Driving is a serious responsibility with physical and mental abilities impacting on the driving activities of a driver. It is more than moving a vehicle and knowing how to use the accelerator, brake pedals and steering. Driving is at best when you have knowledge and required skills to drive competently in accordance with those rules and regulations guiding the public roads. A safe and responsible driver has responsibility which makes him a good citizen. Driving is a learned skill acquired with much practice. It is also more important to drive with due regards for safety and convenience of other road users. Driving entails concentration, calmness, and with consideration and respect for others. And at the same time, a driver should ensure proper and total control of his vehicle at all times. That means a driver must not allow anything to take their attention from the road, therefore good anticipation and concentration will help to prevent these usual incident becoming accidents on our roads. The safety of others depends on you when you are on the wheel.
Moreover, a good and responsible driver will always remember that the three most vulnerable elements at the road junctions and roundabouts are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. These people have to be recognised and respected. They should be given priority in all ramifications; in zebra crossings (pedestrians’ crossings), foot paths or sidewalk or pavement, junctions and roundabouts. That is why concentration and good judgement at all times are parts of requirement needed to qualify a person as a responsible and good driver. More importantly, a driver must meet the minimum age requirement and hold appropriate driving licence and basic insurance for the vehicle being driving on public roads.
The practice of issuing driving licence to people without meeting the standard driving test and practical training is nothing less than giving out licence to kill. This is common almost all developing countries of Africa, Asia and South America. Some people will receive their driving licence without able to distinguish between a clutch and brake pedals. There is no probability that anyone that got his licence in such manner will not have an accident (let‘s pray to be minor) which can cause a devastating set-back to family of the accident victims. An estimated of 1.17 million deaths occur each year worldwide due to road accidents. The majority of these deaths, about 70 percent occur in developing countries. Over 10 million people are crippled or injured each year.
Meanwhile, a safe and responsible driver have responsibility in obeying and minding the rules of the road, risk perception, hazard awareness, eco-driving (frequent check-up or maintenance of their vehicle for safety and reduction of air pollution) and good driving behaviour. The first important safety guide for a driver is good condition of the vehicle in question. As we know that not only human errors or condition of the roads can lead to accident, equipment failure can also be responsible. Frequent or regular maintenance or “check-up” of your vehicle can prevent it from endangering lives. The vehicle engine, Brakes, Seat Belts, Headlights, Tyres (including spare-tyres), Wipers, Indicators, Steering-wheel, and Speedometer etc should be in good conditions. With all these in order, you have already passed an important part of safety driving.
Low seat belts wearing rates in developing have significantly contribute to automobile accidents and serious injuries. Seat belts will reduce the forces your body experiences in a crash. It keeps you from flying through the dashboard and windscreen in a sudden stop or crash. A responsible driver must put on his seat belt before moving his vehicle and must ensure that other passengers including children wear the correct and approved restraint appropriate to their size and weight. You should not risk your life and that of other with bad, loosed, fragile or fake seat belts. A properly worn seat belt protects the mother and the unborn baby in any unforeseen crashes.
Alcohol, drug and tobacco are other negative elements that cannot be “mix-up” with driving. These two elements are driving enemies and they should be avoided with much seriousness. Never drink alcohol when you have a plan to drive and never offer an alcoholic drink to someone else who is intending to drive. It is more advisable to arrange for somebody to pick you up or you go with public transport if you must drink in a party. The result of an accident through drinking touch many people, it is not just only those physically involved, but many relations, families, friends, ambitions and careers can be ruined in a split of second. Have you ever seen any human being on earth who has never been affected by accident either directly or indirectly? That is why it is collective responsibility of every living souls to participate and involve in this mission to eradicate or reduce the ever increasing volumes of accidents worldwide. Nearly one-third of teen drivers who were killed in motor vehicle accidents had been drinking according to recent world research.
Meanwhile, Alcohol affects your judgement and abilities while driving, it slows your reaction to obstacles on the roadway and it reduces coordination and total control of the vehicle apart from given a false sense of confidence. Alcohol relaxes you and increases your chances of falling asleep on the wheel. Alcohol level rises quickly on empty stomach and intensity or tolerance effects of alcohol differs and depends on a range of factors such as age, weight, gender, metabolism, current stress level, quantity of alcohol and whether the person have eaten recently. The effect of alcohol manifests its maximum point in human body one hour after the last cup of beer. So you have to take a long sound sleep after a hangover of alcoholic drinks before handling a steering. A driver should not drive under the influence of drugs or medicine which is banned and very dangerous risk to serious accident. In essence, you should not drug drive that is “don’t drug drive”. Some prescribed drugs you bought on chemist or pharmacy shops like sedative and analgesics (pain relievers) can result to drowsiness, blurred vision and tranquillisers like cough syrup, cold tablets and sleeping tablets can reduce driving ability. You must not take medication less than an hour before driving.
Smoking on its part cause distractions while driving, produces smoke that irritates to the eyes and can easily lead to drowsiness in few minutes as you start smoking.
Over-Speeding and Gamble Over-taking are other negative elements that a good and responsible driver should be avoided in all ramifications. It is forbidden to overtake when you don’t have the best view of the road ahead or when in doubt. Drivers are prohibited to overtake on pedestrian crossing and railway or metro crossings respectively. Speed kills. Over-speeding have sent many people to grave beyond. It is basic fact without embarking on any research that “the faster you drive on the road, the more likely you are to crash”. Driving is transportation and not competition or race among drivers like Schumacher, Hamilton, Alonso, Button etc. The higher the speed of a vehicle, the longer the braking distance. Besides, stopping distance is doubled on wet roads. Driver should always obey the speed limits for road and for his vehicle. Driving a vehicle without a functioning speedometer should be taken as serious traffic offence in African and Asia countries. So, it is better to late to your destination (if you cannot leave earlier) than to be the late.
Two-Second-Gap-Rule (TSGR) is another factor that can make a driver safe and responsible on the road way. There is a dictum which says; “Only a fool breaks the two-second-gap-rule” This is a safety margin that all drivers should allow as a safe separation distance between you and the vehicle in front. This have to be doubled (four-second-gap-rule) on wet roads or when its rainy. It never safe when driving too close to vehicle in front. It gives time to react. This is one of the best safe driving principles.
Telephone is an important use of communication especially in emergency period or while away from home or office, but it should be avoided while on steering. Using of mobile or any other hand-held telephones are prohibited while driving throughout the world. It is now a serious traffic offence to be communicating or sending or reading messages with your mobile phone while driving on public roads. It is better and more appropriate to pull over to a save place to receive or make a call.
Obeying all traffic rules and regulations is another important requirement to be a safe and responsible driver. Most accidents occur because some drivers fail to recognise, respect and obey some important traffic signs and road markings. All drivers must always stop at the STOP sign even if there is no vehicle coming from either sides. Red traffic triangles usually give you a warning. Red circles traffic sign tells you what you must not do. Blue rectangle traffic signs usually gives you information and Circular traffic sign with blue background tells you what you must do. Road markings are also very important as traffic road signs. Solid while lines on the road means do not cross. Broken white lines means that your vehicle can cross and triangle lines on the road junction also give you instructions such as to stop or give way. Meanwhile, yellow lines road marking are used to make some form of waiting restriction. There are two types; double yellow lines mark length of the road, where there is no waiting at any time. Single yellow line indicates a shorter period of restriction such as a day time. Besides, all drivers should obey and pay special attention to all supplementary signals and personal assigned to regulate traffic by traffic authority or road under construction which all signs have a yellow background.
Meanwhile, a responsible driver should always slow-down and give way to pedestrians on zebra crossings and when turning to a new street road and people are crossing. Driver should recognise that children and old mummies and daddies on the road. They always find it difficult to judge the speed at which a vehicle is approaching because as they are getting older, their sight, hearing and reaction times may not be as sharp as they were used to be in the “good old days”. Children on their own part tend to focus on one thing at a time and as they are small in size which makes it difficult for drivers to see them. Avoid driving in poor weather such as wind blowing, night travelling and heavy-rainfall because, when it comes to vision, human eyes takes a long time to adjust to changing light. Driving a passenger vehicle with a capacity of more than twelve passengers should have a first-aid kit, a spare tyre and at least one fire extinguisher and emergency exit doors and windows. It is very important to have periodical eyes test that ensure your eyes have not deteriorated especially when you need glasses to read vehicle number plates.
Finally, a responsible, confident and safe driver have responsibility in obeying and minding the rules of the road, risk perception, hazard awareness, eco-driving (frequent “check-up” or maintenance of their vehicle for safety and reduction of air pollution) and good driving behaviour. And most importantly, you should have total control of yourself, the vehicle and your immediate environment to ensure a safe and responsible driving habit. It is definitely not a joking matter as there is no replacement for a life lost or permanent disability due to road accidents. Always remember that a minute patience or endurance with other road user can save a life.
Adewale T Akande, an Author and Road Safety Traffic Consultant
based in Barcelona, Spain-is presently in Nigeria on World Bank project assignment on implementation of Governance Accountability Action Plan in the Road Sector.