We may be legally allowed to drive a particular vehicle but unless we are familiar with the vehicle and have driven it a number of times in recent years, it may well be wiser to leave the driving to someone with more experience in driving that vehicle, particularly when passengers are involved! We carry out risk management for the actual tramp, e.g. carrying a PLB and/ or fly, map and compass, extra clothing and food in cold weather, storm clothing, etc, and ensuring everybody is up to doing the trip. But what about travelling there and back on the road? Do we give it a thought? We should! The risk does not start and finish at the roadend. The trip is not finished until all have safely returned home. Risk management would address issues such as having a driver in reserve in case the nominated driver is tired or incapacitated; fatigue after a hard day or weekend tramping; the nature and state of the road; are the passengers all asleep in the vehicle while the driver is expected to stay awake? It is wise to get someone to sit alongside the driver who is not going to fall asleep. Change drivers during a long trip home, and take a break from driving each hour. Coffee stops (and icecream stops) make useful journey breaks!
It is vital to change down the gears when descending hills – second nature to those of us who have driven heavy vehicles, but unfortunately a skill lost on many who now drive automatic cars. Descending hills is a risk, especially in a heavy vehicle. So, in general, we should descend a hill in the same gear (sometimes lower) that was used to climb the hill. This uses the engine for controlling the speed of the vehicle, rather than the brakes. Our minibus weighs 2.5 tonnes empty and 3.5 tonnes with 12 people and day packs. More with weekend packs. It is, in effect, a heavy vehicle, and one which a few years ago required an HT licence to drive it. Excessive use of the brakes when travelling downhill will heat the brake fluid to above 100 degrees C and can cause brake fade. Any water in the brake system will evaporate and operating the brake pedal will compress the water vapour instead of working the brakes and slowing the vehicle. The result – a runaway vehicle. Not long ago there was a fatal accident near Dannevirke involving a runaway shearers’ van where the brakes failed whilst traveling downhill. There have been others. So, change down when descending hills and don’t rely on the brakes. Remember gears before brakes – gears to control the speed, brakes to (occasionally) correct the speed.
Concentrate on positioning the vehicle correctly on the roadway, particularly on narrow winding roads. Our current minibus is considerably longer and wider than a car. This means that we need to take left hand bends and corners wider than we would in a car, to avoid running the left rear wheel off the road. Imagine that you are towing a trailer. The rear wheels of a long vehicle don’t follow the same track as the front wheels. Furthermore, being nearer the centre of the road means that we need to drive slower, to give time to stop if there’s oncoming traffic. We can’t swerve left out of the way – there’s not enough room so there’s the danger of running off the side of the road. We should frequently use the left hand mirror to monitor the position of the vehicle in relation to the left hand road edge. Particularly when there is no centre line to help gauge the vehicle position!