Summer driving - the trip to Batemans Bay is a learning opportunity for L and P platers

Written by Ben Ward

For many parents living in Canberra and Queanbeyan, the reality is that your children will want to drive to the south coast with their friends at some stage, and without specific preparation this could have tragic consequences. With the summer holidays fast approaching, now is the time to consider how best to prepare Learner licence and recent Provisional licence drivers for the safest driving journey possible.

Understandably your son or daughters' driving instructor can not prepare them for all types of road conditions. And being able to drive to the required learner driver standard does not specifically address the risks associated with the holiday traffic and road conditions encountered on the perilous Kings Highway. As parents you need to provide specific skills to Learner licence and recent Provisional licence drivers to help them to safely manage this trip. Once these drivers have the required skills, the inevitable trip to the coast without you will be safer and you can rest easier.

THE HARD FACTS:  The casualty crash rates on the Kings Highway are 85% higher than the NSW average and road fatalities are 8% higher. A study by NRMA found that:

"In particular, the rate of people hospitalised after crashes on the Kings Highway is well over the national average. 877 crashes were recorded on Kings Highway over a 10-year period, an average of about one crash every four days. Over this time there have been 24 fatal crashes, 355 crashes resulting in injury and 488 crashes resulting in property damage...The most common type of crash – 18% of all incidents – was when a vehicle leaves the road to the left on a right hand bend and crashes into a stationary object. Head-on collisions made up one in 10 of all crashes. Crashes occurred most frequently on Sundays (20%) and least frequently on Tuesdays (9%)."
  A reminder for Learner drivers:

Learner drivers are required to comply with the NSW Learner driver speed limits which is a maximum of 80km notwithstanding that the sign posted speed limit exceeds this. Most of the Kings Highway has a speed limit of 80km hour. As discussed below, this poses some particular challenges with other road users.

For ACT Provisional drivers:

Unlike Learner drivers, ACT Provisional licence holders can drive at posted speed limits in NSW, whereas, NSW P1 and P2 licence holders cannot exceed 90 km and 100 km per hour respectively regardless of the posted speed limit exceeding this.

Below are some useful tips on developing specific skills for driving the Kings Highway as a new driver. 

Pressure because you're driving at the speed limit

Due to the speed limit on learners and P1 drivers, other road users maybe impatient and anxious to get to their holiday destination.

This can result in the learner driver feeling pressured to go faster. It will also increase the learner's stress level while driving, affecting his/her ability to concentrate and/or exercise proper judgement.

As a supervising driver you can coach your learner driver to cope with the implied/real pressure in these circumstances and reassure them that they are entitled to share the road as prescribed by the authorities. Also remind them to maintain the three second gap, even though this may seem impossible at times.

Aggressive driving and unnecessary overtaking

We all experience impatient drivers who place themselves and others at great risk by aggressive driving. Coach the learner about this reality and what strategies to use to stay focused on safe driving. Some tips:

  • Supervising drivers should reassure learner drivers that they are not doing anything uncourteous or unlawful by driving to the correct speed limit.
  • If being tailgated by an aggressive driver maintain your speed, do not break suddenly and scan well ahead to ensure that any hazards requiring sudden breaking or buffering can be provided for as early as possible to slow down the following vehicle.
  • If the road user overtakes in conditions which are risky consider slowing down to give them space to move back into the correct lane and avoid a potential accident.
  • Avoid inciting further aggressive behaviour by the other driver.
  • When approaching an overtaking lane allow other road users to overtake you even if this means slowing down a little.
The three second gap

As impossible as it may seem at times, always adjust your speed to maintain the three second gap. Remember that the speed you are travelling at will determine the physical gap needed to provide a three second space.

Speed control on the Clyde Mountain descent

The Clyde Mountain is a five kilometre section of the Kings Highway which is very steep and known for its winding bends. This section of road is responsible for many crashes: 22% of all incidents on the Kings Highway occur on a 40 kilometre stretch on and near the mountain. 

There are three safety ramps (runaway truck ramps) that are used in the case of a truck or heavy vehicle losing control of their speed or having their brakes fail.

Slow vehicle turnouts have just been added on the Clyde Mountain descent, which allows vehicles to pass trucks in low gear.

One of the greatest challenges of driving down the Clyde Mountain is to maintain speed control on the steep descents and multi turns. This requires a good understanding of using gears to maintain speed control. The continuous use of brakes will not only wear the brake pads/drums and overheat them which may result in brake failure.

The RTA has added many road signs that are aimed to reduce speeds including sharp bends, slippery road when wet, and narrow road shoulders. Each of these circumstances requires slower approach speeds and therefore good speed control.

Some tips:

  • Braking isn't bad. However, avoid sudden braking and use your gears to control the descent speed.
  • If driving an automatic car use second or third gear for the descent to control speeds.
  • In situations that brakes fail there are Safety Ramps available on the Clyde Mountain.
Use of overtaking lanes

According to the NRMA only 5% of the Clyde Mountain road is deemed to provide "safe" overtaking opportunities. Therefore allow other road users access to the overtaking lane to free up faster moving traffic.

Avoiding distractions

Any inexperienced driver can be easily distracted when driving. Developing concentration skills is important, particularly on two way traffic roads. Therefore, do not use a mobile phone and ensure that there are no loose objects in the car which could become an impediment.

Night driving

If you are going to drive at night then ensure that all your car lights are working and that you are well rested and in a good frame of mind needed to concentrate.

Some tips to help deal with reduced visibility:

  • Increase the distance between you and the car in front from two seconds to four seconds.
  • Don't just stare at the road lit up by your headlights – search the edges of the roads and darker areas for potential dangers.
  • If you've been driving a lot during the day, take a break before driving at night.
  • Keep a closer eye out for traffic lights – they can blend in with lit-up advertising signs at night.
  • Use your high beam lights when you can. Dim them to low if there is an approaching car within 200m or you are behind a car that is less than 200m away. Also avoid using high beam in built-up areas.
  • If you are preparing to stop or slow down, tap your foot on the brake pedal. This will flash your brake lights and let the car behind know you're slowing.

There are scientific reasons why night driving can pose particular challenges as described below:

"Yes, it's dark at night so it is more difficult to see. But there's more going on as well.

For a start, you should never wear sunglasses while driving at night. Nor should you wear prescription lenses that tint automatically according to the available light (you can imagine what will happen with glare from oncoming headlights and the like).

The glare of lights on the road can also be surprisingly disorienting, particularly if the road is wet. It can be especially difficult to spot lane markings on a rainy night.

Science has also given us some clues about why night driving might be difficult.

A German study has shown that our eyes may trick us into driving faster.

The eye has night vision cells, which take over from the ordinary colour-sensitive receptors that operate in the daylight. The science journal Nature reported that the study showed that objects detected by the night vision cells appeared to move in slow motion.

This means that if we regulate our speed based on what our eyes are telling us – rather than what the speedo is showing – then we could get into trouble."

Good driving techniques

Distance between your car & the car in front

It's a good idea to always keep a minimum three seconds gap between you and the car in front. When it's raining and/or foggy double the distance to six seconds no matter what speed you're doing.

Smooth Driving

Don't rush into things. Plan ahead when driving. Make early decisions on braking and accelerating. Change gears and brake smoothly to avoid skidding. This will provide a smoother drive for yourself and your passengers while also providing less wear and tear on the vehicle and helping you save on fuel costs.

Keep Left unless overtaking

When driving on a dual lane road always keep to the left lane. Use the right hand lane for overtaking, turning right or when roadwork's are being carried out and there is no other choice.

Indicate early

Always indicate when changing lanes, 30 metres wherever practical, to advise other motorists of what you are doing.

Expect the unexpected

Drive with your line of sight parallel to the road not looking down onto it. By doing this you see further into the distance so you can be better prepared if there is a problem ahead. It may even mean you can avoid a crash.


Ensure you have enough room to go past the vehicle you are overtaking and not cut them off. Pick you time carefully as overtaking can be quite dangerous and making the wrong decision may result in a serious crash.

Stopping before the intersection

Always slow down coming to an intersection especially if you are towing a van. Your braking distance will be greater than when you're not towing, so make sure you allow for this. You must stop on a stop sign/line.

Driving at Night

Driving at night requires more skill & concentration than at daytime due to your restricted vision. Oncoming headlights can obscure your vision and pedestrians can be near impossible to see. Leave a bigger gap between you and the car in front to allow for your reduced vision and reaction time.

Road Rage

Stay relaxed and try not to let other people's driving skills or decisions worry you. If another driver makes a mistake don't get angry just concentrate on your own driving skills, behaviour and safety.

Good Driving Techniques

If another driver is courteous towards you, then acknowledge the good deed with a wave.

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