It was a rainy day. My newly-licensed son approached a curve in the wet two-lane road and applied the brakes too late. His car slid across the oncoming lane and struck the guard rail. Thankfully the oncoming traffic stopped in time, and only his car and the guard rail were damaged – well, and his pride. He was quick to tell me that he was driving the speed limit. I was quick to inform him that he was driving too fast for the conditions.
Motor Vehicle Crashes are Preventable
During my 32-year law enforcement career, I investigated dozens upon dozens of motor vehicle crashes. We often call them accidents, but the truth is each one could have been avoided, just as my son could have avoided his crash. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part crashes are preventable.
With the number of licensed drivers and registered vehicles increasing yearly, we must do our part to help keep our streets safe. Here are 10 keys that will help us return to the fundamentals of driving safely.
Key #1 – Understand that driving is a privilege, not a right
In 2016, there were over 221 million licensed drivers (1). No one has the right to drive – not without a license. Even with a license, no one has the right to drive however he chooses. He must drive according to the laws of his state. Failure to do so will eventually result in traffic citations being issued, and too many citations will result in his license being suspended.
Some states will suspend or revoke a driver’s license for failing to maintain financial responsibility (insurance), failing to submit to a breath test, or for an indictment of driving under the influence.
Key #2 – Maintain your vehicle
Have a qualified mechanic inspect your vehicle according to the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. If the Check Engine light comes on, promptly take your vehicle in for repair.
Things you should check routinely:
- Look at your tires for wearing, proper tread depth and the overall condition of each tire. When in doubt, have them inspected by a qualified person.
- Have your tires rotated according to the manufacturer’s recommendation – usually every 5,000 to 8,000 miles.
- Don’t wait for rain or snow to check your wiper blades and washer fluid level. Replace your wiper blades at least yearly. Buy good blades, not cheap ones.
- Keep plenty of gas in the tank. Don’t drive on fumes.
- Clean interior and exterior windows to help prevent headlight glare and glare from the sun.
Key #3 – Maintain a right attitude
You might start out your day with a good attitude but that can change quickly. These tips will help you keep your composure:
- Check traffic, plan your route and leave earlier than usual if necessary, especially in inclement weather.
- Don’t drive when you’re upset or angry.
- Don’t let yourself become offended by or angry with other drivers.
- Keep away from inconsiderate drivers. Let them pass, and the farther away from you they are, the better. Refuse to engage.
Key #4 – Don’t drink and drive; don’t drive under the influence
“The probability of a fatal crash rises significantly after 0.05 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and even more rapidly after 0.08 percent.” A quote by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Impaired driving begins with the first drink.
In 2016, in the U.S. alone, 37,461 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes. Of those, 12,514 deaths (33 percent) were the result of drivers whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was at least 0.01 percent (2).
All 50 states in the U.S. have a “zero-tolerance” law. It is against the law for anyone under the age of 21 to drive after drinking. An odor of an alcoholic beverage on the breath will land the underage drinking driver in jail.
Expect to pay a minimum of $10,000 in attorney fees to defend against a DWI/DUI charge. One can also expect to have his driving privileges suspended or revoked.
The bottom line is this – don’t drink and drive or drive under the influence!
Key #5 – Avoid distractions in your vehicle
“Eighty percent of the people who responded to a National Safety Council survey said they are not aware of the driver distraction and crash risks associated with using hands-free cell phones.” (3)
The most common distraction – or perhaps I should say the most dangerous distraction – in a vehicle is a cell phone, whether hand-held or hands-free!
Other things that can distract you or interfere with your driving:
- eating while driving;
- using a navigation device;
- using a radio or media player;
- having an unrestrained pet in your vehicle, especially in your lap;
- talking – let your passengers talk, you drive
- uncontrolled children
- loud music – the louder the music the faster you drive
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind on driving.
Key #6 – Always use passenger restraints
FACT: According to the National Safety Council (NSC), every 33 seconds a child under the age of 13 is involved in a crash (4).
- Ensure you properly secure your infant/toddler/child in the proper car seat/booster seat/safety belt.
- Airbags can be fatal for children. Have children ride in the back seat at least through age 12.
- Position infants and children in a rear-facing position at least through the age of 2.
- Don’t drive off until everyone is buckled up. You are the driver and you are responsible for everyone in the vehicle.
- Set the example – always wear your safety belt.
- Only accept a used car seat from someone you know. A used car seat might be old, or have hidden damage, or have missing parts or labels. The life of a car seat is from six to eight years, according to the National Safety Council.
Safety belts, child safety seats and booster seats save lives. Always use them and use them properly.
Key #7 – Know how your medications affect you
Driving under the influence of any type of drug can be just as dangerous as driving while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage. This includes over-the-counter medicines. You can end up in jail, the hospital, or the morgue. You can be involved in a crash or cause a crash, putting someone else in the hospital or morgue.
Ask your doctor about prescribed medicines. Understand the possible side-effects of pain killers. Learn both the possible short-term and long-term side effects. Ask your pharmacist about prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.
Key #8 – Take a defensive driving course
During my 32 years as a police officer, I attended the Defensive Driving course 11 times. Initially, as a young driver, I found the material to be rather boring yet a good refresher. In my later years I realized that, although I knew the course well enough to teach it, sitting through it so many times helped me to be a better driver. I learned to anticipate and predict what other drivers will do, avoiding several crashes by paying attention and “reading” other drivers. I was involved in one crash when I failed to anticipate the oncoming driver turning in front of me. Though he was “at fault”, had I been paying closer attention I might have been able to avert the collision.
I highly recommend taking the course, and taking it seriously.
Key #9 – Always comply with your license restrictions
If you choose to violate a restriction on your license, no one will ever know – unless you’re stopped for a traffic violation or are involved in a crash. Just remember, violating a restriction can result in you injuring or killing someone, perhaps even yourself or your passengers.
Key #10 – Know your limitations
Regardless of age, everyone has limitations…
…make sure you know yours:
- young drivers lack experience
- middle-aged and senior drivers have age-related conditions
- driving in the rain or on snow or ice
- night driving
- driving into the sunrise/sunset
- rush-hour or heavy traffic
- driving on freeways
- being around 18-wheelers and other large trucks
- driving unfamiliar routes
- driving extended periods
If you are uncomfortable driving under certain conditions, plan around them. Leave earlier than usual, drive more slowly and don’t take chances. If circumstances allow, stay home. It’s not worth the risk. Yes, you might have obligations, but if you drive in conditions you are terrified of and become involved in a crash, you won’t make it to your destination anyway.
It doesn’t take long to slip into a bad habit or to forget things we learned when we were younger. I encourage you to begin applying these tips right away. And help your friends and loved ones by sharing this article with them. Too many people are being killed on our roads. Don’t be one of them.
I encourage you to share a personal experience that might be an encouragement to all of us. As always, I welcome your questions and comments. I will make every effort to reply promptly.
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