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ONE of the most expensive things that a driver can do is to be involved in a crash. Apart from the obvious physical damage to the vehicle, there are other costs like wasting time with collision reports for SAPS and the insurance company, finding lifts / alternative transport as well as medical costs if you are injured.

Economical driving is easy, but it needs practicing until it becomes part of your everyday driving style. There are three aspects to consider with economical driving; firstly, the 'crash' mentioned above, secondly fuel consumption and then unnecessary wear and tear on the vehicle. Defensive Driver Training includes economical driving as well as vehicle sympathy and listed below are some of the most important aspects.

Recent AA fuel consumption tests showed that Defensive Driving could save 25% fuel conservatively. The test was conducted in and around Johannesburg in two identical vehicles over a distance of 88kms including city, suburban and freeway driving. Both vehicles set off within one minute of each other and arrived back within 90 seconds of each other. There were observers in each vehicle and apart from the untrained driver breaking the law numerous times, the Defensive Driver used just over HALF the amount of fuel!

One of the secrets of economical driving is to look and plan way ahead so that you do not lose your momentum. This catches out many drivers, because they do not keep a minimum of 3 seconds following distance. This reduces forward vision resulting in things happening 'suddenly' and often causes braking, which is uneconomical and uses fuel to get up to speed again. Another good example is to notice red traffic lights well up ahead. Decelerate early and learn to 'pace' yourself in the traffic, without upsetting the traffic flow behind you and you will find that the majority of the time, the traffic light changes to green before you reach it. Also remember that it is uneconomical to coast in neutral because the idling valve is functioning and this uses fuel, whereas if you just decelerate in gear, the fuel cut-off is activated and you use NO FUEL! This is true with most modern vehicles. Learn to accelerate gently from a stop and change to the highest gear for the conditions and environment as soon as possible, unless you need sudden power for overtaking, evasive action or for an incline.

When going down a long hill, use the appropriate gear so that your engine does part of the braking for you. For example, depending on the speed, rather go down hills in fourth gear so that engine ‘braking' through deceleration assists in harnessing the momentum of the vehicle. This saves on brake-pad wear. Defensive drivers regularly travel in excess of 70,000 km before needing to change front brake pads.

Another costly component on a vehicle is the clutch. Avoid abusing the clutch. Clutch abuse is riding the clutch (resting your foot lightly on the clutch pedal whilst driving), keeping the clutch pedal depressed for long periods of time, like at a red traffic light or slipping the clutch. For example, on an incline where you 'hold' the vehicle in position with a bit of acceleration and the clutch partially released instead of using the parking brake to assist. This can wear the clutch components out in a surprisingly short period of time.

Being aware and observing for high-risk situations are life saving habits of Defensive Drivers. How many of us observe what is happening on the other side of the road? There could be a pothole or if a pedestrian steps off the pavement, the oncoming vehicle may swerve into your path resulting in a head-on crash.

Think about which would be the safest lane when travelling on a dual freeway with bushes in the centre median restricting your view of oncoming traffic? Also think about why you are more at risk when travelling around a right-hand bend on a normal dual lane roadway with vehicles approaching in the opposite direction.

The other driver, what clues are they giving you? If the other driver is not wearing a seatbelt, watch out, they obviously do not care about their lives so it would be unlikely that they would care about yours! Someone who does not check blind spots is invariably driving the vehicle that has side damage. What about rear-end damage? Often, this driver is guilty of leaving insufficient following distance resulting in sudden braking. Think about it, there are often clues which would alert you to high-risk situations like the distracted driver holding their cell phone to their ear. Also check if the brake lights work on the vehicles ahead of you, these lights give you early warning of trouble up ahead.

The vehicle with out of town registration plates, do they know where they are going or is it possibly a rental vehicle that the driver is not familiar with. Also consider why a person is driving a rental vehicle, are they on business or is it because their vehicle is in the panel shop? When you pass a stationary bus or taxi, are you prepared if a pedestrian or child comes out from behind it?

At intersections the low-risk ones are where you can see and the high-risk ones are where you can’t see. Pedestrians normally turn their heads to the direction they intend to go. This is a good clue to be prepared and use your hooter to obtain ‘eye contact’. Bus stops and taxi ranks are high-risk areas often with vision barriers, which restrict your vision. A stopped taxi with brake lights on is low-risk. When the brake lights go out, high-risk!