Safe driving tips

Get safety tips on everything from towing caravans and trailers to driving in hazardous conditions.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers! Whether you’re on the hunt for information on car security, bull bars, or driving in wet or hazardous conditions, you’re in the right spot. 

Driving and fatigue

Illustration of causes of fatal fatigue-related accidents


Nobody is immune to tiredness, which can be deadly when combined with driving. Driving while tired is a major factor in more than 20% of fatal crashes on Victorian roads. Tiredness is not only a problem for long-distance driving but also for everyday driving. The two main causes of tiredness include a lack or sleep or driving when you would normally be asleep.

Signs of tiredness include:

  • constant yawning
  • sore or heavy eyes
  • difficulty remembering the last few kilometres
  • drifting in the lane
  • variations in driving speed
  • daydreaming or zoning out
  • not being able to concentrate on driving
  • slower reaction times

Being tired also impairs your ability to recognise the danger signs.

Sleep debt and who's at risk

If you don't get enough sleep, you accumulate sleep debt. The only way to repay this debt is to sleep.

Some people are more likely to be sleep deprived than others and are more at risk of having a tiredness-related crash. This includes:

  • 18 to 25-year olds whose work, study, spontaneous or late-night lifestyles put them at risk because they don’t get enough sleep.
  • Shift workers often have disrupted sleep patterns leading to tiredness, night-shift workers are especially at risk.
  • People with sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea can impair driving ability.

Find out more about sleep disorders and driving from VicRoads.

Long-distance driving

To avoid feeling tired on a long trip:

  • make sure you regularly get 7-8 hours of sleep
  • never drive when you would normally be asleep
  • take a break if you're feeling tired
  • don't start a long trip after a long day's work
  • plan your trip so you can take breaks at least every two hours and share the driving
  • seek medical advice if you often feel sleepy
  • check if any medications cause drowsiness.

If you feel tired when driving, take a powernap (sleep for 15 to 30 minutes), but allow time to recover from your sleep before commencing to drive.

Resources

Seasonal driving tips

Driving in an unfamiliar location? Caught in a downpour? Know what to do in different situations with these seasonal driving tips:

Driving in wet or hazardous weather

Driving in wet weather

It is difficult to see clearly in the rain. To improve safety when driving in wet weather:

  • Make sure your windscreen is kept clean inside and out.
  • Ensure your windscreen wipers are in good condition.
  • Turn your headlights on to low beam.
  • Use your air conditioner to prevent your windscreen from fogging up.

If you don’t have an air conditioner, use the heater demister and, if necessary, open the windows.

Remember, it takes much longer to stop when the road is wet. Maintain a safe distance from other cars and increase the gap between you and the car in front to 4 seconds.

Driving in fog

Don’t put your lights on high beam as this only lights up the fog and makes the road more difficult to see. In fog you should:

  • Dip your headlights so you can see more easily.
  • Drive slowly.
  • Not follow closely behind another vehicle.
  • Use fog lights if you have them.

Driving near bushfires

Fire truck driving to an emergency

The smoke from bushfires can make it more difficult to see the road. Where possible avoid driving near bushfires by seeking an alternate route. If you are caught near one, remember these tips:

  • If surrounded by fire, park car in the barest area possible – away from tall grass and shrubs.
  • If possible, park the vehicle with the rear facing the oncoming fire.
  • Close all windows and vents tightly.
  • Shelter on the floor of the car and cover yourself with blankets or floor mats.
  • Only emerge from the vehicle when you are sure that you are upwind of the blaze.

Holiday driving

The roads are more crowded at holiday times so make sure you remember these tips for a safe and happy journey:

  • Share the driving if possible.
  • Take rest breaks at regular intervals.
  • Pull off the road and have a power nap if you are feeling tired or drowsy.
  • Never drive when you would normally be asleep (late at night or early in the morning).
  • Make sure your car is well maintained and consider a service before a lengthy trip.
  • All tyres (including the spare) should be correctly inflated to the correct pressure.
  • Ensure windows and lights are kept clean to ensure the driver’s visibility is not reduced.

Personal safety

While driving, take some personal safety precautions:

  • While in your car, keep the doors locked at all times.
  • If you find yourself being followed while driving, try to keep calm and maintain your keep your eyes on the road ahead. Don’t go home and drive to the nearest police station, petrol station or well-lit convenience store. Only leave your car when you feel the threat has passed. Report the incident to the police.
  •  Plan your trip in advance so that you are not sitting in your car with the light on reading the street directory at night.

Be prepared in case of breakdowns or trouble:

  • If you break down, try to leave the car in a safe, well-lit spot. Put your bonnet up and turn on your hazard lights. If you have to call for assistance, ensure the car is secure and go to the nearest phone.
  • Getting out of your car into traffic can be dangerous so if possible, separate yourself from moving traffic.

Park safely:

  • Try to park in a well-lit location where there will be plenty of people around.
  • Avoid parking too close to walls and hedges.
  • Never leave valuables like purses, wallets or mobile phones in your car. Move things into the boot before you leave, rather than when you arrive at the destination.
  • Have your keys ready to open the car rather than rummaging through your bag to find them.
  • If it’s dark, have someone accompany you to your car. Try to avoid multi-storey car parks.
  • Never double park or park in a clearway, as this is a dangerous practice and puts other road users at risk.

Car security

A man trying to steal a car

The potential nightmare of car theft is always around. Recently in Victoria the number of cars that are going missing has been increasing.  Being a victim of car theft is extremely stressful, inconvenient and time consuming. 

If it is an opportunist theft, such as for a thrill ride or convenient transport, the car is usually recovered within a few days, but likely to be damaged.

How can I reduce the chances of car theft?

  • Be careful with the keys: don’t leave car keys lying around or in the ignition.
  • Try to park in a busy, well-lit area. Make sure the car is locked.
  • Don’t leave valuables on display.
  •  At home, if off street parking is available, use it; lock the car in a garage or behind gates.
  • Leaving valuables on display inside the car or a spare key underneath invites problems. Keep your licence and fuel card in your wallet, not the glovebox. The owner’s handbook should also be stored elsewhere, as it contains security information, details about the car and personal details.
  • Raise the level of theft protection on older cars by fitting an Australian Standards approved engine immobiliser, certified to AS 4601. 
    • Basic units are available from as low as a few hundred dollars. Price will depend on theft features the system offers.
  • For cabin and contents protection, a good alarm will provide interior surveillance with audible and visual warning. It should have immobilising to prevent the car being driven. 
    • To prevent false triggering, we advise an alarm certified to the Australian Standard AS 3749. Units are available with addition features for convertibles.

Potential theft risks

It is estimated that thefts from private dwellings account for well over 40% of all the cars that go missing.

Car keys have become a sort-after commodity for thieves. They’re burgled from homes, gyms, beaches and other public places.

  •  Always find a safe place to store your car keys. 
  •  Leaving a spare key in the car’s glovebox or hidden under the car is only making the job easier for car thieves.

Older cars are often targeted due to a lower level of security. For pre-2001 cars, having a good quality engine immobiliser fitted has proven to be the most effective protection measure. Almost 60% of older cars stolen either had no engine immobiliser or a unit that was not Australian Standards approved.

Never buy a stolen car

Car theft often creates a second level of victims: the unsuspecting buyer of a re-birthed car who often suffers an even greater financial loss than the car's original owner.

Vehicles that have been given a new identity (re-birthing) or substantially upgraded using stolen parts can be difficult to detect, but there are sensible precautions you can take to minimise the risk:

  • Beware if the car is significantly under-priced for its age, kilometres and condition.
  • Be suspicious if the seller offers to bring the car to you or is waiting for you outside the address given and doesn’t go inside.
  • Make sure the person selling the car is the owner. Ask for proof of identification (such as their driver license) and proof of purchase. Check information against the registration papers.
  • Make sure the car's documentation is consistent with the kilometres and service history in the owner's handbook or receipts for work on the car.
  • If the car has been re-registered, check why.
  • Obtain a Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) Search Certificate (fees apply): The PPSR is the national service to find out if a vehicle is encumbered, written-off, stolen or registered in any state or territory of Australia.  
  • While recording these numbers, look for signs of tampering, or welding and repainted areas on surrounding panels. Check the compliance plate for damage.
  • If the seller asks for payment in cash be wary.

What happens if I unknowingly buy a stolen vehicle?

If you buy a vehicle privately and it is later found to be a stolen, you could lose both your car and money. It’s worth bearing in mind a Licensed Motor Car Trader (LMCT) must guarantee clear title, so at least you do have some recourse.

Be aware that some sellers may claim to be a LMCT when in fact they are not. A LMCT must prominently display their licence number on their premises and on any advertising. You can use this number to search the dealer’s credentials at the Business Licensing Authority website.

Bull bars

bull bar on a car

Bull bars can be a sensible precaution against the dangers of country roads and rural areas populated by wildlife, but generally aren’t needed in an urban setting.

What are the pros and cons of bull bars?

A bull bar is a rigid structure, usually metal (plastic bars also exist) which is fixed to the front of a vehicle and is designed to protect a vehicle against damage to items such as the radiator and headlights.

The Australian Design Rules (ADR) are design requirements for vehicles that set minimum standards for Safety, Emissions and Anti-Theft equipment. ‘ADR 42—General Safety Requirements’ states that:

 “no vehicle must be equipped with any object or fitting, not technically essential to such vehicle, which protrudes from any part of the vehicle so that it is likely to increase the risk of bodily injury to any person”.

Interpretation of this ADR hinges on what’s meant by “Technically essential” and the argument of what happens when a vehicle fitted with a bull bar hits a pedestrian. The purpose of a bull bar is to prevent energy being dissipated through the body of the vehicle when it strikes an animal. This means more of the energy of the impact is taken by the animal’s body than the vehicle.  Exactly the same physics would apply in the instance of the vehicle hitting a pedestrian.

As a result, most state registration bodies including VicRoads skirt this part of ADR 42/04 and instead refer to compliance to Australian Standard AS 4876.1 2002. We can take the following out of the requirement:

  • The bull bar shall follow the profile of the vehicle to which it is fitted.
  • Fitting the bull bar must not increase the width of the vehicle (excluding the mirrors).
  • Any sharp edges on the bull bar shall be chamfered or radiused.
  • No open-ended frame members are allowed.
  • No small components (such as brackets) shall be attached to the front of the bull bar.

But the story doesn’t end there. For the past 15 years or so vehicles have had to comply with ADR 69 and ADR 73 which requires vehicles to protect occupants in a front-on crash. In modern vehicles, compliance with these ADRs can be dependent on a predictable rate of deformation of the front-end structure. Also calibrating airbag deployment is a precise thing and how this is affected by additional structure attached to the front end is very much dependent on how well it’s designed and mounted.

To maintain compliance with these two ADRs, VicRoads in addition to the Australian Standard Compliance also require (in its own words) that any bull bar fitted to a vehicle that is subject to ADR 69 and ADR 73 must demonstrate that it:

  • Has been certified by the vehicle manufacturer as suitable for that vehicle; or,
  • Has been demonstrated by the bull bar manufacturer to not adversely affect the vehicle’s compliance with ADR 69 or ADR 73 or interfere with any critical air bag timing mechanism as the case may be.

For their part, RACV think bull bar manufacturers need to put their resources into continuously improving their designs to be not only compatible with roadworthiness requirements but to minimise injuries to unprotected road users.

Should I fit a bull bar to my vehicle?

Ultimately, it’s up to you to make a call. Consider how you use your car, not just the aesthetics.

At RACV our policy is not to fit them to our fleet vehicles, although occasionally our regionally based contractors do.

Visit VicRoads for more information on bull bars.