Driving is more than a way to get from point A to point B. Owning and driving a car can also be a highly enjoyable experience. Whether a person is driving for the thrill of it or for more practical reasons, it is important to do so safely. There are many risks that are associated with driving a car, truck, or SUV. These risks stem from various factors that can be within or outside of the driver's control. Following basic car safety tips is something that a driver can control, and will prevent the vast majority of accidents that happen on the road.
Adjustments to one's car and driving strategy are often necessary depending on the weather conditions. This is particularly true in the cold-weather months when the roads are often slick from rain, snow, or ice. In preparation for driving in conditions that may be either wet or extremely hot, check the tires to ensure that there is enough tread and that they are properly inflated. All of the car's lights should also be working properly, and the windshield wipers should be inspected. Any issues that cannot easily be fixed should be taken to an auto mechanic for professional repair. An emergency kit stocked with flares, blankets, water, nonperishable snacks, a shovel, an ice scraper, and a flashlight should also be kept in the trunk.
In the rain, drivers should reduce their speed by five or even ten miles per hour. This can reduce the risk of hydroplaning or otherwise losing control of the vehicle. If areas are flooded or have large puddles of standing water, drivers should exercise caution and avoid driving directly through them. These areas may be deeper than they appear and cause vehicles to stall if water gets into the engine via the air-intake valve. Reducing speed is also important when driving in snow or when there is the potential for ice or black ice on the road. When in snowy areas, speed may need to be decreased by more than 10 miles per hour depending on the conditions. Cars should also keep a safe distance between them to prevent unintentional rear-ending due to increased stopping distances on slick surfaces. Additionally, cars can reduce their chances of spinning out by avoiding hard braking as they turn.
Driving Safely in Winter Weather (PDF) Wet-Weather Driving: Safety Advice From AAA (PDF) Foul-Weather Driving: Can You Weather the Worst? (PDF) Pull Aside, Stay Alive: Will You Know What to Do? (PDF) Winter Driving Tips
Drinking and driving
Drinking and driving is a danger to everyone, as it increases the risk of causing an accident that may result in serious injury or loss of life. According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31% of traffic deaths in 2014 were from alcohol-impaired crashes. Because of the threat that driving drunk poses, it is everyone's responsibility to keep impaired individuals from behind the wheel of a car. It is important to realize that the more a person drinks, the more they lose the ability to safely operate a vehicle. Their visual acuity, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination are impaired. They are unable to concentrate, make good judgment calls, or quickly process the information around them. Fortunately, drunk driving is preventable. Having a sober, designated driver on nights out is one of these steps. Another option is to take a taxi or call for a driving service. Friends can take their inebriated friend's keys or offer to let them sleep over. People throwing parties should offer water, coffee, nonalcoholic drinks, and food in addition to alcohol. Additionally, they should stop serving alcohol an hour before the party is over.
Sober drivers should report potentially drunk drivers if they notice erratic driving patterns such as swerving and wandering out of their lane or barely missing other drivers, for example. Have a passenger write down the license plate number, or if you are driving alone, try to remember it. Take note of the color and make of the car, whether the driver is male or female, and the direction the car is headed. When it is safe, pull over and call 911.
Driving Under the Influence Drunk Driving Statistics and Facts How to Prevent Someone From Driving Drunk The High Cost of Drinking and Driving Driving While Impaired: Alcohol and Drugs
Cell phone use
Cell phones are a major threat to a driver's ability to safely operate their vehicle. When talking about the dangers of cell phone usage and driving, the focus is often on the hands. Holding a cell phone takes at least one hand off of the steering wheel, while using a cell phone to send or read a text takes one's hands and eyes off the road. Hands-free devices can help solve this issue, but that is only part of the danger that comes from using a cell phone in the car. Whether they are hands-free or hand-held, cell phone conversations are a distraction. Drivers can easily get caught up in a conversation or argument that pulls their focus away from the road. This makes them four times more likely to get into an accident. Avoid cell-phone-related accidents by turning the phone off completely before starting the car and getting rid of hands-free devices in the vehicle. To reduce the temptation, stow the phone in a location that cannot be accessed without pulling over and stopping the car.
Understanding the Distracted Brain: Why Driving While Using Hands-Free Cell Phones Is Risky Behavior (PDF) Cell Phone Use While Driving: Statistics Be Aware of the Dangers of Cell Phones: Distracted Driving The Dangers of Texting While Driving Debunking the Myths of Cell-Phone-Distracted Driving (PDF)
Car seat safety
Cars are dangerous to children, who can be gravely injured in a crash. To prevent this, states have laws that require children to sit in car seats and booster seats up to a specified age. In general, children must sit in the back seat of the vehicle from their first car ride as a newborn. The first car seats are rear-facing and are used until the child reaches the maximum weight or height, at which time they are put into a forward-facing car seat. These seats use a harness to secure children. Children must use the forward-facing seat until they reach the maximum weight and height allowed by the manufacturer. Before they are able to sit directly in the car, children must ride in a booster seat, which aligns them properly with the shoulder and lap belt used by adults.
In order to be effective, car seats must be installed correctly. Proper installation involves the use of a seat belt or the LATCH attachment system. Failure to properly secure the car seat can cause it and the child to be ejected from the car or tossed around inside of it. Additionally, children must always be secured as directed in their car seats at all times.
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When people think of distracted driving, it is usually cell phones that come to mind. While talking and texting definitely meet the definition, they are not the only distractions that occur when driving. Anything that divides a driver's attention is considered to be a distraction. It may be a cognitive distraction and take the driver's mind from driving, or it may be manual, in which case it causes drivers to remove their hands from the wheel. Distractions may also be visual in nature, causing the driver to take their eyes from the road. Often, distractions that happen in the car involve all three types. To avoid any of these from happening, commit to driving and nothing else whenever the car is in motion. This means setting up music to play before driving, turning off all electronic devices, and doing things like putting on makeup or shaving prior to getting in the car. If hunger strikes, pull over to eat and drink. Do not engage in arguments with passengers, and ask passengers to keep distracting behavior down. Dogs should be secured properly in the car, as should children. If traveling with a crying baby, pull over safely to feed or soothe the child.
Insurance Information Institute: Distracted Driving Consequences of Distracted Driving Talking on a Cellphone While Driving Is Risky, But Simpler Distractions Can Also Cause Harm Distracted Driving (PDF) Distraction Facts and Statistics
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Auto Safety Tips and was authored by Maddy Martin.