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The AA says that because of reducing traffic flow, fewer accidents occur after dark than during daylight, but the proportion of fatalities is higher. The factors most commonly associated with night accidents are fatigue, inattention, the influence of liquor and reduced visibility. Depth perception is also reduced, resulting in impaired judgment and delayed reflex actions. After leaving a brightly lit place, it takes about 30 minutes before the human eye can see at 80 per cent efficiency, and up to an hour before night vision is at its best. Approximately 20 percent of adults have vision that is defective to some degree - from mild short - sightedness to night-blindness. Motorist who find that night driving is a severe strain on their eyes should consult a doctor or optometrist, who may recommend that driving after dark be avoided altogether.
Avoid keeping your gaze focused at a single distance, as this will increase eye fatigue. Glance about frequently, and take in areas at the edge of the area lit by your headlights. A poorly lit object is best seen if you focus your vision slightly to one side of it, as peripheral (outer) vision is less affected by poor light than central vision.
Speed should be reduced at night, so that you never drive beyond the range of your vision - that is, you must be able to stop under all circumstances, within the length of road illuminated by your headlights. Travelling with low or dipped beams, therefore, calls for lower speeds. Following distances should be increased at night and, unless you are about to overtake, keep the vehicle ahead at such a distance that it is just in the far limit of light from the dipped beam.
Headlights should be dipped well before an approaching vehicle is within range of the main beam. If the other driver does not respond, flick the beam back to high for an instant, and then dip. Resist the temptation to retaliate by keeping the high beam on - having two blinded drivers instead of one is merely doubling the risk. When approaching a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction while you are on a left-hand bend, dip the beam early, or it will sweep across the curve, blinding the other driver. On a right-hand bend, your headlights will shine outwards and away from approaching traffic, but if an oncoming driver dips his beam, it would be courteous for you to do the same.
Headlights need to be adjusted periodically, especially when a night trip is planned with the car loaded more heavily than usual. With rear-seat passengers and a laden boot, the dipped beam will be angled to shine too far ahead, and the main beam will dazzle oncoming drivers without properly illuminating the road. It may be advisable to have the adjustment done at a garage, and the beams should be reset when driving with the normal load. Tyre pressures should also be adjusted before loading a vehicle for holiday travelling.
Driving long distances is tedious for children, so a long drive should be planned to include rest stops, toys, games and refreshments.
Protecting the young passenger
Children can be severely injured in a minor accident, or even by a sudden stop or turn. A child's head is large and heavy in proportion to its body, and he/she is likely to be flung forward head first. (An infant with a mass of 4,5 kg who is involved in a collision at 50 km/h can be flung forward to strike with the same impact as an object with a mass of 136 kg!)
Suitable restraint is vital if injury is to be avoided. In addition, child-proof locks, where fitted, should be engaged so as to render rear door handles inoperable from inside the car.
The safest place for a child in a car is in an approved restraint system fitted in the centre of the rear seat. Child restraints spread the force of impact over the strongest parts of a child's body and limit head movement. Purchase only child restraints or seats which bear the mark of the South African Bureau of Standards, and which are sold with full fitting instructions and all nuts, belts or screws needed to fit it.
Remember though, even the best restraint is of little value if its straps are not properly adjusted. You should not be able to fit more than two fingers between the strap and the child. The harness should also be checked for correct adjustment each time the child is buckled in, and may require re-adjusting depending on the thickness of the child's clothes.
Children should never be carried on a passenger's lap as they will be flung forward violently in the event of an impact, no matter how tightly they are being held. Two children should never be buckled together in the same harness - when being flung forward they could bang their heads together, possibly with fatal consequences. It can also be fatal to buckle a child and adult together, as the child may suffer internal injuries from being crushed between the adult and the belt.
Stopping along the way
The frequency of stops may depend on the ages and dispositions of the young passengers, as well as the availability of facilities and shade.
At the rest-stops allow the children to run about and play in a safe place, to work off some of their pent-up energy.
Although you may have to make some unscheduled stops for minor emergencies, try to determine suitable stopping-places in advance, such as picnic sites, viewing sites, garages, and restaurants with play areas.
Variety and discipline in the car
To make the trip as varied and interesting as possible allow children to change their seating positions in the car after each stop. On dull stretches of road, introduce 'spotting' games or hand out special toys. If the car has a tape deck or CD player, play a favourite cassette or compact disc.
Do not allow pets to romp about with children in the car.
The following rules should also be enforced and explained as to why they are necessary. Children should not:
Together with darkness and rainy conditions, other road-users may be regarded as one of the most common hazards. Learn to recognise potentially dangerous drivers and keep clear of them. No matter how severely you may be provoked resist the temptation to retaliate - it may result in anything from a collision to a shooting match.
The AA urges motorists to be especially wary when driving near any of the following:
Remember, if you cannot see the mirrors of the vehicle in front of you, that driver can't see you.
There are times of the day, and of the week, when accidents occur more frequently:
Driving on long journeys is often more hazardous than negotiating busy city streets. With little to do, boredom sets in, which in turn leads to drowsiness.
Symptoms to watch out for are: yawning, heavy eyelids, spasmodic jerks of the body and your vehicle wandering off the road. The following tips could help prevent such symptoms:
“Keeping a safe following distance will put you and the driver in front of you at ease. It is vitally important to keep a safe following distance and to comply with the indicated speed limits as this gives you the time you need to safely react to a situation and avoid a potential accident,” says Miles le Roux, Transportation Manager of N3TC.
The best way to keep a safe following distance is to follow the three-second rule. The rule is quite simple:
If you pass the same object before you reach 1003 then you are too close and you need to adjust your speed to increase the space between yourself and the car in front of you.
In rainy, wet weather the following distance between vehicles must be even greater, despite the tyre and braking capabilities of your vehicle, as all vehicles and drivers require more time to react and avert a possible crash. It is advisable to increase your following distance to at least four seconds in these conditions.
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