Rules of Thumb

There are a number of “Rules of Thumb” that can contribute to helping with decision making when driving.

On this post it is my intention to put forward some rules of thumb that may help improve your driving and safety on the road. I intend for this topic to be a work in progress and hence be updated over time.

Wikipedia defines the term “rule of thumb” as a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the term in British English as a practical and approximate way of doing or measuring something and as a method of judging a situation or condition that is not exact but is based on experience in American English.

As is obvious from all these definitions a rule of thumb is not meant to be a hard and fast rule to follow rigidly, as are our traffic laws, but rather a guide to assist in the making of various decisions. A rule of thumb will not hold true in all situations nor should it be followed if the law, or indeed your common sense, tells you to do something differently.

Below are a few “Rules of Thumb” that have initially come to my mind as I write this post, there are more which I will add to the blog over time.

These first three all relate to vehicle lighting. Obviously the relevant legislation takes precedence if there is a conflict.

  1. If your windscreen wipers go on so should your headlights. Not only are your headlights there to help you see during darkness they are there for the equally important reason of helping you being seen. Why else have emergency vehicle drivers always used their headlights when responding to an emergency call, although of course now most emergency vehicles around the world are equipped with ‘wig-wag’headlamp flashers for the same reason. In poor visibility, such as during rain, your car can be very effectively camouflaged against the road making it difficult for other road users to spot. Switching your headlights on will counter this and could make the difference between being seen and not turned in front of by another driver and having your car written off and potentially being injured. This is such a useful rule of thumb that in several US states it is also the law.
  2. If your speed is 100km/h or more your headlights should go on. This one is a bit more variable in my opinion. The advent of Daytime Running Lights (DRL) and their increasing fitment to cars has reduced the need, to a degree, to use headlights during daylight hours. I have always driven with my headlights on 24 hours a day. Headlights, however, are brighter than DRLs and when driving on faster roads it is important to be seen from a greater distance. On outback roads, and with the length of some trucks in this country which means a truck could take several kilometres to overtake another, being visible for an extra km or so could well make the difference between staying on the road or being forced into the dirt.
  3. If the setting or rising sun is behind you leave your headlights on. This one is all to do with contrast. Although legally, once sunrise has occurred you do not have to have your lights on, any one driving into the sun will have reduced visibility because of the lack of contrast when you look towards a bright light. (Why else did fighter pilots always want to attack from out of the sun?) By switching your headlights on earlier or keeping them on, you will help counter that lack of contrast by having something bright, your headlights, stand out of the shadows.
  4. Use the road markings for decisions at traffic lights. Do you sometimes have difficulty deciding whether to stop for an amber light? This tip is probably the most variable as there are so many things that affect the decision to stop or continue when the lights change. Obviously, the law says that you must stop at a yellow light if you can safely stop prior to entering the intersection, Rule 57 of Australian Road Rules. A good rule of thumb is if you have passed the second direction arrow on the road prior to the traffic lights it is generally safer to proceed. Obviously, if you have a large truck sitting close behind you will make the decision to proceed through a yellow light earlier than if you have empty road behind you.