Expert opinion

Expert opinion

About two hours outside Jozi en-route to Upington I pulled over to stretch my legs and enjoy a coffee. I always do this when travelling long routes taking regular breaks.

Over coffee, I got chatting to a long-distance truck driver who works in the set building and entertainment industry. He was also taking a break, the insight I gained over coffee was invaluable. I practise most of them but his perspective was worth sharing.

His long hauls are not unlike road trips. Given travel bans, many families will go on road trips over the festive season. Driving can be tedious and accidents are a cause for concern. Many accidents are caused by drowsy drivers falling asleep. So I am going to pass on his tips as you may find some value in them.

Planning is key to good performance, plan your itinerary. Plan each day and include distances between key towns as well as places of interest. Pencil in restaurants and coffee shops if you have picked them up while researching the trip. If you are going off the beaten track look for service stations as you may need to refuel. This process eliminates stress and may even avoid hazards if you have researched well. Use your GPS but don’t put in your end destination as it may choose a route different to the one you planned. Navigate from town to town per your planner. One thing to remember, you can deviate from the plan if you see something interesting. You can always put yourself back on track afterwards.

Packing your vehicle is something normally done well into the night. Not a good idea as you need to rest before leaving, especially if you have an early start. You will feel better and be more alert after a good rest. Then there is food, a meal presents an opportunity to stop and stretch legs. I prefer protein-rich meals and often take fruit, salads and grilled protein to snack on. Chocolate and a flask of coffee are also good to perk you up. Water is essential for hydration, pack a few 500 ml bottles per person. Dehydration can be a problem.  It often brings on a headache. Packed meals may be a good option in the pandemic if you want to avoid crowds.

Stop to eat where you feel safe.

One important thing is regular stops to refuel, use the bathroom and even grab a snack or coffee. Stretching and moving to improve circulation leads to heightened alertness. If you are the only driver and you get tired you may need to nap. Do this at a safe spot like a service station or even a parking lot.

Boredom or drowsiness are not easy to handle. Audiobooks help, being alert is critical, a good trick is to check rear-view and side mirrors regularly. This keeps you in the zone. As do regular checks of your surroundings, monitoring gauges and looking around. This avoids getting a “stare fixation” which leads to drowsiness.

You must monitor the signs, electronic signs on highways alert you to traffic conditions and accidents. The normal roadsigns are also important on a trip. It may also be worthwhile to page through a K53 book to ensure that you are au-fait with all signage. Watching the signs is another way of staying alert. Look out for construction signs as they may lead to a detour or even a stop and go section.

It makes sense to ensure that your vehicle is trip ready and serviced. But one thing often overlooked is your tyres. Ensure that they have been correctly rotated and are in good condition. Check tyre pressures when they are cold and ensure that they are inflated to spec. Bear in mind there is a different pressure for a loaded vehicle.

One thing brought to my attention was that of respecting the trucks. The demise of our rail network has seen a proliferation of heavy vehicles on our roads. Keep visible by staying in view. Don’t get too close to a truck as they have massive blind spots. A good position is one where you can see both side mirrors on the truck in front of you. Overtake safely! Whilst you may want to pass a slow vehicle don’t cut in front and brake. A heavily loaded truck trailer combination needs a distance equivalent to two rugby fields lengthwise to stop. This can be worsened in wet conditions. Respect these behemoths we need them.

Although people say the safest option is not to travel in 2021 the year has been bruising. A road trip is the safest option. You are with family or friends, not sharing space a plane or airport. A great holiday option would be to go camping in a remote spot. Explore outdoor spaces and rejuvenate your soul. Remember, sanitise, your mask and social distancing. Stay safe and take care. And enjoy the beauty that our country has to offer.

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