10 Keys to Safe Driving – Safety is No Accident

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.

car crashed into guardrail on wet road

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.

young lady with disabled car in snow

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.

drink drive go to jail

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!

hands free warning sign

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.

elderly woman with pills in hand

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…

young boy elderly man driving

…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.

Conclusion

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.

Best Regards,

Rick

 

Resources

(1) https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2016/dl20.cfm

(2) https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812450

(3) https://www.nsc.org/road-safety/safety-topics/distracted-driving/distracted-brain

(4) https://www.nsc.org/road-safety/safety-topics/child-passenger-safety/policy

 

-end of article-

Comments 8

  1. Hey Rick! This article is a good reminder. I haven’t been in an accident in over 15 years. Some of it was luck but mostly I pay attention. I really like that you mentioned cell phones. It drives me crazy when I see someone on the phone. I treat them like drunk drivers then.

    Thanks for the post. Tina

    1. Post
      Author

      Tina,

      You’re wise to treat drivers on cell phones as drunk drivers. They’re just as dangerous. Glad to hear you’re a defensive driver.

      Thanks for taking time to comment and for the encouraging words.

      Best Regards,

      Rick

  2. Great article! I think these are all great reminders for us all. Young or old, novice or seasoned. 

    Distracted driving really is one of the most prominent issues I believe. 

    We have a pretty rough winter here in Manitoba, and I’ve seen too many times people driving in terrible conditions who just don’t have the confidence. I agree with you that knowing our limitations is also very important. 

    Thanks for the great post. 

    Christine 

    1. Post
      Author

      Christine,

      Thank you for the encouraging words. What gets me here in the south is people driving on the ice as though it was a snow covered street. Big difference – well, until the snow gets packed down and becomes ice. But here in the south the hazard exists for a day or two – just long enough to result in hundreds of car crashes.

      I used to think I wanted to some day move back to Michigan, but not so any more. I’ve been away too long.

  3. This is one of the most important articles I’ve ever read. People just aren’t thinking when they drive. I see it every day.

    I wish every person driving and who reads this takes your advice.I never ever understand why people drink and drive and text and drive.

    What else can I say other than folks ought to wake up and smell the coffee!Take care of your cars, be courteous to other drivers and be safe!

    1. Post
      Author

      Rob,

      Thank you for the encouraging comments. It’s a shame this has to even be discussed.

      Another thing my son, daughter-in-law, wife and I just talked about was another “distraction” in vehicles. It’s those little mirrors that can be strapped onto the headrest in the back seat that allows the driver to look in the inside rear-view mirror and see his or her little one in the rear-facing car seat. Eyes on the mirror means eyes off the road. When I drove my wife’s van and that little mirror was in place, I  found it very distracting driving at night. Headlights of oncoming cars reflected in that mirror and into my inside rear-view mirror.

      OK, enough about that. Keep up your safe driving and save lives.

  4. Hi Rick, how are you?

    WOW, what a powerful Article you wrote Rick. 

    About 17 years a go, I had been stop by a cop because I was speeding. I went to those classes to get my 3 or 4 points back in my Drive Licenses. That was debest thing happened with me. In class, I learned so much that 4 hours later I came ou as a changed person. They show me so many accidents couse by a speed drivers like me, they talk about the child behavior drive (if someone is in front of me driving very slow, I loose my patience, driving faster, pass this vehicle and drive in front of this person even much slower); or the person thats drive or stops too closer trying to push the front vehicle, etc.

    Sinse I learned this I try to apply good manners on traffic. 

    This remind me last year, I was driving at Miliary Trill in FL, I cut one driver by accident. He get so mad at me and pass me and keep driving very slow in front of me. Knowing what I did, I decided to apologize with him; everytime I try to get to other line, so I culd talk with him at fist oportunte he would change line as well and cut me. He did this 3 times, because he was think that I want to go besides him. I keep my calm, and finaly the light got red and everyone had to stop. I drove to his side, put my windows down, and whem he started to corse me I said I AM SORRY, he looked at me and ask: “WHAT DID U SAY”, I repeted I AM SO SORRY TO CUT YOU FILL MINUTES A GO, WAS’T MY INTENSION. I could se his face expression calm down, and he smalled to me and said: “IT’s OK APOLOGY ACCEPTED, I DID NOT EXPECT THAT YOU WHANT TO APOLOGISE”. Both went to diferents ways, and I learn that been polite when we drive don’t hurt.

    Thank for the amazing explanation in you beautiful article. This will help allots people.

    To your success,

    Telma

    1. Post
      Author

      Telma,

      What a beautiful testimony you have here! Yes, we all make mistakes so we should show mercy to those who offend us as well. I still get upset with bad drivers, but I stop and think that maybe they’re rushing home to be with their sick mother or child or whatever. As my pastor says, decide to forgive people beforehand.

      Thank you for your encouraging comments. And thank you for sharing these two incidents with us. What a blessing! You’ve made my day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *