Research shows that texting and driving could cost you your life.
Research shows that texting and driving could cost you your life. (Fred Prouse, Reuters)

Make sure that you and your family don’t end up as statistics of this festive season.

The children are out of school, the bags are packed, and you’ve finished shopping for the family’s festive gifts and now it’s time to hit the road.

Last year, 1 434 people lost their lives on South Africa’s roads during the festive season – an increase of about 11% when compared with the previous year’s figures, according to the Road Traffic Management Corporation 2015/16 Festive Season report.

If you’re joining the throngs of South Africans travelling to see family or for a holiday at the beach, here are four tips to avoid becoming a statistic this December.

Don’t drink and drive. Duh
Statistics South Africa says road accident fatalities were the third leading cause of unnatural deaths in South Africa in 2013.

In fact, our roads are so deadly that we have the 23rd-highest rate of such deaths out of 50 African countries, according to the World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015.

The report says about 60% of the deaths that happen on our roads involve alcohol.

So how much is too much?

According to the National Road Traffic Act, the legal breath alcohol limit is 0.2mg per 1 000ml. If you are breathalysed by traffic officers and are over this limit, officers will require you to take a blood alcohol test within two hours. The South African Police Service (SAPS) warns that if the level of alcohol in your blood is higher than 0.05g per 100ml, you are over the legal limit and could face a two-year prison sentence and a criminal record.

This means that even one drink – 350ml of beer or more than a single tot of brandy or other spirits – could put you over the limit, says the SAPS website.

Drunk walking is dangerous
If you’ve been drinking, maybe just stay put.

Almost half the crashes that happened in last year’s festive season involved jaywalking pedestrians and an additional 1.3% of accidents involved drunk walkers, according to the Road Traffic Management Corporation report.

If you are drunk, your safest option is to stay where you are until you have sobered up and are able to walk home. And if you need to cross a busy road, find an intersection or pedestrian crossing.

Remember, look left, look right and then left again.

Drive or text. Don’t do both
Tweeting, replying to a text or scrolling through your Instagram feed could cost you your life.

Distracted driving, particularly texting while driving, significantly reduces the time a driver’s eyes are focused on the road and impairs concentration, according to a 2015 study published in the 2015 Journal of Ergonomics. Other studies have also found that texting involves lending your eyes to your phone for about five seconds, which is enough time to drive about 110m.

If you need to call or text someone, pull over.

Pencil in some serious shut-eye
Diarise getting enough sleep before that big trip and that means seven to nine hours daily, says the United States research organisation Mayo Clinic.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine argues that driving while drowsy is the same as driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Just like alcohol, drowsiness compromises your driving ability by “reducing alertness and attentiveness, delaying reaction times, and hindering decision-making skills”.

Drowsy driving usually occurs at high speeds and the driver is often unable to avoid crashing because of slower reaction times, the study found. It warns that even a few nights of bad sleep can set you up to be a sleepy driver.

So rest up before those long road trips and think about alternating drivers.

The study also warns that turning up the radio or air conditioning or opening a window are not effective techniques for staying awake.

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Pontsho Pilane is the communications manager at Soul City Institute for Social Justice. Pilane was a health journalist at Bhekisisa from 2017 until 2019.