Safety Advice For Long Distance Driving

On the Arrive Alive website we share advice on safe driving techniques for a variety of different driving conditions 24/7. Even though many of these suggestions may be applicable irrespective of the road surface or time of day, we would like to discuss why special caution is required when driving long distances.

What is long distance driving?

Most international road safety authorities advise that drivers take a break from driving after 2 hours / 200km. It would be fair to refer to long distance driving as distances in a range covering 300km or a drive further than 3 hours.

South African drivers often travel distances during Easter and the Festive Season from the inland provinces to the coast varying anything from 500km to 1,500km. Long distance driving requires exceptional vigilance and some experts on safe driving have suggested that a driver should avoid driving more than 10 hours in a day.

A few Important Questions to Consider:

Before making the decision to climb behind the wheel for a long distance drive we suggest asking the following questions

  • Are you familiar with the road and road conditions you might encounter?
  • Are you driving alone?
  • Will you be driving at night/ can night driving be avoided?
  • Will you be driving you own car or a rental car?
  • Are you prepared for the additional challenges to driver and vehicle fitness?

The Challenges of Driving Long Distances

It is important to recognize some of the unique challenges to long distance driving. Among these are:

  • Not being familiar with the specific road and road works / detours in an area.
  • Different road conditions to what the driver may be used to such as having to drive in mountains / mountain passes / gravel roads etc.
  • Driving in challenging conditions not previously experienced such as driving on snow / ice, in fog etc.
  • Driving through different jurisdictions / cross border with different road signage.
  • Driving at night and encountering the risk of animals crossing the roads in rural areas.
  • Driving with additional baggage / towing a trailer.
  • Driving long distances with vulnerable passengers - child passengers, passengers with medical conditions or suffering from motion sickness etc.

Safety Advice when Driving long distances

We would like to share a few suggestions with drivers embarking on long distance driving.

Planning the Long Distance Drive

  • Always do your research and planning on the road to the destination, road works and aspects that could delay your expected time of arrival.
  • A GPS is a very handy device not only to find the route and re-route but also to help you locate fuel, food, and other essential services.
  • Even if you have a GPS device or map application on your cellular phone, consider having a plan B such as prior research / planning and a good map.
  • Keep an eye and an ear on weather predictions, route updates and traffic alerts on the radio.
  • There may be a several websites and Twitter handles covering traffic along your route, providing information worth checking when you are not driving [Or done by a passenger].
  • Plan well ahead for fuel stops. Avoid any attempt at driving near to empty. Rather fill up regularly.
  • Always obey traffic signs – there is a reason why you may be warned about animals or antelope crossing the roads.
  • Try to avoid driving at night, especially if you plan to divert from the main roads.
  • Drive with comfortable clothing and footwear.

The Vehicle and Roadworthiness

  • Roadworthiness is not only a legal requirement but a necessity for long distance driving.
  • Before you accept the challenge of a long distance drive it is advised to have the vehicle thoroughly checked by a trained mechanic.
  • An effective maintenance check should include a focus on tyre tread depth, tyre pressures and engine & brake oil.
  • Check your lights, indicators, wiper blades, horn and radio.
  • Check that the spare tyre is in good condition with the correct tyre pressure and that all the tools are available should you need to do a tyre / wheel change.
  • Keep the windshield / windows clean. Bring a bottle of window cleaner and paper towels to ensure that windows and lights are clear at all times.
  • If you’re driving a rental car, familiarise yourself with how it drives and all its equipment before you start your trip. [check that the charger works]
  • The same applies for the co-driver if you are to share the drive.
  • Do not overload the vehicle.

The Driver and Driver Fitness for long distance travel

Being behind the steering wheel for several hours will challenge both body and mind! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that sleepiness contributes to 100,000 accidents and 1,500 fatalities each year in the U.S.

Sleepiness slows reaction times, decreases awareness, and impairs judgment.

  • The best way to start is having a good night of uninterrupted sleep.
  • If you start the journey tired, it’s likely that you’ll remain fatigued throughout your trip.
  • It is best to know where your planned stops are and to know that your accommodation for the night is sorted.
  • Avoid putting yourself under pressure having to make up time for delays on the route.
  • Do not fight driver fatigue by continuing to drive when tired – You will lose!
  • Pull over regularly to freshen up and stretch your legs. Stopping once every 200km or every two hours is good advice.
  • Your body, your passengers [or pets] and your vehicle deserve a rest from driving.
  • Park at a safe and well - lit rest stop in the vicinity of the public eye to avoid becoming a victim of criminal activity.
  • Avoid consuming heavy foods at the rest stop.
  • If you are to sit stationary for several hours at a time behind the steering wheel, heavy foods in your stomach will leave you feeling bloated and lethargic.
  • Share the drive if possible, allowing you to remain rested and able to fully concentrate.
  • Sharing the driving with a driving buddy is an excellent way to keep you entertained and stress free.
  • Be extra cautious when driving at night: The National Sleep Foundation tell us that, “adults’ strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00-4:00am,” and that this dip in our wakefulness will be even stronger if we are sleep deprived.
  • Keep the car cool and well ventilated.

Pack car-friendly items for long distance travel

Which items could make your long distance drive more enjoyable and relieve some of the stress?

  • Remember to pack a hands-free device for your mobile phone to prevent distracted driving.
  • Always have some change ready for toll fees.
  • Do not forget the car charger – some high speed chargers can keep your GPS and cellular phone powered for any emergency.
  • Pack healthy snacks and a cooler with cold drinks / water. Avoid foods that melt or are messy.
  • Bring wet wipes and have easy-to-access trash bags inside the car.
  • You may wish to pack toys for the younger passengers, books and music for the car.
  • If your passengers are not accustomed to travelling long distances you should consider having motion sickness medication at hand.

Breakdowns and Preparedness for Emergencies

Despite the best planning there may be incidents and emergency situations that are unavoidable. A few suggestions for peace of mind not only for yourself but also for your loved ones would include:

  • Always having a fully charged cellular phone at hand.
  • Telling someone when you’re travelling, and the approximate time they should expect you.
  • Take breaks to pull over and text or call them to let them know the journey is going ok or whether there are delays.
  • Always have a container with water for emergencies – either to drink or to clean the hands or the windscreen.
  • Keep a set of jumper cables and extra fluids for the car (such as windshield wiper fluid) in your trunk.
  • Prepare for unexpected breakdowns with gloves, a flashlight, and some basic hand tools.
  • An inexpensive raincoat is invaluable should a wheel change be required in bad weather.
  • Pack a first-aid emergency kit, pillow, blanket and a roll of toilet paper.
  • Consider investing in roadside assistance.
  • Be aware of emergency and roadside assistance benefits available to you through your car insurance policy.

Cellular technology and long distance driving

Cellular technology and easy access to the internet have made a significant contribution to long distance travel. Although the threats to road safety through distracted driving are well published, there are also many benefits a cellular phone offers to the safety of the road user. A cellular phone will allow the driver

  • To use mapping technology on the route.
  • To stay informed of road closures, detours or seek alternative accommodation.
  • To request emergency assistance.
  • To inform loved ones of progress and location during the journey etc.

For more detailed information on some of the above aspects also view:

Enforcement of Driver Alertness

Defensive Driving and Making Roads Safer

Driver Fatigue and Road Safety

Vehicle Maintenance and Road Safety

Healthy Eating and Road Safety

Enforcement of Driver Alertness

Long distance motorbike rides and road safety

Packing The Vehicle Safely For The Road Trip