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Forget stage diving. It’s safe to say that driving from gig to gig is one of the most dangerous things most artists are required to do throughout their career. Travelling at speeds in excess of 100Km/h in a sheet metal/fiberglass box on wheels is something we all have become fairly comfortable with. The harsh reality is that one bad split second decision can instantly result in a life changing or even life-ending crisis. This was one of my greatest fears when I used to tour constantly in bands.
During my time on the road I have seen more accidents than I can count, numerous close calls and have even been involved in a few incidents. Luckily for my band mates and I, none of our experiences resulted in anything more than a wrecked band van and some minor cuts and bruises.
Here are 8 tips to road safety that I have compiled over the years from my travelling experiences (and from my short lived bus driver career in Western Canada… tweet me and I’ll tell you some stories). I hope some of this advice helps you all travel a bit more safely on your upcoming summer tour adventures:
1. Is your van safe?
Have your vehicle periodically safety checked. We’re not talking about an annual or bi-annual motor vehicle inspection certificate (if that even applies in your province or country). I mean EVERY TIME you are about to leave for tour. When I was a bus driver we had to check fluids and tire lug nuts every day before we headed out on the road. This seems like overkill but at the same time it literally takes less than 5 minutes to do. Have you ever had a tire fall off while travelling at 100 Km/h? I have. It sucks!
Some of the areas that should be checked by your mechanic before you head out on tour include:
- All fluid levels
- Tires wear / Tire pressure
- Brakes and brake lines
- Tie rod ends and ball joints - Tire lug nuts
On a daily basis you should check the following (particularly if your van’s odometer reads like a phone number):
- Fluid levels
- Tires and pressure - Lights
2. Exercise Careful Packing
The time that I did get into a van accident with my band we were lucky to be able to say that the only damage was to a piece of equipment. A ride cymbal or a guitar can be a lethal weapon inside a rolling van. It is important to securely pack your van every time. Ideally your van would have a separate compartment for gear, which is the safest way to check this one off. If this is not an option then be very smart about how you pack. Keep the sharper heavier items low and secured with other items. Use your common sense. Ask your self, how would this pack job fair out if we slammed into the back of another vehicle or if the van rolled over?
3. Stay Clear of Drugs and Alcohol
Obviously your driver should be sober. This one is a no brainer. Another thing to also be cautious of is hangovers. If your driver partied like a rock star late into the evening the night before then there is no way he will be operating at 100% the next morning for that long drive to the next town. It makes sense for your driver or drivers to chill on the substance use. If there are a few drivers amongst your group that like getting messed up periodically then maybe taking turns would be the best bet. Just make sure that someone is being conscious and responsible with this stuff - a license suspension for impaired driving (or worse) can make future touring an even bigger headache.
4. Drive according to conditions
While I write this blog it is spring in Canada so the chances are slim that black ice and snow will be on the radar in the near future. However wind, rain and fog are common all year long and are worth being cautious of. If it’s pouring out your visibility is reduced, there is risk of hydroplaning and you have reduced stopping time. Take it down a few notches to compensate for these conditions. Keep your eye on the weather and leave early so you give yourself the time to drive safely. And again, this is where good tires, lights and wipers can mean the difference between getting there or not.
5. Be Aware of Fatigue
This is a major issue on the road with a band. Late nights and long drives are par for course so driver fatigue is likely to be an issue at some point in your tour. It is important to make sure that there is someone who has enough rest to drive all of the time. In the booking and planning stage of your tour it is important to make an agenda that is actually attainable. This can even become more of an issue when mixed with #3 “Drugs and Alcohol”. Again, just be aware of this. Don’t subject yourselves to these high-risk situations.
6. Ride with a co-pilot
I always designated the passenger seat for the ‘co-pilot’. This person’s job is to stay awake, operate the GPS (or if you’re old-school then read the map), DJ the van stereo, talk to the driver and make sure he or she is holding up ok.
7. Be Prepared for Emergency
In the event that you do run into issues on the road you should have the gear to cope with your emergency. Your road safety and first aid kit should include:
- BOOSTER CABLES
- FLASHLIGHT (batteries included) - Warm clothing
- Reflective Road Triangles
- First aid kit
- Cell phone
8. Get AAA, CAA or another Roadside assistance program
These programs are cheap and they pay back on hotel discounts alone. The major advantage to these memberships is that if you run into van problems you just call them and they send someone to help you. Changing a tire on the side of the highway on a rainy day can be very dangerous or at the very least a total pain in the ass. Marcato Musician powered rockers The Stanfields learned this lesson the hard way and were stuck with a massive towing bill when their van broke down in the Rocky Mountains.
In conclusion, it’s important to be conscious of the dangers involved with being a touring musician. There is nothing that can ruin a tour faster than a motor vehicle accident or breakdown and of course it can do more than just ruin the tour! Don’t let an avoidable accident be the end of your music career.
Have fun and play safe!