Saturday, June 11, 2005

Driving on the defensive

H. Kishie Singh gives tips on how to ensure safety while driving

The strap of the seatbelt should go over the shoulder
The strap of the seatbelt should go over the shoulder. ó Photo by Pradeep Tewari

ONE of the reasons for the increase in road accidents is the high speed of the new cars and aggressive driving. The only antidote you have to ensure your safety and the safety of your family is defensive driving. Defensive driving starts at home.

First, in order to ensure defensive driving you need to have your car properly maintained and in A-1 roadworthy condition. This means brakes have to be up to par, as do the wipers and lights. Stopping is all important as is visibility for safe and defensive driving. Of course, the engine should be in perfect tune. Very important, your tyres should be roadworthy. Worn out tyres are an invitation to disaster. Seatbelts are now compulsory. They are a fantastic safety feature. Air bags compliment seatbelts but by themselves air bags are not sufficient. The shoulder strap of a seatbelt should go over the shoulder, not under through the armpit. I see wrongly worn seatbelts by a lot of drivers on our roads.

Do not, repeat, do not seat a child in your lap if you are in the front seat. I have seen a toddler in a driverís lap. The driver will squash the child against the steering wheel with his body weight. A childís ribcage bones are very tender and will not bear the force of the weight.

At 30 kmph, if a childís head hits the dashboard it is the equivalent of falling out of a third floor balcony and hitting the head on concrete.

Abroad, three-year-olds and younger can only travel in a car if the vehicle has special child seats. Eight years and younger cannot be in the front seats.

Children are full of energy. This makes them fidgety, which can distract the driver. Some electronic games will keep them out of mischief and confine them to the rear seats.

Cellphones are banned while driving. They can be very distracting and lead to accidents. The law states that while talking on a cellphone the driver must pull over to a safe spot and the car engine must be switched off. Failing to do this invites a challan.

Hands-free phones are not really a help. Research has shown that it is not necessarily the phone that is a distraction. The message may be bad news and this can emotionally upset the driver who may get rattled and lose concentration. Research has also shown that just talking on the cellphone and driving slows reaction time by three to four times. Slow reflexes are the last thing you need in heavy traffic or while travelling at speed. It is best to avoid a cellphone while driving.

Another point for defensive driving if you are first in line at a red light: donít shoot off as soon as the red light turns green. There is always an "Iíll make it" hero who tries to catch the tail-end of his green light. He actually jumps the red light and will be right in your path if you have moved off too fast.

The Delhi Police have had great success with one of their experiments: a no-horn zone within 100 metres of traffic lights. Drivers in Delhi actually move off quietly, fearing a challan. The Chandigarh Police would do well to cut down on the unnecessary hooking and noise pollution at traffic lights by enforcing such a rule. The CTU buses are all equipped with air horns and they specialise in keeping their fingers glued to the horn button. Quite unnecessary.

It must be one of the cosmic laws of nature. If you change queues while waiting at a counter the one you have left will start to move faster than the one you are in now. The same applies to drivers who change lanes and cut across traffic. It is dangerous and serves no purpose, so stick to your lane.

Happy motoring.