How Safe is Your Car?

It still seems a long way off, but the recent rains should have reminded us that road conditions are set to deteriorate over the coming weeks and months and it is time to look again at road safety.

Tragically, a child lost their life in a collision at the bottom of “the dip” on Friday.  It is called a collision because although it appears that only one vehicle was involved, the word accident has almost disappeared from the road traffic world.  The sad truth is that so many so-called accidents are avoidable.  I don’t wish to speculate on whether this one was, but in the hope that one simple thought or inspection could keep someone else safe, here are a few pointers that I’ve picked up over the years.

I also hope that this article will help to raise awareness that simply slowing down sometimes isn’t enough.

Tyre Safety.  The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm over 75% of the tyre surface, but extensive testing has shown that a tyre dramatically loses grip in the wet below 3mm.  It is entirely likely that your car has fully legal tyres and yet your stopping distances and your cornering ability are being compromised, especially on wet roads.   More information is available on the RoSPA website:   http://www.rospa.com/roadsafety/adviceandinformation/vehiclesafety/tyresafety/tread-depth.aspx

The hills in this area create pools and standing water all over the place.  Aside from the hazard of aquaplaning, they often conceal pot holes which can damage your car, especially when encountered at speed.

Road Handling.  Driver training (in my opinion) stops painfully short of where it should be.  I don’t know how much the new two part test has addressed this, but 20 years ago when I took my test it certainly didn’t.  Hands up who is aware of the differences in handling between front and rear wheel drive vehicles?  Is your vehicle front or rear wheel drive?

I once had it explained to me this way (please don’t jump down my throat if it’s not entirely correct, I’m an IT engineer, not an auto engineer).  In a front wheel drive car the steering wheels provide the power, so as you corner, the car is pulled through the turn.  In a rear wheel drive, the car would much prefer to go everywhere in a straight line and you are redirecting it with a pair of “dummy wheels” whose only other role in life is to keep the front of your car off the ground.

If a rear wheel drive car reaches the bottom of the dip at a moderate speed, then applies power just before starting the turn, the car will attempt to continue on a straight path – that’s where the drive wheels are pointing after all.  If there is any surface water, tyre wear or other unidentified problems such as ageing shock absorbers then the problem is multiplied.

Windscreen wipers. How are your windscreen wipers performing after our glorious, long, hot summer?  If they’re not clearing your screen efficiently then you won’t see the kerb/brick/log lying in the road.

You can get ridiculously low prices on wiper blades from Euro Car Parts at the moment (they have an outlet in Hemel but also offer a delivery service).  http://www.eurocarparts.com/  I’m not affiliated to them, but I do love to share a bargain.

Car maintenance.  You probably already have your car serviced religiously and your MOT is current, but do you ever stand back and look at your car?  Is the gap between the wheel and the arch a bit smaller these days?  Does it wallow a bit when cornering at speed?  Mechanics and MOT garages will often only do a visual inspection, so if your shocks aren’t leaking, they won’t necessarily pick up on a problem.

This is a note from someone who knows, because failing shock absorbers once left me pointing in the wrong direction in the fast lane of the M4 – and that was 2 weeks after taking the car into the garage to ask why there was sometimes a “bong” from the front wing when I put the wheel on full lock.

And lastly, put the phone down!  There is no excuse for using a mobile phone while driving.  You have voicemail, they can leave a message and wait for a call back.  There is one truly horrible public information film on the cold reality of cars colliding at speed and if you feel that you need a reason not to put the phone to your ear, or to read the message that’s just come in, please comment on this thread and I will send you a link.  I don’t care to publish the link directly on this website, but since watching it the only people to take my phone out of my bag while in the car are my passengers.

If just one person inspects their tyres after reading this article, looks at the owners’ handbook to see whether their car is front or rear wheel drive, or leaves the phone unanswered then it was worth writing.  Drive safely.