Defensive driving is the single most important skill that South African women can acquire to ensure that they and their loved ones stay safe on the country’s roads.
This is according to SA’s first lady of motorsport, Clare Vale, who shared her safe driving secrets with BestDrive and Continental Tyres’ female sales and dealership staff at a recent off-road driving retreat in honour of Women’s Month.
The two-day event, which was held at the General Tire Adventure Academy at Klipbokkop near Worcester, saw attendees tackling tough, sandy terrain and hill climbs to test General Tire’s off-road products as well as their own vehicle-handling capabilities.
“One of the most effective ways to stay safe on the road is to avoid a crash before it happens. Defensive driving trains us to think ahead and become ‘road aware’,” said Vale, who is chairperson of the Women in Road Safety Forum and also one of Continental’s Vision Zero ambassadors. The aim of the latter global road safety awareness campaign is to work towards the ultimate goal of zero road accidents, zero injuries and zero fatalities.
“A defensive driver is constantly thinking, ‘What if? What if a child runs across the road? What if that driver talking on his cellphone hasn’t seen me coming past?’” she explained.
Vale, who was the first SA woman to achieve a podium finish in the national V8 Supercar series, said people often lacked confidence on the road and that improved defensive driving skills helped to increase confidence and gave drivers more control in difficult situations.
She said tyres played a critical, and often overlooked, role in road safety.
“On the road, worn tyres will not disperse water the way they should, putting you at risk in wet conditions. Maintaining correct tyre pressures is vital, as tyres that are too soft will put pressure on the sidewalls, and those that are too hard will reduce the contact patch they have on the road.”
Vale said everyone should make a habit of checking their tyres for unusual wear patterns, which could be a sign of poor wheel alignment, as well as inspecting them for cuts or damage from potholes.
Her fellow Vision Zero ambassador and member of the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists, Driving in Heels’ Vuyi Mpofu, told attendees that knowing the very basics of car and tyre maintenance could save their lives.
“These include knowing your correct tyre pressure, what rotation is and why you need wheel balancing and alignment. You also need to know when and how to buy a tyre, including how to read the numbers on the sidewall and other details such as the expiry date.”
As far as the human element was concerned, Mpofu said it was essential to “never drive distracted”.
“Put away your mobile phone and focus on the road. Remember – there are people waiting for you at your destination and a family that relies heavily on you.”
In emergency braking scenarios, she said all loose items and passengers should be adequately restrained and that children should be buckled up and not held in laps.
“Remember that all unrestrained objects in your car travel at the same speed as the car itself; the only difference being that the car has ABS and other braking technology whereas your mobile, shoes and toddler do not.”
BestDrive marketing manager Cathy Hutchinson said a large proportion of all tyre purchases were made by women, adding that women played key roles at Continental Tyre and in the BestDrive dealer network.
“Our Women’s Month off-road experience helped the ladies in our network to sharpen up their driving skills, gave them the confidence to drive off-road on sand, mud and gravel, and showed them just how important tyres are in delivering a safe driving experience.”