It’s the holiday season in New Zealand and local travel is in full swing. We’re lucky that we can travel around our beautiful country, maskless and with a far greater sense of freedom than almost anywhere else in the world. There’s danger lurking though. New Zealand roads are tough to traverse, and our road toll is a scary reminder that not everyone who departs for their annual summer road trip makes it home. With that in mind, here are some tips that may help you stay a little safer on the roads this year.
One of the most effective ways to stay safe on New Zealand roads is to take your time. I’ve driven around New Zealand a lot over the last few years and have seen some terrible overtaking. I can’t understand why people risk their lives (and the lives of others) passing people when it isn’t safe to do so. One example was up in Northland – a guy overtook me on a blind corner only 5 minutes or so from the end of the road. He must have got there a minute quicker than me – so pointless. There were kids in the car too.
Don’t Hold Up Traffic
It’s nice to have all the time in the world to travel between destinations, but some people aren’t so lucky. There’s nothing more annoying than being stuck behind someone doing 70 km/h on a straight stretch of 100 km/ h highway, and that annoyance can cause people to make errors. Be aware of the traffic building up behind you (even if it’s just one car) and let them past at the first safe opportunity. I see so many people failing to do this and it makes New Zealand roads way less safe.
Be Extra Careful on Gravel Roads
There are heaps of gravel roads in New Zealand – chances are you’ll end up on one when travelling around this summer. Gravel roads are far different to normal roads – they’re often a lot narrower (with no centre line) and the gravel makes handling harder. These often have speed limits of 80 km/h but I’d be wary of going any more than 50 km/h on most of them. Take your time, keep left and drive with extra focus.
Stay off Your Phone
Don’t text and drive, or change songs on Spotify and drive, or check your emails and drive or check how many likes your most recent Instagram post got and drive. You get the picture! If you’re driving you’re driving, don’t risk your life (and the lives of others) because you’re addicted to your phone.
Rest If You’re Tired
Another huge cause of accidents on New Zealand roads is driver fatigue. It can be tempting to push through a bit of tiredness in order to “make good time” or just get to where you’re going, but falling asleep at the wheel isn’t something you want to risk. Everyone’s different in this regard, but we all know that feeling of getting sleepy behind the wheel, so next time you feel it make sure to pull over, grab a coffee or even sleep in your car for an hour or so.
Watch Out For Trucks
Trucks are some of the biggest hazards on New Zealand roads. They’re big, slow and people hate getting stuck behind them. Patience is important! They can also be a bit scary when there’s a one coming toward you in the other lane at full speed and you’re on a bridge or narrow stretch of road. Stay alert when there are trucks around and try and maybe slow down a bit.
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Be Wary of Where You Pull Over
New Zealand roads are some of the most scenic in the world, and you’ll often pull over to the side of the road to catch a glimpse of a mountain vista or a beautiful bit of coastline. It’s something we all do, but make sure to use common sense and pull over in a safe spot. Make sure there’s plenty of room for cars to pass, that you’re not too close to a corner (if close to the side of the road) and that you check for traffic when opening your door!
Have Confidence in Your Vehicle
No matter how much you pay for your vehicle, there’s always a chance something will go wrong. You can minimise that risk though by taking good care of your car / van / motorcycle (or whatever else you happen to be driving). Check your tires regularly and make sure your warrant is up to date. Also make sure you’re confident in driving that particular vehicle – a huge motorhome handles very differently to your average car! Also make sure your mirrors are well-placed, and get your eyes checked if your eyesight is fading.
Watch Out for Cyclists
You’ll see plenty of cyclists while driving on New Zealand roads, and they can be annoying to deal with at times. They’re obviously slow and you’ll want to get past them as soon as possible, but they can be very dangerous to pass. You just have to be patient and wait for your chance – you’ll never be stuck behind one for too long.
You could follow all these tips and be a great, safety conscious driver and still get into trouble. Hell is other people after all. You have to assume that your fellow road users are capable of a mistake at any time. The key is to assess situations and think of the worse case scenario. I always do this when I see someone coming up to an intersection on the road I’m driving down. If they fail to give way, they’ll smash straight into you, so it’s worth noting that risk and being prepared to avoid it if it happens.
Be Extra Careful at Night / Winter
Driving at night is riskier than in daylight hours. It’s harder to see the road when it’s dark and there’s bright headlights coming at you. I try and avoid driving at night, but when I do I tend to drive a little bit slower (especially around corners).
Some Extra Tips
- Keep Left: It seems obvious, but plenty of people have come unstuck on New Zealand roads when someone either forgets what side of the road they should be driving on or veers over the centre line.
- Stay Sober: Obviously don’t drink and drive either!
- Don’t get distracted: It can be tempting to turn your head to look at that stunning view outside the window, but taking your eyes, and your focus, off the road for a few seconds can be fatal.
Are you heading out on the roads this summer? Do you have any driving tips for the rest of New Zealand? Let me know in the comments below!
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