The festive season, when many people travel to and from holiday destinations, is an opportune time to look at what we can do to make our journeys as safe as possible for ourselves, our passengers and other road-users.
If we focus on the condition of our vehicle the two things that should come to mind immediately are the tyres and the brakes.
Tyres should have at least 2mm of tread depth and should be closely examined for things like nails, which might have penetrated the tread or sidewall, and for any sign of tread separation or bulges.
Check the whole tyre, including the sidewalls, and make sure that all the valve caps are on.
Your brakes should stop the vehicle firmly, without any pulling, slewing or noise when you brake hard. Another good test is to keep your foot pressed down hard on the brake pedal for 30 seconds with the car stationary and the engine idling. Any drop in the pedal indicates a leak somewhere.
If you need to refill the brake-fluid reservoir frequently it means there is a leak in the hydraulic system. Find it and fix it before you leave home.
Don't forget to see that the handbrake is working properly because there are occasions when you will really need it.
Other important areas to check include:
l The lights should all be working. Check the headlights on high as well as on dipped beam. Check all the indicators, as well as the tail lights and the stop lights. If the lenses of the rear lights are dirty on the inside take them off and clean them.
l Have the steering attended to if the car pulls to one side on a level road or if there is excessive slack in the steering. These symptoms might indicate wear in the steering links, something that requires immediate attention.
l The wiper blades should not be hard or cracked.
l Any sign of a fuel leak, whether wetness around a joint or the smell of petrol, should be investigated urgently.
We should remember that most road accidents are caused by human error, so it is essential to practise safe driving techniques.
You should be wide awake, fully alert and stone-cold sober when driving.
Get a good night's sleep before setting out on a long journey. Stop at least every two hours, walk around to get the circulation going again, drink a cup of coffee - do whatever works for you - but don't drive if you are drowsy.
Watch the vehicles around you carefully. Motorcyclists have a saying that the only way to stay alive is to assume that everyone else is half blind, half asleep or just plain idiotic. Motorists would do well to adopt the same attitude.
"Speed kills", the signs tell us, and there is a lot of truth in that. Though a speed of 120kmh might be safe in ideal conditions, it might be necessary to slow down to 60kmh in fog, smoke or driving rain.
The essential question is always: can I stop in time if a stationary object appears in my field of vision?
A following distance that's safe at 80kmh is hopelessly too short at 120kmh. If the driver in front of you suddenly applies full brakes, can you stop before ploughing into him?
When overtaking, the danger inherent in speed is compounded by the fact that it's now the combined speed of the overtaking vehicle and the approaching vehicle that becomes the critical factor. If they both travel at 120kmh, the distance between them is being eaten up at a rate of 240kmh - that's 67m a second.
Make sure that you travel safely this festive season.