For many of you driving on the left hand side of the road will be a new and possibly daunting experience. Add to that unknown roads and different driving styles to what you are used to and it is no surprise that many visitors to New Zealand can find driving here challenging. Here are some top tips to keep in mind to keep you safer on the roads.
1. Don’t Drive Tired
Research has shown that when you drive tired you can be at a similar risk of accident as a drunk driver. If you know you have a big drive the next day consider the amount of sleep you are getting in the nights prior to your trip, as well as your diet. Eating foods that will spike your blood sugar levels will lead to a drop soon after of those levels which can make you feel drowsy and lacking in concentration.
2. Reduce distractions
In New Zealand it is illegal to use your mobile phone while driving (unless you are using a hands free kit). Turn it off or keep it well out of reach to reduce the temptation to check your text messages or answer any phone calls that come in.
Other driving distractions include changing radio stations or CD’s. Take the time before a trip to set up your stations or have your CD ready to play.
Pull over when eating or drinking. There is nothing like spilling a hot pie or drink in your lap while driving to create extremely dangerous conditions.
3. Wear your seatbelt
By law in New Zealand everyone travelling in both the front and back seats of a car must wear a seatbelt. This means as the driver you are responsible for ensuring this happens.
4. Mind your following distance
It is extremely important to ensure there is a safe distance between you and the car travelling in front of you. This means if they stop suddenly you will have enough time to react to this and stop safely as well.
The two second rule is a good way to ensure your distance is safe. Choose a landmark that the car ahead of you is going to be travelling past, such as a sign or a power pole. When it reaches that landmark, count in your head or out loud, “one thousand and one, one thousand and two”. If you have passed that landmark before you finish counting then you need to put more distance between your car and the car ahead.
If the weather or bad (fog, snow, slippery or icy roads) then change this to a four second rule.
For peace of mind we recommend not driving a motor vehicle if you have been drinking alcohol.
The current legal limits in New Zealand (as at October 2014) is:
For drivers under the age of 20 – ZERO
For drivers over 20 – 400mcg breath or 80mg blood.
There is no hard and fast rule for “how many drinks” someone over 20 can safely drink as it depends on the alcoholic content of the drink, along with your food consumption and your body mass .
Random breath testing is regularly carried out around New Zealand and heavy penalties (including a potential loss of license) can occur if you are caught driving over the limit.
New Zealand law states that you are not to drive a vehicle if you have any type of drug that may affect your driving ability.
6. Know Your Car
Take the time before you drive a vehicle you are unfamiliar with to get familiar with features such as the indicators and lights. Where are the hazard lights, the horn? How do you work the heating and cooling? How is the volume on the radio adjusted?
7. Anticipate Dangers on a Country Road
New Zealand has plenty of country roads that will contain more hazards than our main highways. These can include animals such as sheep that may have broken through fences. Often the roads will be narrower with a lack of pull over area if you needed to stop. It is also likely that you will come across farm machinery such as quad bikes and tractors travelling at slow speeds.
8. Drive to the Conditions
New Zealand weather can be extremely changeable and you could find yourself travelling over ranges or hills and experiencing high winds, hard rain, fog or snowfall. It is extremely important that you adjust your speed to suit the conditions you are driving in. You will sometimes see road signs in New Zealand that say “100km/hr is not a target”, meaning you should not drive at this speed if it is not comfortable or safe to do so.
9. Anticipate What’s Coming
By doing a some map reading and research before a trip will help you know what to expect on the way. For example you might see that there are one lane bridges, tunnels, hills, gorges or non-sealed roads on your journey ahead.
10. Passenger Distraction
Passengers can be distracting while you drive so set some ground rules before a trip. Your front passenger should be supportive to you as a driver. Changing music and giving directions are two ways they can be of help, along with helping you stay alert by ensuring you are having regular breaks and if appropriate by sharing the driving duties.