According to the World Health Organisation, road accidents claim approximately 1.35 million lives each year. 

Behind these staggering figures lies a common thread of preventable behaviours, known collectively as the ‘Fatal Five.’ 

These critical road safety issues significantly increase the risk of road accidents, injuries, and fatalities. They serve as a crucial focus for road safety campaigns worldwide, highlighting behaviours that every driver should avoid to not only protect themselves but their passengers and fellow road users. 

So what are the Fatal Five of road safety? Read on to find out. 

1. Speeding

Speeding is one of the biggest factors contributing to road accidents globally. It not only reduces your reaction time in preventing an accident, but also increases the severity of accidents that do occur. 

When a vehicle is moving at high speed, the amount of time available to stop or avoid an obstacle is reduced significantly. The higher the speed, the greater the impact force of a collision, and the more severe the injuries and damage.

To combat the dangers of speeding, use some of these tips:

  • Plan ahead: Give yourself enough time for your journey so you don’t have to rush.
  • Stay informed: Know the speed limit wherever you are and be mindful of areas where limits may decrease, like school zones or residential areas. 
  • Use cruise control: When on freeways or highways, use cruise control to maintain a steady speed.
  • Keep a safe distance: Don’t get too close to the car in front of you; if you need to stop suddenly, you’ll have more time to react.
  • Be mindful of conditions: Adjust your speed to match road conditions. Inclement weather, road construction, heavy traffic, and other factors can make the posted speed limit unsafe.
  • Use technology wisely: A lot of modern vehicles come equipped with speed limiters and alerts. If you’ve got them, utilise them! 

2. Distracted driving

There can be a lot of distractions while driving. This includes using your phone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, fiddling with the stereo or navigation system… the list goes on and on. Texting is the most hazardous, requiring visual, manual, and cognitive attention. 

The statistics around distracted driving are sobering. Using your phone while driving increases the risk of crashing by 3.6 times, yet 60% of people confess to using a mobile phone in some capacity while driving. Distraction contributes to 16% of serious casualty road crashes in Australia. 

To combat distracted driving, consider these tips:

  • Put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’: Most smartphones offer a ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature that automatically silences incoming calls and messages while you’re driving. Enable this to minimise distractions, or put your phone somewhere you can’t reach while behind the wheel. 
  • Prepare before driving: Adjust your GPS, seats, mirrors, climate controls, and sound systems before setting off. 
  • Secure items: Secure all of your loose items so you don’t need to reach out for anything while driving. 
  • Avoid eating or drinking: While it may seem like a time-saver, eating or drinking while driving increases your risk of distraction. Take a break, have a bite, and then continue on. 
  • Limit passenger interaction: Save any intense or emotional discussions for later. 

3. Driving under the influence (DUI)

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the biggest factors contributing to road accidents worldwide. Alcohol and drugs impair cognitive functions, coordination, reaction times, judgment, and the ability to make critical decisions quickly and accurately. 

Even in small amounts, alcohol can impact your vision, steering, braking, lane positioning, and concentration. Drugs, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and illegal substances, can have similar or more severe effects depending on their nature and the amount consumed. 

Drink driving is the number one contributing factor in approximately 30% of fatal crashes in Australia. Interestingly, more than a third of those aged 18 to 27 weren’t even aware of what the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit in their state (for those on an open license, it’s less than 0.05). 

How can you mitigate the risks of DUI? 

  • Plan ahead: Planning to drink? Plan on how you’re going to get home, too. 
  • Have a designated driver: If you’re going out in a group, having a designated driver is a great way to ensure everyone gets home safely. 
  • Use public transport: Take advantage of public transport and plan your route in advance. 
  • Get an Uber: Or a taxi or a Didi or any other ride-sharing service.
  • Stay overnight: If you’re at a friend’s house or somewhere safe, consider staying the night instead. 
  • Seek help: If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol or drugs, seek help from support groups or professional counselling services. Addressing the root cause can prevent DUI incidents before they happen.  

4. Driving while fatigued

Driving while fatigued is often overlooked as a minor issue. But the fact of the matter is, fatigue impairs judgment, slows reaction times, and can lead to lapses in concentration, making it as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Extreme fatigue can even lead to microsleeps, brief episodes of unconsciousness, during which a vehicle can travel a considerable distance uncontrolled. 

What are the signs of driver fatigue?

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Daydreaming or wandering thoughts
  • Missing exits or traffic signs
  • Drifting from your lane

To combat this, consider these tips:

  • Get sufficient rest before going on longer journeys
  • Take regular breaks — at least every 2 hours on long trips
  • Plan ahead; leave earlier in the morning so you’re driving when you’d usually be awake
  • Use rest areas to take a short nap
  • Stay hydrated and healthy
  • Share the driving if you’re with someone else
  • Be aware of sedative effects of some medications, which can exacerbate fatigue

5. Reckless driving 

Dangerous or reckless driving covers a range of actions on the road that endangers not only you as the driver, but also your passengers, other road users, and pedestrians. 

Some examples of reckless driving include…

Aggressive driving

This includes things like speeding, tailgating, weaving through traffic, and road rage incidents. These escalate the risk of accidents. Practice patience and maintain a calm demeanour while driving. Allow extra time and avoid rushing or the temptation to speed. 

Disobeying traffic signals

Ignoring traffic lights, stop signs, and other signals is a leading cause of urban crashes. These actions can lead to dangerous collisions at intersections, often at high speed. Adhere to traffic signals and laws, and practice defensive driving, especially at intersections. 

Improper lane changes

Changing lanes without signalling, cutting off other vehicles, or weaving between lanes can lead to side-swipe accidents and multi-vehicle pile-ups. Use your turn signals well in advance of changing lanes or turning. Check those mirrors and blind spots before you make your move! 

Not wearing a seatbelt

The very design of seatbelts is to keep you in your vehicle in the event of an accident. Don’t neglect wearing it. No one is immune to unexpected collisions on the road.  

Adopt safer driving habits

  • Plan your route to reduce the need for last-minute lane changes and turns.
  • Stay alert and focused on the road and avoid distractions. Be aware of the behaviour of other drivers and be prepared to react.
  • Maintain safe following distances to allow for more time to react to sudden stops or changes in traffic.
  • Comply with speed limits and adjust your speed according to road conditions
  • Educate yourself. Take a defensive driving course to improve your skills and knowledge.  

Protect yourself on the road

Take action today by committing to safe driving practices. Review your current insurance policies to understand how your driving record can impact your premiums. This is all the more important if you have or need commercial motor vehicle insurance. Contact us today to ensure you’re safe and protected. 

February 18, 2024

By Graham Knight

Founder and Managing Director of GSK Insurance (established in 1981). Graham draws upon more than 50 years’ experience in the insurance industry, working in both insurance and broking across various private, public and government sectors in Australia.

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