Safe driving

Alcohol and driving

What is a standard drink?

Any alcoholic drink which contains 10 grams of alcohol is called a standard drink. As the alcohol content of drinks varies greatly, it takes differing amounts of different types of alcohol to make up a standard drink.

The biggest problem with keeping drinks standard and within the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit is that drinks can be served in larger glasses - and with more alcohol - than standard drinks. The following standard drinks have approximately 8-10 grams of alcohol:

  • 30ml of spirits (40% alc/vol)
  • 60ml of fortified wine (18% alc/vol)
  • 100ml of champagne (12% alc/vol)
  • 100ml of wine (12% alc/vol)
  • 150ml of light wine (8% alc/vol)
  • 280ml of standard strength beer (4.9% alc/vol)
  • 375ml of low-alcohol beer (2.8% alc/vol)

How many drinks does it take to get to 0.05 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?

Your BAC is determined by many factors, including what you drink, how quickly you drink, how much you have eaten, how much you weigh, your gender, the health of your liver and even how fit you are. Aerated alcoholic drinks like champagne and sparkling wines can also cause your BAC to rise quicker than other drinks with the same alcohol content. As a general rule, to stay under 0.05:

  • men can have 2 standard drinks in the first hour and 1 drink each following hour
  • women can have only 1 standard drink in the first hour and 1 each following hour

How can I work out my BAC?

You can check your BAC by using a coin-operated breath tester on licensed premises but remember that these machines are not guaranteed to be accurate.

In general:

  • a smaller person will have a higher BAC than a larger person  
  • a person with more body fat will tend to have a higher BAC
  • women absorb alcohol faster and usually have a higher BAC than a men who drink the same amount.

Does drinking coffee or taking a shower help lower BAC?

No, the liver eliminates alcohol from the body at around one standard drink per hour. Once alcohol is in your system, the only way to lower it is to let time pass without drinking more alcohol. Drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, exercising, getting fresh air, or vomiting DOES NOT lower BAC.

Your BAC will rise as soon as you start drinking and will peak around 30-60 minutes after you stop drinking. However, alcohol metabolism is a very individual thing, and your BAC may continue to rise for up to two hours after your last drink.

Can you still be over the legal limit the next morning?

Yes, you can be over the limit the morning after drinking. It can take many hours for alcohol to leave your body so that you are safe to drive.

Why is drink-driving dangerous?

Road crash statistics show that alcohol is still a major factor in the number of people killed and injured on our roads. At 0.05 BAC your risk of crashing is twice as high as a sober driver. The risk of crashing increases dramatically as your BAC level increases.

Alcohol significantly impairs vision, reaction times and co-ordination which are all important in order to drive safely.

How do I avoid the risk of drink driving?

If you are planning to drive, the only way to be certain of staying under .05 is to not drink. If you do decide to drink, reduce your risk by:

  • arranging a designated driver
  • taking alternative transport like a taxi or public transport
  • keeping track of  your drinks and how long you have been drinking for
  • drinking  slowly, alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
  • having something to eat while you're drinking
  • finishing your glass before filling up again so you can keep count of your drinks
  • drinking light rather than full-strength beer
  • being careful when drinking mixed spirits or cocktails as you can’t be sure how much alcohol is in them
  • using a coin-operated breath tester for a rough guide to your BAC
  • waiting at least one hour for each standard drink consumed.

What are the penalties for drink-driving?

The law and penalties for drink driving can be found on the VicRoads website.

The chances of being caught drink driving are higher in Victoria than almost anywhere in the world. TAC reports over 1.46 million drivers and riders are breath tested by Victoria Police Booze Bus operations each year. In Victoria in 2012, 1 in 20 drivers were confirmed to have one or more of the illicit drugs present whilst driving and one in 238 drivers were found to driving with a BAC in excess of the prescribed amount.

Is alcohol a contributor to road crashes?

Yes. Road crash statistics show that alcohol is still a major factor in the number of people killed or injured on our roads. Approximately 16% of drivers and motorcycle riders killed on Victoria’s roads have a BAC over 0.05.

Can I drink while driving?

It is illegal to drink alcohol while driving or supervising a learner driver.

Drugs and driving

Driving under the influence of drugs is a major road safety problem because illicit drugs affect your ability to drive safely. Random roadside testing for illicit drugs occurs in Victoria to combat drug driving.

How drugs are detected

Police test drivers for THC (the active component in cannabis), MDMA, which is known as ecstasy, and methamphetamines (also known as speed, ice or crystal meth).

Roadside saliva testing is not designed to detect the presence of prescribed drugs or common over-the-counter medicines.

How roadside saliva drug tests are conducted

Drivers are stopped at random on the roadside for a saliva drug test that is similar to an alcohol breath test.

  1. Drivers first complete an alcohol breath test and then a saliva drug test. This involves wiping the saliva device on your tongue. The test takes approximately five minutes to give a reading. If the test is negative, the driver is free to go.
  2. Drivers with a positive reading on the roadside saliva test do a different saliva test in the police drug bus. If the second test also returns a positive reading, the driver will be interviewed by police and part of the second sample will be sent for laboratory analysis. The driver is given the remaining portion of the saliva sample.
  3. The driver is then able to leave but cannot drive their vehicle. The driver will be informed of the outcome of the laboratory analysis within a few weeks of the roadside saliva testing. If the driver tests positive for illicit drugs while driving they will be fined or prosecuted.

Penalties for driving under the influence of drugs

     The law and the penalties for drug driving can be found on the VicRoads website.

Prescription medication

Some medications affect driver performance, for example by affecting reaction time and causing tiredness. If you are worried your medication affects your driving you should continue taking your medication, avoid driving and see your doctor as soon as possible. Tips to ensure your driving is not impaired include:

  • taking your medication as prescribed
  • asking your doctor or pharmacist about the possible effects the medication will have on your driving
  • asking about the effect any new medication or change in dosage will have when combined with other medications you are taking
  • asking whether it is safe to drink alcohol while taking your medication.

 

Fatigue

Avoiding driving while tired

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.

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.

Everyday driving

Feeling tired can occur any time of the day, with the two main causes of tiredness are:

  • lack of sleep
  • driving when you would normally be asleep

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 then others and are more at risk of having a tiredness-related crash. This includes:

  • 18 to 25 year olds - work, study, spontaneous and late night lifestyles put them at risk because they do not get enough sleep
  • Shift workers - often have disrupted sleep patterns leading to tiredness, with night-shift workers more at risk
  • People with sleep disorders - conditions such as sleep apnoea can impair your driving ability.

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 regular breaks 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.

Before you travel, use the too tired to drive checklist to make sure you are not too tired to drive.

The only cure for tiredness is sleep!

Related information

Securing a load

You are required to secure your load whether towing a trailer or carrying heavy loads.

Tips to secure your load safely. 

1 Make sure your vehicle is rated to tow the load and check the handbook if in doubt.
2   Make sure your vehicle and trailer are in good mechanical condition and roadworthy.
3 If you are carrying small items (such as garden waste or debris), cover the load with a tarp so items don't fall or fly out.
4 Do not use restraints if they are frayed, cut or damaged.
5    Evenly distribute the loads as much as possible, ensuring they are secured to prevent the load moving around.
6 Remember that loads can move and settle during a journey allowing restraints to loosen. If possible, re-check the restraints shortly after beginning the journey.
7 Make sure your number plate is visible.
8 Drive to the conditions remembering that your vehicle will be less manoeuvrable and will take longer to stop. Avoid sudden braking, heavy acceleration and sharp cornering.

 

Under Victoria’s Road Rules it is an offence not to have a load secured properly and it is an unnecessary risk to driver safety. A load must be secured to prevent any part of the load from:

  • hanging or projecting from the vehicle in a manner that may cause injury or damage to a person or property, or cause hazard to other road users
  • becoming dislodged or falling from the vehicle.

Loads must be secured so that your vehicle is stable and safe. If part of a load falls onto the road, the driver must quickly remove the item, or take action to have the item removed from the road safely. If you spot any debris, call the appropriate authority:

Towing safely

Towing a caravan/trailer is not difficult if you follow our safety tips.

Weight of caravan or trailer

The law allows a vehicle to tow up to 1.5 times its kerb mass. But be sure to check your owner's handbook for the car manufacturer's recommended maximum towing mass, as some vehicles are not suitable for towing up to the legal limit. RACV recommends that slightly less than the applicable limit is towed so as to ensure that there will always be a reserve of power available and that the engine of the tow vehicle will not be constantly working at near its maximum.

Tow vehicle

Towing a caravan greatly increases the stress placed on the safety limits of any car. It is essential that the car is in first class mechanical condition, with special attention to brakes, steering, suspension, tyres and most importantly the cooling system. If the tow vehicle is an automatic, it is essential that a transmission oil cooler is fitted.

Short trips at first

Complete a few short towing trips at first, gradually increasing the distance travelled, before embarking on a long trip. This allows you to familiarise yourself with the rig, to get to understand the feel of the weight of the van on the back of the car, to understand the adjustments necessary when accelerating, braking and especially overtaking.

Drive to a plan

When heading off on the first trip, an early start is recommended, as this will give you the advantage of light traffic conditions and assist in developing the feel of the caravan on the back of the car.

Know the height of your van

Before leaving on your trip, measure the height of your van and any luggage on your vehicle roof racks. Most car drivers aren't used to worrying about height clearances under bridges, where trees overhang roads or when entering car parks. However, if you are towing a caravan or have luggage on roof racks, you need to be aware and heed low clearance signs on public and private roads. 

 

The low rail bridge on Montague Street, South Melbourne (see image), has a 3.0 metre (10ft) clearance, affecting drivers towing caravans to and from the Spirit of Tasmania ferry if approaching from the West Gate Freeway. A route shown on a GPS may not be suitable for caravans.

Routine check

Before moving the caravan at any time, make a routine check to ensure that everything is in order for travelling. Power, water and waste water services should be disconnected, gas bottle turned off, all windows and cupboards fastened, parking legs fully raised, step up and jockey wheel removed. Most importantly, check that the coupling electrical connection and chains are properly located and secure. Have someone assist you in checking that all the tail/brake lights indicators and side marker lights are working properly, including the rear number plate light.

Caravan tyres

The tyres on the caravan must be all the same, have good tread and no cracks in the sidewalls. Tyre pressures must be maintained at least to the recommended pressure by the caravan manufacturer or the tyre manufacturer.

Remember to check caravan tyres regularly. Tyres can deteriorate quite considerably if the caravan is sitting idle on its tyres for many months of the year or they have been exposed to the weather.

Towbars and hitches

There are many types of towbars/tow hitches available to suit different cars. The most satisfactory system is a load distribution hitch, which returns both the car and the caravan to a level position, once it is properly set up. It is best to consult with a specialist in this field for your particular rig.

Braking system

The most effective and efficient type of brakes today are electric brakes, which operate when the brake lights on the car operate. They have the big advantage where they can be operated separately from the car by a hand control inside the car. This means that the caravan is never pushing onto the rear of the car, which is often when the caravan can start to sway.

Fuel usage

An increase in fuel consumption is to be expected when towing a caravan. Also if the car is used continuously for towing, a reduction in the overall life of the car must be expected.

Moving off

When moving off from stationary, take your time to avoid harsh acceleration, as the only result will be excess use of fuel with the extra load. With a manual car when starting on a steep hill, where possible, allow the rig to roll back several metres with the steering wheel turned so that the car and the caravan are at an angle to each other. This will dramatically relieve the load on the clutch, as the first few metres the car moves, it is only straightening the caravan out and is not pulling the full weight.

Stopping

Even with the latest electric braking systems, it is essential to allow a greater distance to slow or stop than the distance you would allow with only the car. In fact, forward planning when applied properly can often reduce the number of times that you will actually stop at traffic lights. When you are approaching a set of traffic lights that are red, gently slacken off the power, so that you take longer to get to the lights, and quite often you will find that the lights will change and you can go through without coming to a stop. This practice also improves the fuel economy of the tow vehicle, because you are not starting the whole rig from stationary at every set of traffic lights.

Use of gears

When climbing hills, don't wait until the car is struggling to decide to change down to a lower gear, as the car will only struggle again after the gear change. In automatic cars, change down to second gear to prevent the transmission from hunting up and down from gear to gear.

On steep downgrades it is very important to change down to a lower gear to assist the brakes, or even better, to reduce the need to use the brakes. It is not unusual for the brakes to overheat during a long descent, when the driver neglects to select a lower gear.

With a four-speed automatic, unless you are on a flat road with no head wind, it is probably better to leave the gears in third, again to prevent the transmission from changing up and down all the time.

Cornering

When taking corners, it is important to remember the extra length of the rig. For a left turn, approach a little further out from the side of the road. Always allow the car to continue straight for a few metres. This will prevent the caravan from being too close to the side of the road, with the potential of colliding into a shop verandah, power pole, etc.

Sway

The most dangerous thing that a caravan can do is to develop sway. With the modern load distributing hitches that are available, a properly set up and loaded caravan, sway is almost eliminated. If you have a caravan/car combination that continues to sway, you should consult with the experts to have the problem rectified.

Sway in high winds

High winds, especially side winds, can cause sway. The direction and strength of wind can be determined by observing trees on the side of the road or wind socks near ravines. There can be some situations where you should make the decision not to tow the rig at all, when there are extremely high winds blowing.

Sway when being overtaken

Sway can be caused when a large vehicle like a semi-trailer, B Double or a Road Train is going to overtake your rig.

Try to be aware of any vehicles that are going to overtake you and where possible give them as much room as you safely can

As the large vehicle commences to overtake you, with the accelerator still pulling your rig, gently apply the caravan brakes only, with the hand control. This will make the caravan pull backwards on the car, which has a straightening out effect on the whole rig.

Never use the foot brake in this situation, even if your rig is fitted with electric brakes.

Reversing

Reversing is often considered a nightmare with a caravan, but it is not as difficult as it may seem. It just needs some thought and for the driver to take their time.

To reverse around a corner, like parking into the caravan parking bay, there are four movements:

  1. Point the caravan in the direction you wish it to go.
  2. Get the car to basically follow the caravan where it is going and maintain a manageable angle between car and caravan.
  3. Bring the car in a straight line with the caravan.
  4. Straighten the car wheels.

It sounds complicated, but if it is taken one step at a time the technique will gradually develop. At any time you must be prepared to stop, get out and take a look at what the rig is doing, so that you can be fully aware of what happens at each stage. Like any new procedure, it only takes practice.

Manoeuvring by hand

There are times where it maybe more practical to remove the caravan from the car and manoeuvre it by hand. In this situation, if the ground is uneven or slopes, make sure that you can keep control of the caravan handbrake to prevent it running away from you. If the caravan does start to get away, immediately stop it, lock on the handbrake, step back and take a break while you consider the situation.

Driving and wildlife

One of the best things about driving in the country is seeing wildlife along the way. But thousands of animals get injured or killed every year on Victorian roads. Here are some simple tips about how to avoid hitting an animal when on the road.

Avoid driving in animal peak hour

Avoid driving at dawn and dusk and a few hours after dark (or 'at night time') in areas populated by wildlife as this is when animals are more likely to be moving around and feeding.

Be alert

Keep alert in areas likely to be populated by wildlife, such as country roads or national parks. Be cautious, scanning both the road ahead and the roadsides. Get any passengers to help and pay attention to any warning signs (e.g. 'Kangaroos next 10 km'). Animals can appear quickly from the roadsides and some may be difficult to see against the black bitumen of the road. Be aware of traffic behind you, as well as oncoming traffic.

Don't drive faster than conditions allow

Driving slower when visibility is poor or where you expect animals might appear gives you greater reaction time and a better chance of avoiding a collision with an animal.

Use high beams for better visibility

When safe to do so, use your high beam headlights so that you can see further when driving at night. However, if you see an animal ahead, dip your headlights. Bright lights can dazzle animals and rather than move off the road, they may remain stationary and in the path of your vehicle.

Don't put your own safety at risk

Your safety always comes first. If you see an animal, your natural instinct may be to swerve sharply to avoid hitting it but this could put you and other motorists in danger. Always maintain full control of your vehicle. Sometimes, it may be impossible to avoid a collision with an animal.

Give an animal time and space to move off the road

Some animals may act unpredictably, so where possible, give them plenty of time and room to move off the road when passing them. Brake safely and drive slowly past the animal.

Don't litter

Throwing food scraps out of your car is illegal and it may also attract wildlife to feed on the sides of roads, increasing the risk of injury. Do the right thing. Find a bin for your litter or responsibly dispose of it when you arrive home.

Assisting injured animals

If you’re involved in, or witness, an accident with a native animal, please give Wildlife Victoria’s emergency response service a call 13 000 94535 or click here – even if the animal didn’t survive, someone may need to be sent to check the pouch for young and make the area safe.

Everyday driving tips

Follow these driving tips and you’ll help reduce your risk of being involved in a crash as well as improve your personal safety as a motorist.

POWER check

When checking your vehicle, the POWER check is the easiest to remember. This stands for Petrol, Oils, Water, Electric, and Rubbers. Everything under each heading should be visually checked at least once per week.

Two-second gap

At all times maintain a two-second gap from the vehicle ahead, no matter what speed you are travelling. When it is raining, a foggy night, or any combination of these, the gap should be doubled to four seconds.

Safety gap between vehicles

When you stop behind another vehicle in a line of traffic, always ensure you are able to clearly see the bottom of the vehicle's rear tyres. This ensures you are not too close to the other vehicle. Also, as you commence to move your two-second gap will already be in place.

Keep left

Keep to the left at all times unless overtaking. The right hand lane is for overtaking, or turning right. Use it for driving straight through only if the left lane is obstructed by road works or parked vehicles, or if it is not useable for any reason.

Indicate early

Where practical, use your indicators for at least 30 metres before commencing to turn or change lanes, to tell other road users what you will do.

Drive with anticipation

Expect the unexpected and be aware that we all make mistakes sometimes. The other driver may forget to indicate, or to look to see if you are near by. If you have anticipated this may happen, it will not be a surprise.

We should be driving as a team, not as individuals - be prepared to let the other driver in, rather than blocking them out.

Stop at lights or stop signs

When you stop at the lights or at a stop sign, your car should be behind the thick stop line. There are some intersections where if you stop over the stop line and a truck or bus turns into the street that you are leaving, it will collide with your vehicle.

Plan ahead

Always plan well ahead. Your line of sight should travel parallel to the road, not down onto it. This makes it easier for you to prepare for anything that may happen long before you get there.

Overtaking

Overtaking is probably one of the most dangerous manoeuvres a driver can perform, especially on a two-way carriageway. Quite often the vehicle you overtake is only travelling slightly slower than you are. Make sure that you have enough room to go well past the overtaken vehicle before you move back to the left. Don't cut them off.

Anti-lock braking systems (ABS)

Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) prevent the wheels of a vehicle from locking under emergency braking. They enable steering control with the brakes fully operating, enhancing the driver’s chances of avoiding a hazard.

ABS does not necessarily stop a vehicle in a shorter distance than ordinary brakes. If you drive a vehicle with ABS, still keep the same two-second gap from the vehicle in front. ABS should only be relied upon in an emergency braking situation.

Drive smoothly

Drive smoothly and make decisions early so that you can accelerate, brake and change gears smoothly. It will make your vehicle last longer, cost you less, and it is far more comfortable for your passengers. Rough acceleration, braking, or steering, can easily cause your car to skid.

Negotiating a curve

When you are negotiating a curve in the road, try to flatten the curve out as much as you can. This will give you a better view around the curve, a smoother path and it will decrease the potential of the car commencing to skid. For a left curve, approach as near as is safe to the right of your lane, when you can see where the road straightens out ahead, gently move across to the left of the lane and finish back in the middle of your lane. Use the opposite sequence for a right curve.

Night driving

Night driving can be quite difficult. Oncoming vehicles' headlights can dazzle you and you must keep alert to the lights and reflectives of cyclists and motorcyclists. Pedestrians can be impossible to see. Traffic lights can appear to blend in with advertising signs.

Leave yourself more space from the car in front, as this will create more time for you to be able to see what is ahead and prepare for anything that may happen.

Driver courtesy

Be courteous and share the road:

  • Allow other drivers to merge or change lanes easily.
  • Only use your horn as a warning sound and do not use it out of frustration.
  • Always try to stay relaxed and concentrate on your own driving and safety rather than the behaviour of others.
  • Don't gesture to other drivers or engage in arguments.
  • Be forgiving of other drivers’ mistakes.
  • Don't take your personal frustration out on the road.
  • Be aware of the needs of other drivers, and all other road users like pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and heavy vehicles.

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 driving skills. Go 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:
    • Try to carry pen and paper, a torch, a phone card and emergency numbers with your at all times.
    • It is also a good idea to invest in either a mobile phone or personal alarm for safety reasons. If you can't afford these, a cheaper alternative is a whistle to blow and attract attention if you are in danger.
    • 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.
    • If someone stops to assist, do not get into a stranger's car. Give them your details and ask them to call for assistance.
  • Park safely:

    • Try to park in a place where there will be plenty of people around and that is well lit.
    • 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 is 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.

Seasonal driving tips

Driving at night

Remember that distance that you can see ahead and to the side is severely reduced at night. This means you will take longer to see hazards on the road or along the roadside.

  • Switch on your headlights
  • Use your high beams where appropriate.

While you need good visibility to drive safely, it is just as important for other drivers to be able to see you.

Driving in wet or hazardous 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. You never know when it might rain
  • 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, so do not follow another vehicle too closely when it is raining or if the roads are wet. Increase the gap between you and the car in front from 2 seconds to 4 seconds.

Driving in fog

It is difficult to see clearly when 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. Low beam keeps the light on the road and not directed up into the fog
  • drive slowly
  • not follow closely behind another vehicle
  • use your fog lights if you have them.

Driving near bushfires

The smoke from bushfires can make it more difficult to see the road. Wherever possible avoid driving near bushfires by seeking out an alternate route. But 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
  • Only move out of the area once all smoke has cleared.

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
  • Pack snacks and cool drinks
  • Have a good night sleep prior to the trip
  • 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).

Vital checks before a long trip

  • Check all fluid levels (coolant, water, automatic transmission, brake, clutch, power steering fluids) and top up if necessary.
  • All tyres (including the spare) should be correctly inflated to the correct pressure. 
  • Check brakes are working correctly (including the handbrake on a hill).
  • Ensure windows and lights are kept clean to ensure the driver’s visibility is not reduced.

Bull bars

Bull bars - think before fitting

The idea of fitting of a bull bar to a car or SUV tends to divide people into two camps: those that loath them as being obnoxious symbols of entitlement and those that see them as a sensible precaution against the dangers of country roads.

Bull bars do have a place but that place is probably not an urban street where it could present a risk to pedestrians or other vulnerable road users. Not only that, a poorly designed bull bar also risks driver and passenger safety by altering the way the car performs in a crash.

On the other hand Australia has a unique road system, in part characterised by large expanses of sparsely populated territory. The many remote roads that join rural communities are populated by wildlife, especially kangaroos whose road safety mantra is ‘look left, look right and go regardless’. Stray livestock also pose a problem for people driving through these areas. These beasts are large enough to disable a vehicle and even injure occupants if you were unlucky enough to hit one.

What are the benefits and shortcomings of bull bars?

Let’s have a look at some of the engineering and science involved. 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 is meant by “Technically essential”. It is clear that bull bars certainly increase the risk of bodily injury, that’s how they work. Their whole purpose is to prevent energy being dissipated through the body of the vehicle when it strikes an animal. In order to satisfy Isaac Newton, more of the energy of the impact must therefore be taken by the animal’s body which will injure it more. Exactly the same physics applies to pedestrians too.

So 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. The long and the short of this requirement is

  • 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 dependant on how well it is designed and mounted.

So to maintain compliance with these two ADRs, VicRoads in addition to the Australian Standard Compliance also require (in its own inimitable 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 we think bull bar manufacturers need to put their resources into continuously improving their designs to be not only compatible with roadworthiness requirements but also to minimise injuries to unprotected road users.

So should you fit a bull bar or not?

Ultimately it is the motorist who must make the call, for instance here at the RACV our policy is not to fit them to our fleet vehicles, although occasionally our regionally based contractors do. Have a think about your motivation too: is it just to make your car look tough or do you travel in the country enough that roos are a constant hazard? Another thing to consider is that bull bars are essentially dead weight and do not exactly improve aerodynamics either. Therefore expect to use more fuel if one is fitted. Also, since a bull bar is part of the gross vehicle mass, the added weight of the bar will also directly reduce the maximum payload your vehicle can legally carry, which could be an issue for utes and vans.

If you do decide to fit a bar, you must make sure your car is still roadworthy and since properly functioning airbags are a part of being roadworthy then one that is compatible with your cars crashworthy design is required. It’s also worth noting that gear that’s often stuck on bull bars such as winches, fishing rod holders and vices may actually make the vehicle un-roadworthy, depending on how they are mounted.

Certainly the days of merrily knocking up a bull bar out of bits of scaffolding and angle-iron in your shed are long gone. These days a lot of design and testing goes into making a good bull bar that complies with the regulations. This has also made them quite costly.

All in all there’s a lot to consider.

To help you out, VicRoads have a Vehicle Standards sheet giving the low-down on the do and don’ts when it comes to bull bars.

Car security

Car theft problem in Victoria is on the rise

The potential nightmare of car theft is always around. Recently in Victoria the number of cars that are going missing has been increasing. It is not much fun to suddenly discover your car is missing. Being a victim of car theft is extremely stressful, inconvenient and time consuming. Victims of car theft experience a wide range of emotions – shock, anger and frustration, as well as  a huge amount of inconvenience. If it is an opportunist theft, such as for the thrill ride or convenient transport, the car is usually recovered within a few days.  But it is likely to be damaged. Professional theft is far more costly. Once stolen, these vehicles are unlikely to be recovered. Professional gangs can have the car completely stripped or loaded into a container, ready to be shipped overseas before the owner realises it is missing. Ease of theft, availability and image or value make some cars more likely to be theft targets.

How can I reduce the chances of car theft?

 Anyone anywhere can be a victim of car theft. Total immunity can never be guaranteed. There are things that you can do to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

  1. Be careful with the keys: don’t leave car keys lying around or in the ignition. Never thinking you’ll only be away for a minute, as car theft takes just seconds.
  2. Try to park in a busy, well lit area. Make sure the car is locked.
  3. Don’t leave valuables on display.
  4. At home, if off street parking is available, use it; lock the car in a garage or behind gates.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. They have been designed to minimise the chance of false alarming. Units are available with addition features for convertibles.

Theft is costly and inconvenient

Even if your car is insured, there is still the inconvenience and possibly other out-of-pocket expenses. Time will  be spent finding alternative transport, lodging police reports and insurance claims. Hunting for a suitable replacement vehicle adds to your theft woes.

Potential theft risks

Just because your car spends the majority of its stationary time parked out the front of your house or in the driveway does not mean it is secure. 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. Late model cars have sophisticated security systems and are difficult to steal without keys. More than 70 per cent of late model cars are stolen using the car’s own keys. Increasingly, homes are being burgled to gain access to car keys, so make sure you have sufficient home security and don’t leave keys lying around. In addition, keys are being stolen from places like gyms, beaches and swimming pools. 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.

Public apathy can be a car thief’s greatest ally

Everyone needs to take up the challenge and play a more active role in the fight against this unacceptable crime.

Don't 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 does not go inside.
  • Make sure the person selling the car is the owner. Ask for proof of identification and proof of purchase. (A driver licence will provide photo ID) 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 the reason 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. -www.ppsr.gov.au
  • 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.

These points do not necessarily mean the car is stolen, but the key message is that if the answers to any of the checks cast doubt on the car's provenance, don't be afraid to walk away.

If you buy a vehicle privately and it is later found to be a stolen you could lose both your car and money. It is worth bearing in mind a Licensed Motor Car Trader (LMCT) must guarantee clear title, so at least you do have some recourse. Be aware also that some unscrupulous sellers may claim to be a LMCT when in fact they are not. A LMCT must prominently display their licence number on there premises and on any advertising. You can use this number to search the dealers credentials at the Business Licensing Authority website.

Fleet safety

Statistics show that road crashes are the most common cause of work-related death. Approximately 30% of all vehicles registered in Australia are used for business purposes; which is a relatively large proportion of vehicles on Australian roads. The issue of fleet safety is therefore imperative to organisations and the community at large.

Safe Driving Program

The introduction of a safe driving program can provide substantial benefits to your organisation. These include the improved health and safety of employees, cost savings and improvement in morale amongst staff.

Occupational health and safety (OH&S)

Organisations which require employees to drive as part of their employment have an OH&S responsibility to prevent injury arising from the use of work vehicles. The same high levels of safety should be provided to these employees as is provided to employees on the employer's premises.

Reduction of injuries

By the introduction of a safe driving program, organisations can reduce the probability of employees being involved in crashes. This in turn, can lead to reductions in injury levels, absenteeism and possible production losses.

Work cover premium

An organisation's work cover premium can be reduced as a reduction of OH&S risk for employees.

Lower repair and replacement costs

The introduction a safe driving program can lead to less spending on vehicle repairs and associated costs as well as possible reductions in insurance premiums.

Higher re-sale value of vehicles

A higher re-sale value can be ensured if fleet vehicles are involved in fewer crashes.

Pregnancy and driving

Wearing a seatbelt while pregnant

It is important that you always wear a seatbelt throughout your pregnancy.

It is illegal not to wear a seatbelt unless a medical practitioner exempts you from wearing one due to medical reasons.

Wearing a seatbelt protects yourself and your unborn baby in the event of a crash. If a seatbelt is worn properly there is very little pressure on your stomach.

Correctly and comfortably wear a seatbelt by:

  • placing the lap part of the belt under your baby and low over your upper thighs
  • adjusting the angle of the seatbelt using the seatbelt locator
  • placing the sash part of the belt in between your breasts.

Driving after caesarean

You shouldn’t drive until your wound has healed (usually about six weeks). Talk with your doctor about when it would be a safe time to start driving again.

New arrival road safety program

The RACV New Arrival Road Safety Program was established to support newly arrived migrants gain experience and training on the road so they can obtain a drivers licence and drive safely. With continued support from the TAC, funding for driving lessons is now offered through The Victorian Community Road Safety Partnership Program (VCRSPP) which is managed by VicRoads.

The VCRSPP aims to improve the safety of Victorian road users. The VCRSPP has a number of local and state-wide registered groups who have an interest in road safety. Funding for driving lessons will now only be available through the VCRSPP to registered groups seeking to improve the road safety of new arrivals through the implementation of ‘Community Car Connections’ and other approved resources and programs. Groups who are not part of the VCRSPP will need to contact a registered group in their area to discuss the possibility of partnering or to seek registration in order to apply for funding of driving lessons. Further details about registered groups and the VCRSPP in Victoria can be found on the Vicroads website.