Here’s a brutal truth: most Singaporeans are not good long distance drivers. For many of us, our car trips are just short runs to the supermarket, or to the neighbourhood mall. It’s rare for us to embark on even a four or five hour drive. As such, many Singaporean drivers are underequipped. Here’s how to get ready for a super long drive with the family:
1. Plan the division of time and labour
A common rule of thumb is that the maximum time spent driving, in every 24 hour period, should never exceed 10 hours. However, this is not a very useful guideline.
If you are a professional driver (courier, cab driver, full time Uber/Grab driver, etc.) you might be able to handle the full 10 hours. However, if you seldom go on long trips, you might be fatigued after just the first three or four hours.
Be honest with yourself, and switch with another driver based on your ability to stay focused. If you have no one else to take the wheel, make plans to stop every few hours. This could mean taking a nap at a rest stop, or even just parking by the side of the road for a quick break.
2. Check the oil, wiper fluid, air-conditioner, and tyres
Most people remember to check the car’s petrol. However, they often forget the smaller details.
One of these is the state of the air-conditioner. A long trip without air-conditioning can be unbearable, if you are going somewhere hot. If you have young children or pets in the car, the heat can pose an actual health hazard. The heat and discomfort can affect your attention while driving, and is a cause of fatigue.
An oil change can be hard to come by along some country roads, and you don’t want an hour-long walk to the nearest petrol station and back if you need one (especially at night along an unlit road).
Always keep a spare tyre in the trunk, and make sure the ones you have are not already balding; you’re about to place them under serious stress.
3. Bring lots of food and water
In the event your car breaks down and is not driveable, you may be several hours away from rescue. Ensure you have sufficient water to keep everyone hydrated, as well as proper food.
Sandwiches are fine, but bags of M&Ms and Mars bars don’t count; snacks may not be filling enough over a three hour wait, when you’ve already missed breakfast.
Always carry a litre bottle of water per person. Be firm on this rule, as dehydration is a major health hazard. In addition, spare water can be used for emergencies, such as washing down leather seats (young toddlers can sometimes have a mishap in the back seat; and you don’t want to bear with the mess for the entire trip).
4. Make sure your car insurance applies where you’re driving
If your car insurance is only valid in Singapore, you’re playing with fire by driving it abroad. If your car breaks down and is not driveable, you will be liable for the towing charges to get it all the way back to Singapore.
You may also find that any damage incurred during your road trip, such as a cracked windscreen or blown engine, is completely uninsured. If you collided with another vehicle, your lack of third-party insurance means you could end up paying for the other person’s damaged vehicle as well.
Never drive out of Singapore without valid insurance cover.
5. Don’t rely on the GPS alone
Even if the GPS is accurate, road conditions do change. The GPS may lead you to a bridge that is closed for repairs, or to a road that has been blocked off for some reason. This will require a detour, and your GPS may not be able to figure one out.
Bring a good old fashioned roadmap as a back-up, just in case.
6. Make sure you have a working torch
Remember that, outside the confines of the city, you will not see a streetlamp every few hundred meters. There will be long, unlit stretches that are almost pitch dark.
It is almost impossible to check your car engine or tyres in these conditions. Also, if you have to walk far for help, you will need a source of light beyond your handphone’s flash function.
7. Ensure that someone is expecting you, and knows where to find you
Tell other friends (or family members who are not going) where you’re headed, and when you should be there. Have them check up on you. In the event that you don’t arrive, they will know to contact the authorities, or take any emergency measures.
Never rely on your mobile phone working all the time. Sometimes, your car will break down where there is no coverage; or you will be unable to get to your phone for some reason.