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Driving in the holidays

You will need to take extra care when travelling in holiday periods because of increased traffic volumes, congestion, tiredness and people driving in unfamiliar environments. Being courteous, remembering to share the road with others and scheduling frequent breaks can help you keep your cool when driving during these times.

Follow these tips to ensure your travel is a safe and pleasurable experience for you and others on the road.

Why you need to be alert

  • There are more vehicles on the road – more vehicles means a higher risk of crashes.

  • Many people are driving on unfamiliar roads.

  • People are driving long hours and getting fatigued – often early morning or late evening.

  • Increased stress from factors such as heat, traffic jams, noisy children and general tiredness.

  • People on holiday may be less vigilant about road safety, eg speeding, driving when tired, not buckling up.

  • There’s more drink-driving during holiday periods.

What you can do to increase your safety

You can make a number of choices to increase your safety on your holiday journey. You need to give road use the attention and respect it deserves.

Plan ahead

  • Take time to make sure that you and your vehicle are safe before starting your journey.
  • Plan your travel to avoid the worst peak traffic periods when many highways become congested.
    Check our holiday journeys tool for predicted traffic(external link)
  • Allow plenty of time – make the journey part of the holiday.
  • Schedule regular rest stops.
  • Slow down, leave space and be patient through road-works sites.

Be alert to changes

Often during holiday periods, passing lanes are closed to help reduce congestion and prevent further delays where the traffic merges at the end of lanes. Sometimes alternative routes are suggested.

Check our real-time updates on route changes, delays, closures and incidents(external link)

Drive to the conditions

‘Conditions’ doesn’t just mean the weather. It also includes:

  • the road you’re on
  • the traffic conditions
  • the speed (the speed limit and a ‘safe speed’ may differ)
  • road-works sites
  • you, for example are you tired or on medication that affects your driving
  • your vehicle and load.

Slow down through road-works

Most road-works are stopped during busy holiday travel periods to minimise disruption to your journey, but you still may encounter them.    

If you come across a road-works site please slow down to the temporary speed limit, leave space, avoid braking and be patient.

Check planned road works with our real time journey planner(external link)

Watch our video with advice for driving on freshly laid chip seal:

Watch out for fatigue

Long trips are tiring and fatigue can be deadly when you're driving. Driver fatigue was a factor in 54 road deaths and nearly 1000 injuries last year. Plan to get enough rest beforehand so that you drive fresh. You should plan in advance where you’ll take breaks on your trip.

Learn more about preventing and managing driver fatigue

Identify the safest routes

Some routes are safer than others. You need to know that roadside hazards such as trees, ditches, poles and narrow shoulders can increase risk. Intersections can be dangerous and so can busy roads without a median barrier. Armed with that knowledge you can adjust your driving to the conditions and take extra care on higher risk rural roads.

You can learn which routes are safer and which you may need to take more care on from the KiwiRAP website. This site rates the safety risks of different rural state highways by region.

KiwiRAP website(external link)

Before you travel

  • Have your vehicle checked by a professional. Most garages offer safety checks for tyre tread and pressure, lights, brakes, cooling systems and other components. A well-tuned vehicle is also more fuel efficient, so you'll also save money on fuel costs. 
    See more tips on driving efficiently

  • Check that your warrant of fitness and vehicle licence are up to date. The warrant of fitness inspection involves a thorough check of your vehicle’s safety systems. If you have any safety concerns, take your vehicle to a qualified mechanic or testing station. Don’t wait for the warrant of fitness to expire.
    Warrant of fitness
    Vehicle licensing

  • Check that you have a current driver licence. If it's expired or close to expiry, you'll need to renew it before starting your journey.
    Renewing your licence

When buying or hiring a vehicle, always choose the safest vehicle you can afford.

Check the comparative safety of vehicles on the Rightcar website(external link)

When packing your vehicle, make sure everything is securely stowed. Even small objects can become dangerous missiles in the event of a sudden stop or crash.

Check your trailers and caravans

Check all towing attachments and make sure the couplings are compatible. Also remember to check the safety chain, trailer lights, tyres and brakes.

Remember, if you’re towing a trailer, your maximum speed limit on the open road is 90km/h. Keep left and pull over when it is safe to let other vehicles pass.

Load heavy objects evenly over all of the axles.

Keep your cool

Holiday driving can be frustrating with busy roads, often slower sightseeing travellers, stifling heat in summer and icy surfaces in winter. Here are some simple and easy ways to stay calm and stay in control:

  • Be courteous – let others merge into traffic and indicate before turning or changing lanes.

  • Keep left unless passing.

  • If you’re a slower driver, pull over when you can to let others pass.

  • Be patient and don’t be provoked by other drivers' aggressive behaviour.

  • Remember that trucks and towing vehicles have lower speed limits. Wait for a passing lane or until you can see clear road ahead of you and enough space to overtake safely.

  • Keep an eye out for cyclists and other road users. Give them plenty of space.

  • Watch out for horses on back country roads.

Buckle up

Don’t let your family holiday be marred by tragedy simply because someone didn’t buckle up. If you’re the driver, you are legally responsible for making sure all passengers under the age of 15 are securely restrained with either a safety belt or child restraint. Children under seven must be properly restrained by an approved child restraint suitable to their size and weight.

Requirements for using child restraints

Requirements for safety belts

Remember you’re sharing the road

Traffic volumes increase significantly during the holidays and you’ll be sharing the road with other cars, as well as pedestrians, cyclists, heavy trucks, buses, campervans and vehicles towing boats or caravans.

Always keep a safe following distance between yourself and the vehicle in front. This gives you a safe stopping distance should the vehicle in front of you stop suddenly.

Be particularly alert around pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. These road users have considerably less protection than you. Keep an eye out especially for cyclists if you’re travelling tourist routes during summer.

If you’re cycling or motorcycling, make sure you’re visible and wearing proper protective gear.

Learn more about driving safely.

Keep an eye out for children

Watch out for children on the road. Young cyclists and pedestrians can be unpredictable, as they are poor judges of vehicle speed. Children may also be learning to ride new bikes over the holidays. 

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