It’s not difficult to protect yourself, your passengers and other drivers on the road. We explore some simple tips on how to keep you and your family safe whilst driving. .
With 645,000 cars using Hong Kong’s road network each year, the labyrinthine system of roads and motorways in this small island are amongst the most heavily used in the world.
Despite increases in infrastructure, the population of Hong Kong continues to grow and roads are becoming busier and busier each year. Over the past 22 years, Hong Kong has achieved a significant reduction in fatal accidents, dropping from 434 to 173 annually, a reduction of 60 percent. The rate of serious accidents has also dropped, by around 67 percent. Nonetheless, there are still a number of precautions that drivers can take in order to ensure that everyone on the roads arrive at their destinations safely. Here are a few steps that can help all of us to stay safe on the roads and highway:
1. Stay buckled up
There are a many safety tips for driving, but one of the simplest and easiest to implement is the use of seat belts. In the case of an impact, seat belts spread the force over a greater area of your body and minimize your contact with the interior of the vehicle; with seat belts, the chances of a passenger being thrown from the vehicle are also reduced.
Wearing a seat belt doubles the chance of someone surviving a serious crash, and as a result thousands of fatalities have been avoided as a direct result of drivers and passengers wearing them.
Just as important as making sure that passengers are wearing their seat belts is ensuring that the condition of seat belts within a vehicle is of an appropriate standard. Regular maintenance should be undertaken to make certain that belts are not twisted, cut or frayed; that buckles engage and release properly; and that retractors work correctly.
2. Stay Focussed
Driving is a complex process that requires constant diligence and a supreme level of concentration. Losing concentration at the wheel is a major but often under-appreciated risk for drivers. In studies conducted in New Zealand, inattention or driving while tired or falling asleep was a factor in 14 percent of fatal crashes. Inattention was a factor in 23 percent of crashes causing injuries.
Drivers who are distracted react more slowly to traffic conditions such as a car stopping to make a turn or pulling out from a side road, and drivers not paying attention will often fail to recognize potential hazards such as bikes, pedestrians and debris on the road.
3. Avoid using your cellular phone
Living in a society in which we are constantly connected has not come without some consequences. We are used to the convenience of being able to connect with the important people in our lives, but talking on a cell phone whilst driving is a major distraction and the cause of a significant number of accidents. A commonly held belief is that the handling of the phone (dialing, answering, text messaging etc.) is the most significant form of distraction; however, studies have revealed that simply engaging in conversation, a task requiring a significant amount of concentration, is a greater source of disruption. One study found that driving whilst using a cell phone can reduce the amount of brain activity associated with driving by up to 37 percent. In other simulated tests, subjects asked to carry on a cell phone conversation were so distracted that they went unaware of some traffic signals.
Since July 1, 2000, motorists have been prohibited from using cellular phones in Hong Kong whilst driving, and the maximum fine for using a phone is up to HK$2,000. If you are in a situation where you have to make or receive a phone call, it is best to pull over.
4. Maintain safe driving habits
There are a number of ways to make sure you can stay safe on the road. Although some of the following tips may appear obvious, most drivers can improve their ability to scan the road environment and anticipate potential risks:
- Always keep your distance – actively scan everything within your view to prepare for any upcoming or changed road conditions. It is recommended that you maintain a distance of three to four seconds between yourself and the vehicle in front of you .
- Ensure your mirrors are positioned correctly – mirrors increase the scope of your vision and add to your driving awareness.
- Check your blind spots – whenever changing lanes it is of great importance that drivers perform head checks. If a vehicle is hidden in a driver’s blind spot, a simple head check can avoid a driver merging into it.
5. Plan Your Trip
Congestion can be a real problem on Hong Kong roads. It is easy to feel pressured to increase speed if there is a lot of traffic behind you or if you are in a hurry. Planning your trip and ensuring that you allow sufficient time to get to your destination is important so you don’t feel rushed. It is better to arrive safe and late than to not arrive at all. If possible, try to avoid driving during peak traffic hours.
6. Optimize Your Driving Position
Your position in the driver’s seat can have a significant impact on the visibility of road conditions, and can influence reaction and stopping times. The optimum driving position can be achieved by following a few simple tips:
- Your seat should be at a comfortable angle whereby your wrists meet the steering wheel without your shoulders moving forward from the seat.
- Position your hands at approximately nine o’clock and three o’clock, like on the face of a watch. Your elbows should be bent to approximately 45 degrees. Ensure you have a clear view of the instrument panel and a clear view through the windshield.
- Adjust your rearview and side mirrors to a position which improves your visibility, ensuring you reduce blind spots as much as possible.
7. Don’t drive whilst under the influence of alcohol
Driving is a complex task that requires quick decision making and total concentration. Research and statistics have established that those who drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol are far more likely to cause an accident.
There is no absolute safe level of alcohol consumption for competent driving, however Hong Kong has strict laws regarding drinking and driving with the legal limit set at 22 micrograms per 100ml of breath. The law stipulates that even with a blood alcohol reading below the legal limit, the driver can still be convicted of drunk driving if they show they did not have proper control of their vehicle as a result of alcoholic intoxication.
It’s always best to plan ahead when heading out, but if you do find yourself drinking while you have your vehicle, there are a number of alternatives. You can take a taxi, use public transport, arrange a lift with someone who is not drinking or stay somewhere else overnight.
8. Keep your car well maintained
The average automobile can have up to 75,000 parts, and the malfunction of just one of them can affect your car in many unexpected ways. Make sure that you have your vehicle serviced in accordance with the manufacturer specifications, and if you notice any issues with the car, have them seen to promptly. In between services there are a number of simple steps you can take to keep your car running safely. Ensure your tires are properly inflated to their optimal level and that the tread is not worn; keep your brakes serviced; replace worn wiper blades; and ensure oil and fluid levels are sufficient.
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