Careful: animals

Autumn is the rutting season, and the danger from deer crossing the German roads increases massively. In my native Bavaria, I have had to execute emergency braking manoeuvres, for a deer crossing the road directly in front of my car, at least 20 times. Particularly early in the morning (05:00 to 08:00hrs) and in the evening (17:00 to 22:00hrs), the deer is moving and it is recommendable to carefully watch the roadside, with glades, skirts of the woods and fields requiring your special attention. The red and white danger signs ‘deer pass’ indicate danger zones where you shouldn’t drive faster than 60 to 70km/h. And you always should keep your distance from the car driving in front of you as it could be forced to brake all of a sudden.

In the case of a collision with a deer, the driver has to inform the police or the closest forestry office. The scene of the accident must be safeguarded and flagged. However, never touch the injured or dead animal! It could be sick. And those who think they can simply take an injured deer home are wrong. If you do so you are guilty of poaching. The damage caused by such a collision can be massive. In a 100km/h collision, a 20kg deer represents the mass of a ton. Every single year, 200,000 such accidents take place, many of them cause injuries.

According to the police, the estimated number of unknown cases even is even higher. In consideration of this situation, it’s not too comforting that the claim settlement in the case of a deer accident is usually far less dramatic than most of the motorists assume. Usually, your TPFT insurance will cover the damages on your car – provided that the animal you hit was a so called fur game such as a deer, a wild boar or a hare and not a cat, a cow or a sheep.

A lane for the rescue services

A situation everybody is familiar with: a siren in the distance, the rescue services are on their way! I have to say that I have only ever witnessed disciplined motorists in this case, but the statistics tells another story. Quite often, such situations result in accidents as many motorists tend to react, panic-stricken and inconsiderately. For example, they often tend to stop in the middle of the road. For the rescue services, the danger of an accident is eight times higher than for any other road user. The end result may be a life-threatening delay. Therefore, it has been stipulated in §38 of the German road traffic act that the ‘normal’ road users have a duty to make room immediately.

But what is the correct behaviour in such a case? First of all: keep your cool and find out where the sound of the siren is coming from. When you are driving on a two-lane road, it’s relatively easy to describe how you should act: move to the right immediately (right hand traffic). Should the motorist be positioned in front of a red traffic light, he may even cross the stop line to make room for the emergency vehicle. Should the traffic light show green, it’s usually better to cross the crossing – but only if this doesn’t hamper the emergency vehicles.

But careful! On the highways, the lane must be opened differently, depending on the number of lanes. Should there be two lanes, the drivers on the left lane should move to the left, those on the right lane to the right. When it comes to three-lane highways, you once again have to follow another regulation. Only those on the left lane should move to the left, the drivers on the other two lanes to the right. And on four-lane highways, the drivers on the two left lanes move to the left, those on the right lanes to the right to open an emergency lane. Incidentally, it’s advisable to not immediately close the lane again after the emergency cars have passed as further emergency vehicles could follow.

Dogs on board

Naturally we all care about the safety of our passengers. But who really gives much thought to the safest possible way of transporting pets in the car? Personally, I don’t have a dog, but one thing is absolutely clear: it is extremely risky to have dogs jump about on passenger seats or in the back of the car. Hubert Paulus, safety expert of the ADAC (German Automobile Association), says: “Animals should be contained while driving. This is also important with regard to your own safety.”

And this is why: Even in a minor accident, your beloved pet can be transformed into a deadly bullet, which endangers your life and that of your passengers. Crash tests have shown that even small dogs, which are not secured in the car, can pose substantial dangers when being thrown through the car interior. In an accident with 30mph, a 30-kilogram dog hits an object with up to 30 times its weight, i.e. with approx. 900kg.

This impact is not just sufficient to injure passengers, but also to cause serious damage to seats and other securing mechanisms. This means that the passengers are at an increased risk of injury and the animal faces certain death. Although there is no definite regulation concerning the securing of animals, section 23 of the German Road Traffic Act requires drivers to ensure that their load (this includes animals) does not endanger traffic safety. Therefore, it is advisable to use the safety systems, which are offered by various accessories manufacturers.

These systems and devices don’t just increase the physical safety of people and animals, but also prevent pets from wandering about unexpectedly in the car and distracting the driver from driving. This danger should not be underestimated, even if the pet is very well behaved – insurers regard such cases as gross negligence and will not accept claims for costs. For this reason, an accident will also turn into s serious financial burden.

Once the decision for a securing system has been made, and as well as coming to terms with the correct fixing mechanism, it also needs to be considered that animals require a certain amount of time to get used to transport boxes and other devices. It is best to give them the chance to get to know the new accessory in their normal environment – to have a test session, so to say.

Seated like a professional

Often, minor details can result in major improvements. As you have to sit more or less motionless for a long time while driving, this often results in symptoms of fatigue that even can be painful, with your back being particularly at risk.

To obviate long-term consequences and to arrange the daily ride in your car as agreeable as possible, it’s worth while to check the way you use to sit behind the wheel. And this isn’t a must for the multi-mile drivers and motor racers alone but can also result in additional safety and driving comfort. At first, the position of the backrest should be checked. The seat and the backrest should form an angle of about 110°: This way, you will be sitting slightly leaned back, with your derriere being completely pushed back to the backrest.

This position makes sure that your spinal column is unburdened, while you enjoy a perfect view at the instruments and the traffic, with your body being in perfect position for the safety equipment such as airbags or seat belts. The distance to the front should be selected in a way that your shoulders still make contact to the backrest when your hands hold the wheel. The leg distance is perfect when the left leg still is slightly bent while you’re pressing the clutch pedal to the metal. In this position, a comfortable control of the wheel and the pedals is guaranteed, thus helping to prevent symptoms of fatigue such as cold feet, caused by insufficient blood circulation.

Furthermore, the direct and relaxed control of wheel and pedals makes for short reaction times, thus making sure that you can act precisely and quickly in the case of a dangerous situation. In addition, the position of the headrest also should be checked. It’s perfectly adjusted when its upper edge and the highest point of your head can be connected by a horizontal line. At the same time, there shouldn’t be more than a fingerbreadth space between the headrest and your head. Correctly adjusted, the headrest will cushion the head in the case of an accident, thus countering injuries such as the whiplash. Last but not least, the position of the seatbelt should be adjusted to your body height. In no case, it should run across your throat – it must run across the shoulder area, as serious injuries may be the result otherwise.

In addition to the aforementioned measures, it’s recommendable to make a short break and get out of your car for some activity such as exercises, every second hour, if you’re making a longer trip. Some short exercises for your spinal column are perfect to get fit for the next stage of your travel.

Kind regards and have a good trip

Isolde Holderied

Holidays for individualists

Being on holiday off the beaten track – it’s no problem with a caravan. Read more about caravanning in Isolde Holderied’s new ‘Advice for drivers’.

Choosing the travelling speed by yourself, stopping where you like, consciously gathering new impressions: These are the attractions of a caravanning tour. For many years, Germany, Italy and France have been the most attractive holiday destinations of the German caravanning fans.

To keep up untroubled holiday vibes, however, you are supposed to make yourself familiar with each country’s safety standards. Regarding the road performance, a caravan differs from a passenger car. Fast driven corners or sudden crosswinds can affect the caravan’s stability. When it comes to loading, keep the caravan’s centre of gravity as low as possible, with heavy pieces of luggage put at the bottom, and not into the wall units.

For vehicles exceeding a certain weight, some roads are closed: Here, it’s vital to keep an eye on the signposting! Whereas caravans up to 3.5 tons are classified as passenger cars, the lorry and bus traffic rules apply for vehicles over 3.5 tons. This might mean that certain passes must not be used. Basically, the permitted maximum weight as well as the hubloads should not be exceeded. Here, a look in the car documents is a good advice. If you are not sure whether the vehicle is too heavy after loading, you can weigh the caravan at a public weighing machine or at the Technical Inspection Agency.

Talking about weight: A caravan weighing several tons has a longer braking distance than a passenger car, due to its mass. That’s why it is paramount to drive anticipatorily, and to keep a safety distance according to the formula “half of the speed indicator” at least. This means to keep a distance of 50 metres on the motorway, when driving 100 km/h. This matches the distance between two of the poles on the side of the road. Driving-safety lessons are recommendable, as they are offered by automobile clubs. Finally, only people who get their caravan under control can enjoy their holidays without any trouble.

I wish you a happy summertime.

Yours sincerely,

Isolde Holderied

wet conditions

Who doesn’t know the situation: Torrential rain, the steering loses its grip and the engine suddenly revs up. A clean cut case: the water trap – called aquaplaning by the experts – has struck again. But there are several things you can do against the lack of grip.

In the case of aquaplaning, the tyre grooves capitulate – they just fail to conduct a sufficient quantity of the water masses drowning the streets. The result: a wedge of water forms between the tyres and the tarmac, lifts the tyre tread from the street surface and makes the car ‘swim’. Cross grooves in the tyre are worse then longitudinal groves when it comes to conducting the water – but they are just indispensable for the stability. Therefore, modern tyres and wide tyres in particular are provided with a mix of longitudinal and cross grooves, thus also ensuring optimum grip in wet conditions.

Those who want to reduce the risk of aquaplaning will have to deal with the tyre-tread topic. The more tread a tyre has got, the better it succeeds in conducting the water. While new tyres with a tread depth of about eight millimetres will start aquaplaning at 81 km/h, the same effect will start as early as at 70 km/h if the tread depth adds up to just four millimetres. And: Should your car’s shock absorbers be defective, the aquaplaning will start at a speed some 16 km/h lower than it would be the case with the dampers working fine.

So what can you do to avoid the water trap? First of all, you should opt for a foresighted and conservative way of driving in wet conditions: Keep your distance to the car ahead. Bumpy roads use to be typical aquaplaning traps. Be careful if the car ahead doesn’t leave a trace. This means that the water runs back into the track grooves within seconds. Often, the danger doesn’t become obvious until your engine starts revving up and your wheels spin as if running on ice.

How to react if your car starts aquaplaning? Keep your cool, take your foot from the throttle and operate the clutch. Make sure to keep the steering wheel in your driving direction and wait until the tyres regain contact with the tarmac. Electronic aids such as ABS (Antilock Brake System), ESC (Electronic Stability Control) or TSC (Traction Control) help the drivers to cope with difficult situations such as aquaplaning. They help to brake the car down in the case of wheel spin, reduce the engine performance and maintain the car’s tractability. However, you most definitely should not rely on ESC & Co alone, as even they haven’t got what it needs to overrule the principles of the physics.

Sincerely yours,

Isolde Holderied