Having racked up 1,000 miles over the last five days on a variety of motorways and A roads, I thought I’d share my reflections and tips whilst they are still fresh in my mind. These tips are for anyone contemplating driving home for Christmas or driving to visit family over the festive period.
Know your route and pack a map
For whatever reason my trusty in-car sat nav decided intermittently to malfunction. Very disconcerting when it’s dark, raining and you are on a motorway you’ve never heard of (the M180 in my case). Do not be tempted to reach for your mobile phone to use the sat nav whilst driving – you could end up with six points on your licence and risk being in a crash.
Be prepared and expect the unexpected
Pack warm clothes, snacks and water, a fully charged mobile phone, torch, and hi-visibility clothing. I always try to adopt a “what is the worst that can happen” mindset and assume it will! In bad weather, more dirt is thrown up from other road users, so keep washer fluid topped up and carry a spare container of it just in case.
I didn’t expect the volume of farm traffic on Norfolk’s A roads at this time of year, but it appears to be peak sugar-beet harvesting season. Don’t be impatient when it comes to overtaking tractors; remember they often turn with little warning, and their trailers can be long, oddly-shaped and poorly lit. If you’re in doubt about overtaking, don’t do it. I’d rather be safe and late.
Beware of other road users
Scarcely believable I know, but I saw one driver in the right-hand lane of a motorway engrossed in a handheld phone conversation, another with a coffee in one hand and a pie in the other – steering with his elbows!
Ever conscious of the two second rule (increased to four as it started to rain), I left an appropriate gap only for undertakers to nip in and burst my safety bubble. Do not be tempted to tailgate, then flash or gesture – rise above it and fall back.
Other motorway drivers seem to think they are taking part in the Indy 500, hopping between lanes and cutting in front of other motorists. My advice? Keep well away.
You may encounter HGVs on two lane motorways deciding to overtake one another so that a queue of cars builds up behind them as they trundle along, side-by-side at 54 mph – be prepared on all motorways to have to suddenly slow from 70 mph as queues form in front.
Don’t ignore gantry messages
Whilst it’s tempting to join the crowd of 70mph+ racers blithely ignoring “Warning – reports of obstruction” messages, please do not! The shredded HGV tyre I narrowly avoided in the middle lane would have been a much more dangerous hazard if I’d been driving at 70 mph rather than 40 mph.
And worse of all are those idiots who ignore red crosses – some people leave their brains at home when they get in their vehicle.
Tiredness is a long-distance driver’s worst enemy
Share the driving if you can, and even if you are sharing the responsibility, grab an opportunity to take a break. Concentrating on unfamiliar roads in the dark and rain for longer than an hour whilst driving at speed is very tiring. I realise that not all motorway service stations are the most pleasant experience and can be overpriced, but 15 minutes to stretch your legs and to a have coffee can save lives.
And of course, carry out those POWDERY checks before setting off.
By Mike Quinton, IAM RoadSmart’s Chief Executive Officer