Whether you are a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, cyclist or pedestrian, there are many things you can do to significantly reduce the likelihood of being injured or injuring another person on Victoria's roads.
The information in this section will raise your awareness of the main causes of road trauma and increase your understanding of road safety in general.
Research shows that even a small decrease in speed significantly reduces the likelihood of a crash. If a crash does occur, slower speeds limit the severity of injuries. According to the Monash University Accident Research Centre, reducing speed by 11 per cent would reduce road deaths by 40 per cent.
Several factors increase the risk and severity of crashing when speeding. These include:
- less time to notice and react to potential hazards
- a higher likelihood of losing control of your vehicle
- an increase in the distance required to stop your vehicle
Research has shown that:
- a driver crashing at an impact speed of 80 kilometres per hour is twice as likely to be killed as a driver crashing at 60 km/h
- the probability of a pedestrian being killed in a collision involving a vehicle increases rapidly if the speed at impact is above 40 km/h
Types of speeding
All types of speeding are dangerous and place drivers and pedestrians at risk.
Speeding can be divided into three categories:
1. Low-level speeding
Research shows that the majority of motorists engage in low-level speeding, where the driver travels at a speed marginally over the posted speed limit, typically by around 5 km/h.
Even speeding at 5 km/h above the speed limit increases both the likelihood of a crash occurring and the severity of driver and pedestrian injuries in the event of a crash. Be aware of the speed limit at all times and monitor your speed accordingly.
2. Inappropriate speeding
In difficult driving conditions, certain speeds, even within the legal limits, may be inappropriate. Wet weather and other influences may mean that driving at the speed limit is inappropriate and dangerous. Be aware of conditions altering your vehicles response time and stopping distances, and adjust your speed accordingly.
3. Excessive speeding
In certain cases drivers deliberately exceed the speed limit. Doubling your speed requires four times the distance to stop.
Alcohol and drugs
Alcohol and drugs can greatly impair your reaction time and ability to safely judge your speed and surroundings.
If you have been drinking, feeling sober is not a safe indicator of whether or not you are under the legal limit.
Staying under .05
As a general rule, men can have two standard drinks in the first hour and one every hour after that. Generally women can have one standard drink in the first hour and one every hour after that.
There are a number of precautions you can take to stay under the legal limit.
- if you are taking prescription drugs, check with your doctor to ensure that it is safe to mix them with alcohol – when combined with alcohol, some medications greatly impair your ability to drive
- eat food before and during drinking
- individual bottles and cans often contain more than one standard drink – check the label to learn how many standard drinks your container holds
- do not let other people top up your glass – make sure you are always aware of how much alcohol you have drunk
- avoid mixing drinks
- try alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
- make sure you have allowed enough time for your body to get rid of the alcohol in your system before driving again
Drugs and driving
Drug use can drastically impair driving ability and increase risk of crashing.
If you are taking prescription drugs, check with your doctor that it is still safe to drive.
Research has shown that driver fatigue is a contributing factor in up to one third of serious crashes.
You do not need to fall asleep at the wheel to crash. Fatigue can seriously impair your ability to drive safely, well before you nod off.
Often drivers do not realise when they are too tired to drive. Avoid driver fatigue, especially on long journeys, by taking the following steps:
- get plenty of sleep before a long drive
- take regular rest stops. When on a break, take a short walk, or stop for refreshments
- make accommodation plans before leaving if you think you may need to stay somewhere overnight
- share the driving with a travelling companion
- take extra care when driving between midnight and 6am – during these hours, your body is most at risk from fatigue
- limit your speed on long drives
If the car breaks down
If there are warning signs that your car is faltering, you may have enough time to reach a busy public space where you can stop.
If you have a flat tyre, it may be best to drive slowly until you reach a safe place to stop. Though this can damage the rim, it may be preferable to compromising your safety.
If it is dark and you break down in a very isolated place, you may have to consider spending the night in your vehicle. Alternatively, put on your hazard lights, leave your bonnet up, lock your car doors, flash your lights and try to attract attention. If it is night time, this will also alert other drivers to the fact that there is a broken-down car on the road.
It is safest to not accept lifts from persons unknown to you. Instead, ask them to call RACV or a nominated person for you.
Calling for assistance
If you have a mobile phone, stay in your car and call for assistance. If you do not, decide whether it is safe enough to leave the car and call for assistance, taking into account the time and your location.
If someone offers assistance, it is safest to remain in your car and speak through a partially opened window.
You may have to rely on a motorist making a call for you, if a telephone is too far away.
When making a call for assistance, try to arrange to be located from the phone location. If you attend a house, ask the resident to ring for you, rather than entering.
Using a mobile phone whilst driving distracts your attention from the road and prevents you from maintaining proper control of your vehicle.
It is illegal in all Australian states and territories to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. This includes:
- playing games
- taking photo/videos
- using any other function on your mobile phone
- holding the body of the mobile phone in your hand
Using a hand held mobile phone is also illegal when your vehicle is stationary but not parked e.g. when you're stopped at traffic lights.
Drivers who break this law in Victoria face an on-the-spot fine and incur four demerit points.
Learner, P1 and P2 drivers are not permitted to use a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving.
It is illegal to use a hands-free phone whilst driving if it causes you to lose proper control of your vehicle. The penalty is a significant fine and demerit points.
Although a hands-free device can reduce the physical effort to make and receive calls, it does not necessarily make phone use safer while driving. Consider the following suggestions if you must talk on a hands-free phone whilst driving:
- make sure the hands-free function is set up and working before you start driving
- keep conversations short
- do not engage in complex or emotional conversations
- explain to your caller that you are driving and arrange a better time to speak with them
- if it is distracting you from driving, end the call
In a crash, most injuries to car occupants are caused by contact with the steering wheel, dashboard, windscreen and the car's roof and sides.
Seatbelts have proven to help prevent or limit these types of injuries in the majority of crashes. Research has shown that wearing a properly adjusted lap and shoulder seat belt reduces the risk of serious or fatal injury by half.
Even sudden braking or cornering can cause severe injuries to unrestrained passengers. Lap and shoulder belts should be available in all seating positions in the vehicle, including the centre rear seat.
Before driving off
Take a minute to ensure that all your passengers are wearing their seat restraints correctly.
It is the driver's responsibility to ensure that all children under 16 years of age are wearing an approved seat restraint. Help children learn about the importance of seatbelts by wearing yours on every trip, however short.
Drivers are responsible for making sure all passengers are wearing seat belts or child restraints correctly.
Everyone travelling in a motor vehicle must be restrained by using either a child restraint, a booster seat or an adult seat belt that is properly adjusted and fastened.
The type of restraint to be used depends on the person's age and size.
- children under 6 months of age must travel in a rear facing child restraint
- children aged 6 months to under 4 years must travel in either a rear facing or forward facing child restraint
- children aged 4 years to under 7 years must travel in either a forward facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness, or a booster seat
- children aged 7 years to under 16 years must travel in either a booster seat or use an adult seatbelt
- people 16 years and over must be restrained by an adult seat belt
Staying safe in your vehicle
Adequate preparation is the best way to ensure your safety when travelling in your vehicle. To reduce the chance of your vehicle breaking down, make sure it is full of petrol, air, water, and oil. It should also be well serviced.
Plan your trip. Consider taking a mobile phone, and keep the following items in your car:
- road map
It is a good idea to inform someone of your trip destination and estimated time of arrival. You may also wish to provide a proposed route if you are travelling over a long distance.
Look inside the car through windows before getting inside.
If you feel unsafe
It is important to know how to respond to a situation in which you feel unsafe in your vehicle. Remember to remain calm, drive safely, remain on well-lit streets and if you feel you are in danger, seek the assistance of police.
If you have an incident on the road and feel unsafe, proceed to a police station, open service station, or similar place where someone can assist you. Note the registration number, make and model of the car and pass this information on to police.
If you need to attract the attention of others, sound your horn and flash your lights. Do not turn off the engine. This will reduce the likelihood of your car stalling when you try to restart it.
If your car starts to falter, stop in a safe, well-lit place, preferably out of the way of other traffic, rather than continuing to your destination, risking a breakdown.
Reviewed 21 November 2019