Holiday driving

You will need to take extra care when travelling in holiday periods because of increased traffic volumes, congestion, tiredness and people driving in unfamiliar environments. Being courteous, remembering to share the road with others and scheduling frequent breaks can help you keep your cool when driving during these times.


Why you need to be alert

  • There are more vehicles on the road – more vehicles means a higher risk of crashes.
  • Many people are driving on unfamiliar roads.
  • People are driving long hours and getting fatigued – often early morning or late evening.
  • Increased stress from factors such as heat, traffic jams, noisy children and general tiredness.
  • People on holiday may be less vigilant about road safety, eg speeding, driving when tired, not buckling up.
  • There’s more drink-driving during holiday periods.


What you can do to increase your safety
You can make a number of choices to increase your safety on your holiday journey. You need to give road use the attention and respect it deserves.


Plan ahead

  • Take a little time to make sure that you and your vehicle are safe before starting your journey.
  • Plan your travel to avoid the worst peak traffic periods when many highways become congested.
  • Allow plenty of time – make the journey part of the holiday.
  • Schedule regular rest stops.


Be alert to changes
Often during holiday periods, passing lanes are closed to help reduce congestion and prevent further delays where the traffic merges at the end of lanes. Sometimes alternative routes are suggested.


Drive to the conditions
‘Conditions’ doesn’t just mean the weather. It also includes:

  • the road you’re on
  • the traffic conditions
  • the speed (the speed limit and a ‘safe speed’ may differ)
  • you, for example are you tired or on medication that affects your driving
  • your vehicle and load.


Watch out for fatigue
Long trips are tiring and fatigue can be deadly when you’re driving. Driver fatigue was a factor in 54 road deaths and nearly 1000 injuries last year. Plan to get enough rest beforehand so that you drive fresh.You should plan in advance where you’ll take breaks on your trip.


Identify the safest routes
Some routes are safer than others. You need to know that roadside hazards such as trees, ditches, poles and narrow shoulders can increase risk. Intersections can be dangerous and so can busy roads without a median barrier. Armed with that knowledge you can adjust your driving to the conditions and take extra care on higher risk rural roads.
You can learn which routes are safer and which you may need to take more care on from the KiwiRAP(external link) website. This site rates the safety risks of different rural state highways by region.


Before you travel

  • Have your vehicle checked. Most garages offer safety checks for tyre tread and pressure, lights, brakes, cooling systems and other components. (A well-tuned vehicle is also more fuel efficient, so you’ll also save money on fuel costs.)
  • Check that your warrant of fitness and vehicle licence are up to date.
  • Check that you have a current driver licence. If it’s expired or close to expiry, you’ll need to renew it before starting your journey.

When buying or hiring a vehicle, always choose the safest vehicle you can afford. You can check the comparative safety of vehicles at Rightcar.(external link)
When packing your vehicle, make sure everything is securely stowed. Even small objects can become dangerous missiles in the event of a sudden stop or crash.


Check your trailers and caravans
Check all towing attachments and make sure the couplings are compatible. Also remember to check the safety chain, trailer lights, tyres and brakes.
Remember, if you’re towing a trailer, your maximum speed limit on the open road is 90km/h. Keep left and pull over when it is safe to let other vehicles pass.
Load heavy objects evenly over all of the axles.


Keep your cool
Holiday driving can be frustrating with busy roads, often slower sightseeing travellers, stifling heat in summer and icy surfaces in winter. Here are some simple and easy ways to stay calm and stay in control:

  • Be courteous – let others merge into traffic and indicate before turning or changing lanes.
  • Keep left unless passing.
  • If you’re a slower driver, pull over when you can to let others pass.
  • Be patient and don’t be provoked by other drivers’ aggressive behaviour.
  • Remember that trucks and towing vehicles have lower speed limits. Wait for a passing lane or until you can see clear road ahead of you and enough space to overtake safely.
  • Keep an eye out for cyclists and other road users. Give them plenty of space.
  • Watch out for horses on back country roads.


Buckle up
Don’t let your family holiday be marred by tragedy simply because someone didn’t buckle up. If you’re the driver, you are legally responsible for making sure all passengers under the age of 15 are securely restrained with either a safety belt or child restraint. Children under seven must be properly restrained by an approved child restraint suitable to their size and weight.


Remember you’re sharing the road
Traffic volumes increase significantly during the holidays and you’ll be sharing the road with other cars, as well as pedestrians, cyclists, heavy trucks, buses, campervans and vehicles towing boats or caravans.
Always keep a safe following distance between yourself and the vehicle in front. This gives you a safe stopping distance should the vehicle in front of you stop suddenly.
Be particularly alert around pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. These road users have considerably less protection than you. Keep an eye out especially for cyclists if you’re travelling tourist routes during summer.
If you’re cycling or motorcycling, make sure you’re visible and wearing proper protective gear.


Keep an eye out for children
Watch out for children on the road. Young cyclists and pedestrians can be unpredictable, as they are poor judges of vehicle speed. Children may also be learning to ride new bikes over the holidays.

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