Have you ever REALLY thought about what driving a vehicle entails? Think about it: you’re in a sitting position encapsulated by thin layers of metal and glass, travelling at high speeds in amongst other drivers with nothing separating you but white, yellow and red lines painted on the tarmac. With the lurking danger of collision present every time you decide to take a drive, defensive driving has become a vital preventative measure that all drivers should employ – especially if you are driving in someone else’s car or a rental car. So, let’s have a look at proper defensive rental car driving tips for safety on the South African highways and byways.
The first defensive driving tip when taking to four wheels in a rental car is to look ahead. Many drivers think that looking just past the end of the bonnet is good enough, but this is a very dangerous habit that could lead to collision. The opposite side of the coin is just as hazardous, as looking too far ahead increases your peripheral range of vision to in front of the vehicle. What looks like a dark patch at distance could be an axle-busting pothole close up. The rule of thumb is to keep your eyes on the road at a distance of approximately 10 metres when driving long distance, and around five metres when driving in urban areas.
The one thing all South African drives can remember from their defensive driving lessons and tests is the amount of times one is expected to check the vehicle’s mirrors. A vitally important accident-prevention tool when driving in a hire car is to be aware of your surroundings at all times. This awareness should not be limited to periodically checking the rental car’s mirrors – be aware of cars far behind you and the speed they are traveling as they approach; be aware of the cars far ahead of you and their driving activities; check your blind spots every so often and ensure you are aware of the road verges. If there is heavy shrubbery and no fencing, remember this is Africa and an animal could jump out into the road at any given time.
When deciding to rent a car and do some auto vehicular traveling, make sure you know the car before taking to the tar. This is essential in the event that you find yourself in an emergency – how wide is the car’s turning circle? How does it handle when turning at speed? Is it heavy enough not to roll should you need to suddenly avoid a road hazard? To know your rental car inside and out is to know how to handle it in an emergency situation. When driving, ensure you know just how much torque the third gear has in the event that you need to promptly overtake an 18-wheeler. If you know your hire car is more of a chilled cruiser than a speed racer, consider sticking to the slow lane instead of challenging the blue lighters in the fast lane.
The most common mistake drivers make, which often leads to completely avoidable road accidents, is not keeping a safe following distance. Driving too close to the car in front of you will render your braking ability useless should they have to stop suddenly for whatever reason. The rule of thumb here is to maintain a car’s length distance per 10km/h you are traveling between you and the vehicle ahead. So, if you are travelling at 80km/h, you must be able to fit eight cars in the space between you and the car ahead. So, if you don’t want your rental car’s nose crushed up the rear of an erratically braking SUV, keep a safe following distance at all times – regardless of where you may be driving.
Remember when cars were just cars? You got in, drove to where you needed to go, and that was that. Modern cars now feature screens to watch films on, potent sound systems that make your chest rumble, cell phone holders attached to the inside of windscreens and gadgets that would make an astronaut jealous. Even if you aren’t on your phone or watching the movie on the dashboard screen, you are still being distracted – making paying attention to driving defensively difficult. Let the only distraction you subject yourself to be soft music, and if the kids want to watch Shrek 2 for the twentieth time, make sure they do so with earphones. Most important of all, switch your phone to silent for the duration of the trip and consider storing it in the glove compartment until you have reached your destination or rest stop.
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