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Road Safety

Road safety covers a large spectrum and raises many questions, some easy to answer and others not. Who is responsible for it? Who cleans up when things go wrong? Who pays for campaigns and what can I do to protect myself, and other road users? I've been doing my job as a breakdown patrol for 8 years and will pass on some stories of what I've seen on the road and also some tips to stay safe.

The first and most important thing to remember is that each and every one of us has a responsibility for road safety. Car drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians all have a duty of care to other road users. It's simple really, common sense and a little bit of thought is all that it takes.

Your car!

Your car - to many, a daunting image when the bonnet is lifted. But in fact, as a driver, it really isn't. You only need to know the essentials - where does engine oil go? Where does coolant go? Where is my washer bottle? It isn't just under your bonnet that needs checking, walk around your whole car, especially if going on a long journey. It won't take long and could save serious injury or even a life. Here is a quick but easy way to think about your vehicle checks. The motor trade and organisations use the acronym shown below which covers the important points.

Flower

Fuel - don't leave it until the light comes on to fill up. This will avoid unnecessary breakdown in an unknown, and perhaps dangerous, location.

Lights - check all exterior lights for operation and condition and that lenses are clean.

Oil - oil level should be checked regularly. Leaving it until the red warning light comes on could cause engine damage. On average, manufacturers state a car engine can use 1 litre of oil to 1000 miles. (Check your vehicle handbook on how to check it.)

Water - check coolant level frequently. (Again your handbook will show you how) . If the level is always low, check for leaks. An overheating engine could cause catastrophic damage.

Electrics - your car battery is the heart of your car and if this fails your car won't start. Old batteries should be changed before it fails. Also, check the cooling fan works to avoid overheating when in traffic. Leaving the car idling will cause the fan to start working.

Rubber - tyres have a crucial part to play - tread depth, pressures and age are all factors. Handling and fuel consumption can be seriously compromised if tyres are faulty, resulting in accidents and prosecution.

Tyre depth check

As tyres are so critical, let's have a look at them in more detail. The pictures below are a guide therefore if you're unsure, get them checked at a tyre supplier. Bald and poorly inflated tyres increase stopping distance, reduce handling and braking capability, affect fuel consumption, are illegal and could cause a serious accident or loss of life. I regularly see bald tyres on cars as the photos below will show. A tyre damaged to this extent doesn't happen overnight. There is no excuse. The checks only take a few minutes.

Tyre pressure information

Tyre Inflation

As you can see, it doesn't take long to check tyres, and there is information available to the driver. But yet I see at least one bald tyre on each shift I work. There is no excuse, it's irresponsible and dangerous. Agencies can only educate but you, as the driver, are the one who can rectify the problem. Don't take risks with your own and other people's lives. Check and replace your tyres if needed.

Winter Driving Conditions

Where do you start? Driving conditions are very dynamic. They constantly change. Unfortunately, driving styles don't.

Fog
People often drive around with no headlights on or just use faint sidelights. A rule I use is simple, if you feel the need is there for lights, why not use headlights? It makes you more visible to others and minimises risk for fast-changing patchy fog conditions. Fog lights are there for this exact reason, fog only. The bulbs / lights are often brighter so when visibility is back to normal turn them off. Not only will it cause risk by dazzling other drivers, but it will also get you in trouble with police.

During times of fog, reduce your speed and increase your distance between you and the cars in front. Freezing fog is extremely dangerous. The same applies as with normal fog, but ice can gather on windows and road surfaces. Speeds must be reduced even further. Wipers must be in good working order and wiper blades shouldn't be split. Adequate screen wash concentration is essential to help reduce freezing.

Icey Roads

Ice and Snow
Ice and snow is very disruptive. It brings roads to a standstill and causes many accidents. It should be treated with respect. If you own a 4x4, this still applies to you. You are not invincible. Before travelling, consider if your journey is essential. If it isn't then don't go. If you do, clear all of the window of snow or ice, don't be a "letterbox driver". This not only creates a huge risk as visibility is greatly reduced but it is also an offence. I've been to people who have got stuck in a very dangerous position on a hillside, who were just out "to look at the snow".

This is irresponsible and risks rescuers, yourself and other road users. However, if you decide that your journey is essential and you find yourself on the road in a skid, release the brake and reapply gently. Move away in second gear, keep engine revs low and keep to gentle smooth manoeuvres. Braking distances in snow or ice can be ten times longer than normal conditions. Winter tyres can greatly improve handling and performance of a car. Have a talk with your tyre supplier for information.

If you do have to go on a journey during adverse / cold weather, be prepared. You never know when you might breakdown. Keep your fuel tank above half, this way if you get a puncture, or any other issues than an engine-related fault, you can at least keep warm until help arrives. I see many people without a coat and so unprepared during freezing temperatures.

ome things to pack in your car which could help you cope in an emergency breakdown situation; a warm coat, hat and gloves, waterproof shoes, a shovel, torch, blanket, de-icer and an ice scraper. A fully charged mobile is also essential and let people know your route and times you're expected to leave / arrive. Although you cannot prepare for every eventuality, these may help. The main thing is don't panic, stay calm, and think logically.

Wet Weather / Flooding
Wet weather driving can be challenging. It demands concentration higher than that of a nice sunny day. Again, the journey will be safer and easier if your car is ready for the conditions. During heavy rain, surface water can accumulate on roads. This in turn will again require the driver to adapt their style of driving. Headlights and wipers should be in good condition and used alongside demisters. Slow down and give yourself more distance between you and the vehicle in front, braking distances can greatly increase during a wet spell.

Stopping distance chart

Good tyres will improve handling and braking performance but will also reduce the risk of aquaplaning; this is when the tyres cannot cut through the water and therefore lose contact with the road surface, causing loss of control momentarily. Wet weather has different levels of severity; a quick shower, drizzle or a prolonged torrential downpour, which in turn can cause flash flooding.

As a Swift Water Rescue Technician, I understand how unpredictable, dangerous and devastating water can be. Educating drivers is critical during a flooding event. Over recent years I've seen dozens of people getting into difficulty in a flood situation. So what are the risks of driving in to floodwater? There are many: engine failure due to water ingress, damage to your car inside due to floodwater, embarrassment of being rescued by the Fire Service. Is this not enough? Well how about losing your life or serious injury?

Moving water is highly dangerous. Just 6 inches of fast flowing water will sweep an adult off their feet, 12 inches will make a car float, and 2 feet of moving water will wash a car away. Do those figures get you thinking? No? Well how about all the others dangers you cannot see? What's under the surface? Possibly raised man hole covers, washed away roads, and other debris. Then there is the risk of deadly disease and contaminates in floodwater that you cannot see.

All of these pose a risk not only to you, but also rescuers who will come to get you. Fords are incredibly dangerous; they change minute by minute depending on rainfall and rising river levels. They do kill people. Stay away from a flooded ford. A massive issue during flooding events are drivers moving signs like these.

Flood road closed

These signs are there to protect you and other road users. DO NOT MOVE THEM. I have been in a flood environment, stood in full water- rescue gear arguing with people who insisted on coming past me. This wastes time; it's irresponsible and puts lives at risk. Heed warnings and take advice from police or fire. The best advice I can give is if you see a flood, or road closed sign, turn around. Don't risk your car, don't risk your life. Turn your vehicle around and go back.

Breakdown in general

Being in a breakdown situation for some people is scary and stressful. The feeling of being out of control, waiting for help and feeling vulnerable all adds to the emotions. If you find yourself in a breakdown situation, stay calm and arrange assistance as soon as you can. It is essential that you know where you are. It's such a common problem finding people when they are out of their local area.

They lose track of the road numbers and they lose sense of direction, taking no notice of landmarks, or services passed. I quite often spend in excess of 30 minutes driving up and down motorways / dual carriageways looking for people. All motorways and main trunk dual carriageways have marker posts that look like the picture below.

Motorway marker

Motorway market explained

Use them when calling a breakdown or emergency service to assist. It will locate you exactly, and get help to you faster. If you break down in a dangerous location (e.g. motorways) and only if it is safe to do so, get out of the vehicle and move away from it. The hard shoulder is a dangerous place and should only be used for a breakdown or other emergency service.

Under no circumstances should you pull up behind a blue light or breakdown vehicle while it's on the hard shoulder. I've had people do this to me to ask for directions and to look at their car. Not only is it an offence but you put all lives involved at the location at risk.

I hope this article has helped. There are many more things to talk about, but this is purely just a glimpse in to life on the road and common issues and advice that might make your breakdown easier and less stressful. Keep your car safe and roadworthy and take note of where you're heading. Most of all, use common sense and change your style of driving to suit the conditions.

Article written by David Harford.

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