Your first car symbolises freedom, independence…and also, sleepless nights for worried parents. It’s common knowledge that younger and more inexperienced drivers are at greater risk, and it’s up to parents and guardians to make sure that they are fully aware of the common mistakes that they tend to make. Edna de Sousa, Product and Marketing Manager of Auto Mart, has advice for novice drivers.

1. Using cellphones, CDs and other gadgets behind the wheel

“Unfortunately, the younger generation is glued to their phones 24/7,” says De Sousa. “Some research has said that texting behind the wheel can account for about a quarter of road accidents – particularly for younger drivers. When you are driving, your car should be a distraction free zone. That means that you shouldn’t take your eyes off the road for any reason, whether it’s to answer a call, tune the radio, eat a sandwich or dig for something in your handbag. Even a hands-free kit for your cell phone can be a distraction. Calls can wait until you can pull safely onto the side of the road.”

2. Over-steering

“Over-steering is a huge problem, particularly if you haven’t been used to power steering,” says De Sousa. “If you over-steer driving on a sharp bend, you could lose total control of the car. Slow down going around corners and use both hands, placed high on the wheel, for greater control.”

3. Taking Risks

“Never ever race to go over a red light and always check your blind spots before changing lanes,” says De Sousa. “The movies make weaving in and out of traffic look seamless, but in real life, it’s anything but. Drivers should be especially cautious when driving in suburban areas where children are – children struggle to judge the distance between cars and can often run across the road chasing a toy without warning. The speed limit is lower there for a reason.”

Drinking and driving obviously falls in that category too. “Alcohol is a tranquiliser and it affects your ability to judge the speed of your vehicle and the distance between cars, as well as your ability to concentrate, or even stay awake. Your reflexes are numbed and it will delay your ability to react to unexpected hazards,” De Sousa explains. “People also tend to take more risks whilst under the influence. In short, it’s non-negotiable. You cannot drink and drive, under any circumstances. Organise a lift if you are going somewhere where there will be alcohol and decide who the designated driver will be before getting into the car. It’s simply not worth the injuries you can cause to yourself (and others), not to mention the penalties you will be subject to if caught.”

4. Overcrowding the car

The downside of being a student is that there is always someone looking for a lift – and it’s not unusual to see five or six crammed into a car meant for four. “Not only is it bad for the car, but it’s bad for the driver,” De Sousa cautions. “It’s extremely distracting and it triples the risk of fatalities in the event of an accident.”

5. Speeding/Not maintaining following distance

“Driving aggressively to show off is extremely dangerous. A typical car, going at about 80km an hour, need about 20 meters to reach a full stop – more if you are driving a larger vehicle. If the roads are wet, you need even more. Always try to keep a car-length or more between yourself and another vehicle to allow you time to react.”

6. Choosing the Wrong Car (and not maintaining it)

“Buying a first car can be daunting but it’s important to budget for not just the vehicle, but its insurance and repairs. It’s no use buying a flashy car and then being unable to replace its worn tyres. Opt for substance over style – lower mileage, no history of accidents, and good paperwork from the owner’s side. You want to buy a vehicle that’s up to date in terms of services and maintenance. You can also ask the AA to examine the vehicle before purchase if you are unsure of what to look for,” says De Sousa. “Then, once you have bought it, do not ignore “little issues”. If your handbrake doesn’t work, or if there is a crack on the windshield – fix it right away…it’ll be cheaper than leaving it for the long run.”

Also view:

What can I do to alert my child and young driver on the dangers of drinking and driving?

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