It saddens us here at Gouldson Legal to think of the unnecessary injury and loss of life that occurs on our roads, every year. Unfortunately, the statistics over the Christmas period are often significantly worse than the rest of the year, prompting heavier police presence and fines.

Tragically, a percentage of these accidents and fatalities are preventable. Before you and the family get behind the wheel this festive season (or any time of the year) make sure you are ready, and able, to drive. As Christmas is often a time for travel, particularly with long road trips to see family and friends, we have outlined our top ten tips for safe driving this festive season.

1. Plan ahead & be flexible with your timetable:
Before you get in your vehicle, take time to prepare for your trip; plan your journey and identify rest stops along the way. If possible, plan around peak traffic and congestion time, avoid driving for long periods of time or driving in poor conditions.

You should ensure plenty of stops to take a break, stretch your legs and mentally refresh. If planning an extended road trip, plan exciting rest stops, like major attractions and interesting local sights. Fatigue and distraction are major contributors to accident rates, so take the time to need to rest up and arrive alive.

2. Be alert to changes:
Check relevant traffic and travel information when planning your trip, this can help you avoid road work and congestion. There are a number of apps that supply real-time data on, road changes, delays, closures and incidents, considering having your passenger keep an eye on these. Depending on your system, you may also be able to access updated traffic flow through your GPS or through your vehicle navigation system.

3. Drive to the conditions:
‘Conditions’ doesn’t just refer to the weather. It includes: the road you’re on; weather; traffic conditions; speed limits; state laws, the children in the car and you. Depending on your license type, your speed limit may be restricted. For example in NSW learners, P1 and P2 drivers are limited as to how fast they can travel.

But what about you; are you fatigued? Have you been drinking? Are you on prescription medication? The majority of drivers, on their open license, are allowed to consume limited alcohol and drive. However, this is not recommended if traveling long distances, as it can contribute to fatigue and distraction. You should also ensure that any prescription medication is non-drowsy and does not impact your ability to drive.

What about the children; are they cranky, tired, fighting? Take the time to prepare them for the journey too so as to avoid distraction along the way.

You should also avoiding driving in storms or heavy rainfall, as poor weather can limit your visibility. If possible, it is best to find a safe place to pull over and wait out the poor weather.

4. Watch out for fatigue:
Long trips are tiring, and fatigue can be deadly while in charge of a car, or in the car generally if a passenger is giving directions etc. Plan to get enough rest before and during the trip so that you are refreshed, alert and prepared to drive. Plan in advance where you’ll take breaks on your trip, if travelling long distances pre-book accommodation so you are forced to stop and rest. A large percentage of fatal traffic accidents are single vehicle crashes, and fatigue is often the major contributing factor.

5. Identify the safest routes:
Some routes are safer than others. Roadside hazards like trees, ditches, poles and narrow shoulders can increase accident risk. Intersections can be dangerous and so can busy roads without a median barrier. Armed with that knowledge, you can adjust your driving to the conditions and take extra care on higher risk, rural roads.

6. Before you travel:
Before embarking on your trip, check your vehicle including; tyre tread and pressure, lights, brakes, engine oil, coolant and power steering fluid. Consider having your vehicle properly inspected and serviced before you set off. Also, when packing your vehicle, make sure everything is securely stowed. Even small objects can become dangerous missiles in the event of a sudden stop or crash.

7. Check your trailers and caravans:
If towing a caravan or trailer, you need to ensure they are safe and ready for the journey. You should review all attachments including chains and plugs, and ensure all lights are working. You should regularly check your tyre pressure and ensure that, if it is an open trailer, everything is tied down and secure.

When packing your caravan, trailer or camper van, you should make sure that everything is securely stored away. Keep an eye on the rear-view mirror throughout your journey to ensure everything is alright back there.

8. Keep your cool:
Holiday driving can be frustrating with busy roads and potentially slower sightseeing travellers, not to mention impatient children in the vehicle. Be courteous and patient and don’t be provoked by other drivers' aggressive behaviour.

Frustrated, angry driving can make you impulsive and distract you from potential dangers ahead. If you feel yourself getting angry or frustrated, pull over. Stretch your legs somewhere and grab a snack or cool drink. Once you feel refreshed and the frustration has passed, you can get back on the road.

9. Buckle up & use correctly fitted child restraints:
Seat beats save lives. Make sure everyone in your car is wearing a seat belt. It is illegal not to wear a seatbelt, but additionally wearing one is arguably the most significant thing you can do to improve your level of safety whilst driving or as a passenger. Additionally, correctly using and fitting child restraints, booster seats or child safety harnesses can substantially reduce the risk of serious injury or death.

10. Remember you’re sharing the road:
Traffic volumes increase during the holidays and you’ll be sharing the road with a multitude of other vehicles. As it is a time for holidays, there are often larger, slower vehicles and well as those towing boats, caravans and camper-vans. Always follow at a safe distance and overtake safely.

While sitting behind slower travellers can be frustrating, dangerous overtaking or travelling too close could result in a serious, life changing accident. We see a range of clients who have experienced tragic accidents. We don’t want that to be you.

Take care and drive to survive.

By following these tips you can be safe on the road and be with your love ones this Christmas Season.

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