THE festive season is upon us and this is the time of year when the volume of traffic using the nation's highways more than doubles, highlighting the current and future pressure points in the system.
On the Pacific Hwy, one major bottleneck where the delays are getting worse for all drivers as the remainder of the highway improves is the township of Macksville on the New South Wales North Coast.
With three sets of traffic lights in the small township and a tight bridge crossing of the Nambucca River, this quiet town can become the scene of traffic queues that stretch for many kilometres on either side.
It is sure to be much worse this year if, as predicted, one lane of the Kempsey bypass is open before Christmas, which will remove one bottleneck for motorists but will undoubtedly have a profound effect on the northbound traffic as all those vehicles that were previously slowed and filtered through Kempsey flow more freely towards the next bottleneck at Macksville.
One thing professional drivers can do to help keep the traffic flowing through Macksville as quickly as possible is to ensure that delays are minimised on the Macksville Bridge.
This bridge has in recent years become a source of conflict and confusion for some drivers as to whether two regulation size heavy vehicles travelling in opposite directions can pass safely over the bridge without hitting each other or the bridge.
This results often in conflict over the airwaves, especially by drivers who have "called" the bridge and have been less than happy to still find a heavy vehicle continuing towards them.
The truth is, regardless of the Narrow Bridge sign mounted on both sides of the bridge, the Macksville Bridge, like the Taree Bridge, is wide enough for two regular 2.5m semis to pass safely and easily if drivers are taught to use techniques that help to make it easier for themselves.
One of the biggest mistakes I see drivers make when crossing the Macksville and Taree bridges is continually looking at the left mirror and how close it is to the bridge.
Doing this is nearly a guaranteed way to make contact.
As I have been taught in advanced riding and driving courses, you look at where you want to go. If you are looking at the left-hand mirror all the time, you are going to end up hitting it on the bridge.
While there might be several different methods drivers use, the one I have become most comfortable with is that as you cross the bridge, while keeping looking forward, you also watch the trailer wheels (or drive on a rigid) in the driver's side mirror.
As long as you can see an inch or two of black bitumen between the centre white line and your trailer wheels, and the driver of any oncoming vehicle is keeping to his side by a similar amount, you will pass with no problems, with mirrors on both sides of the vehicle remaining intact.
It's a simple method that works well but may take drivers a little while to get comfortable with.
It relies heavily on the fact that you must have faith in the skills of the person coming towards you. If you start watching the truck coming towards you rather than concentrating on what you are doing, it could be yourself that ends up being too close to the centre line.
This may not work for everyone, but it may help some who are currently uncomfortable with passing on the bridge to become more confident.
I have been using this method as taught to me by an "old hand" for more than 20 years and have never hit the bridge or had a clash of mirrors.
By helping to keep the traffic flowing over Macksville we are helping in a small but significant way to get us all home sooner by keeping the traffic flowing and minimising delays.
Merry Christmas to you all. Love your family and share good times with your friends but spare a thought for those who through either work or changed circumstances cannot be with their loved ones during this time.
See you all next year.