Set an example and be an ambassador for good driver and rider behaviour as we pull together to get things moving again is the message from IAM RoadSmart as the Government’s phased reduction of the current Coronavirus restrictions come into effect in England today (Wednesday 13 May).
The UK’s largest independent road-safety charity is reminding people to continue to follow the rules as they apply in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and, when out on the roads, remember the community spirit the pandemic has ignited and be mindful of our collective responsibility to reduce pressure on the emergency services, wherever we live and work.
Advice is to still to stay at home as much as possible. But for those who do now need to drive or ride their motorbike for work, for essential journeys or on permitted leisure trips, Richard Gladman, Head of Driving & Riding Standards, offers some common-sense tips to those getting back on the road after staying at home for an extended period.
• Always plan your journey before you set off. If you are driving to an open space for example, make sure it is open. Some country parks and tourist areas remain closed, so parking could be an issue and facilities outside of the designated parking areas will be limited.
• Advice is to avoid using public transport where possible, so as more people return to work, traffic and congestion in urban areas may increase, potentially lengthening journey times. And if you’re heading to work with everyone else from your organisation, will there be enough parking spaces?
• Has your usual route changed? With the introduction of pop-up cycle lanes and other initiatives to promote walking and cycling and keep public transport use to a minimum, check before you leave to avoid any difficulty.
• If your MOT was due during the lockdown, while the extension is still in place, make sure your car or bike is roadworthy. The lack of MOT requirement does not allow your car or bike to remain on the road if it is defective. Garages are operating a reduced service at the moment, but repairs are still possible.
• In any case, check your car or bike over carefully before you use it. POWDERY checks are essential to minimise any risk of breakdown. You can see our advice on basic vehicle checks (to cover Petrol, Oil, Water, Defects, Engine, Rubber etc) in our video here. Make sure you clean your windscreen thoroughly; inactivity can cause a film to build up on it which will not come off with the wipers. Also remember to check your tyres carefully. You need to examine them for cuts or bulges and check the tread and pressure. For guidance on tyre safety, visit the Tyre Safe website here.
• Brakes are also critical. Make sure you test them as soon as possible when setting off and when safe to do so, to ensure they are working properly. Brake discs can get a build-up of surface rust when your vehicle is inactive, but this will likely wear off during normal operation. Dust in brake drums may also have settled, but this too will dissipate as you drive or ride. If you have any doubts, get your brakes looked at before embarking on your journey.
• While you will have done necessary basic vehicle checks before heading off, keep hand sanitiser, wipes and even a face mask in your car or bike in case you need them. If something does go wrong, breakdown services are still operating in emergencies, but social distancing and hand hygiene guidance still applies.
• If you registered your vehicle as SORN during lockdown, make sure you have taxed and insured it before you set off, or it will not be legal to drive/ride.
• Ease yourself back in gently. If you have not driven or ridden at all in the last few weeks take time to get your judgement of speed and distance back. Remember others may be feeling the same or even less confident than you are. This is especially relevant if you had not been driving or riding for long before lockdown anyway. If you are on a bike take it easy; the period of inactivity will have affected your skill. Take care not to underestimate the impact of this. Start off slowly and with a short journey, and build up over a few days until your confidence, awareness and skills return.
• Some people may feel particularly anxious about getting back behind the wheel or on their bike after so many weeks away. It is important to keep calm and focussed when driving or riding, so drivers and riders should make sure they are fully safe before setting off. Simple tips like breathing exercises and talking to loved ones about your concerns may help alleviate stress, and our videos offering mental health and wellbeing advice may be of benefit. You can see them here and here. There also many organisations like Mind who offer relevant support.
• The roads have been quiet and repairs may have been delayed, so watch out for potholes or drain covers that may now pose a problem, particularly if it has rained. Remember, it is often the traffic that wears off the greasy film that sits on a road’s surface. If the traffic has not been there, the first rain will cause the road to be very slippery. Be cautious and mindful of this as you drive or ride.
• If using a petrol station, remember the hand cleaning rules still apply. Use a disposable glove when handling the pump if possible, or make sure you clean your hands afterwards. Respect social distancing guidance and avoid close contact with other customers and staff.
• Remember, with the instruction to still stay at home as much as possible and with most children yet to go back to school, there will still be more family groups and exercisers out on the roads than previously. There will also be cyclists of all abilities and – as more people begin to follow Government advice and choose walking and cycling over public transport – volumes of cyclists and walkers will likely increase. Be mindful of and considerate to these road users at all times, to ensure everyone’s continued safety on the road.
• While you stay mindful of the possibility of unusual road conditions and other road users and apply observation and anticipation skills – essentially staying alert while you drive or ride – in the event of a collision or incident you will need to stop and exchange details where necessary. So have your insurance and address details readily to hand, so you can exchange them quickly if you have to. Social distancing guidance still applies, however, so your face mask may be of benefit.
As more people get back on the road, traffic is likely to build up quite quickly. When you’re driving or riding do not let this affect your focus and calm. Relax and remember where we have just come from. I, for one, have been dreaming about being stuck in a queue on the A1 for eight weeks now!
Let’s make an effort - not to get back to normal, but to get back to better than we were before, with patience and respect for each other on the road.
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