye on the differential in speed. Make a move only once you're sure there's a gap safe enough.
3 Keep safe distance between vehicles
While driving on the highway, keep a wide distance between your vehicle and those around you. Traffic is always unpredictable and there could be a situation where the vehicle ahead of you could suddenly brake. Safe distance between that vehicle and yours buys you enough time to brake or avoid a collision. Always follow the 3 second rule. Look for a bridge or signboard as a reference point and check the time you take to get there after the car in front of you passes it. It is advised to keep this time at a minimum of 3 seconds. At night, increase that time to around 5 seconds. Be more cautious if you are driving through heavy rains or fog.
Another crucial aspect of highway driving is overtaking. According to a recent survey, of all accidents on high-speed roadways, the maximum occur due to error of judgment when overtaking. Correct judgement and timing are the primary points of focus while overtaking. First, anticipate the speed of the vehicle in front of you by giving the upcoming car a long hard look. Think movie, not snapshot, the former will help you judge speed. Check for vehicles approaching from behind before you pull out from the lane. Make sure you have the appropriate gear selected. A higher gear will take more time, hence, going to a lower gear is advised. Once you have overtaken the vehicle don’t suddenly move back into the driving lane. Build the gap between yours and the overtaken vehicle and only once it seems appropriate, switch back. Remember, these directions are for dual carriageways.
On single carriageways, you have to be a lot more careful. Not only do you have to keep an eye on vehicles approaching from behind but also on those coming right at you. Switch lanes only if the distance from oncoming traffic looks enough for you to complete the manoeuvre safely and flash your lights to signal the approaching vehicles. Remember, when overtaking, you're in the oncoming lane and you should exit it as soon as possible, without cutting off the vehicle you are going past. Hesitating during this move could cut down the safe distance between you and oncoming traffic and force the vehicle being overtaken to brake suddenly.
5 Appropriate signalling
As much as you should be aware of the movements of vehicles around you, it is equally important that you notify other motorists on the road about your movements. Always indicate when changing lanes, and in case you notice a diversion or an obstruction ahead that requires you to brake suddenly, turn on your hazards well before stopping and start cutting down the pace. Make sure to indicate when re-joining the highway after a stop.
6 Keep a check around using the mirrors
Mirrors on your car are like an extra set of eyes. It is highly important to check the mirrors constantly. Make it a habit to glance at all three mirrors. Every time you want to make a move, take a look at the inside rear-view mirror. The wing mirrors should also be looked at, at regular intervals. While overtaking and changing lanes, the first thing to do is to check if a vehicle is approaching from the rear. Beware of blind spots as mirrors cannot project the entire view. Sometimes, the vehicles might be past the mirror range and right besides your car, so be careful. You can install blind spot mirrors which are basically small fish eye mirrors that can be attached to the side mirrors. They give you a wider range and help reduce blind spots. Rear-view mirrors nowadays have a day-night function by which you can reduce the headlight reflections of motorists behind you. Auto-adjusting rear-view mirrors are also available in the market for Rs 1,500 onwards.
7 Pit stops
Stops at regular intervals is crucial while on long highway drives. Mishaps due to driver fatigue are the cause for about 20 percent of the accidents on highways. Pushing yourself just to make up time is the last thing you would want to do on a long drive. A tendency to enter a trance-like state after continuous driving is a common trait you might experience and is called highway hypnosis. Driving long hours at a constant speed and on similar roads, with the cabin at constant temperature, leads to the above-mentioned phenomenon. Stay hydrated and also keep switching between ‘recirculating’ and ‘fresh-air’ modes on the air-con. A change in temperature helps you stay more alert. If you are too drowsy to make it to the next checkpoint, take a quick nap by the side of the road. If you aren’t alone, keep swapping drivers. Also, avoid letting the fuel level drop below quarter tank. Roads ahead might not have fuel stations or might be closed. Don’t take a chance.
8 Rains/Wet roads
Driving in wet conditions increases the risk factor even more. There are many poorly maintained vehicles on the road which leak oils and fluids. Mixed with rainwater, this is a dangerous combination and if you're not careful, there could be serious consequences. Restrict your speed and avoid wet patches and puddles if you can. Driving through pools of water at high speeds should be avoided at all costs as it may lead to the car hydroplaning wherein the tyres lose grip and traction and the car could spin out of control. Also, avoid braking too hard as it is difficult for tyres to gain grip on wet roads and can lead to the vehicle skidding off the road or into another vehicle. During heavy rains, keep the headlights on even during the day as it helps other motorists see your vehicle. Use your hazards only if you come to a stop.
9 Night driving
Travelling during the night should be avoided as much as possible. However, if you absolutely must drive at night, proper visibility is essential. Keep your windshield clean and all the lights working. Aim the headlights as per your seating position and make sure you don’t set them too high as they might disturb motorists ahead. Similarly, try not to use the high beam while overtaking or when you are close to the vehicle ahead. Stay alert as most truck and bus drivers are drowsy due to driving all day and may react slower than you would expect.
In an unfortunate situation where your vehicle has had a breakdown, it is important to keep calm and follow these steps. Slow down gradually and start moving to the shoulder of the highway. Stop carefully with the car well under the shoulder lines and switch your hazard lights on. Place the hazard triangle behind the car at about ten to fifteen feet to warn other motorists. Examine the damage and accordingly call for assistance. Also, note down highway assistance contacts and look for emergency call boxes too; they are available throughout the highway at set distances. At night, switch on the interior lights to make the vehicle as visible as you can. Always try and stay in the vehicle until help arrives.
Driving on the highway requires concentration and presence of mind. Following the rules is not only safer for you but also for other motorists. Also, having a well-maintained car reduces the chances of any problems cropping up.
Preparing your car for a road trip this summer