Thousands of people lose their lives every year in car accidents around the world. A fair number of these tragic events could be avoided if drivers adopted a more safety-conscious attitude each time they get behind the wheel.
No one sets out to cause an accident. Most drivers find it difficult to come to terms with the consequences of an accident caused by carelessness or a momentary lapse of concentration. There are, however, things you can do to avoid becoming another statistic.
Aggressive drivers threaten the safety and lives of others. Other drivers threaten their own safety simply by not wearing a seat belt. These are just a few examples of actions that can lead to tragedy, actions that could be avoided if you adopt the mentality of a safe driver.
Avoiding Aggressive Driving
We all have good days and bad days. Some days you get behind the wheel in a positive frame of mind, while on other days, you might be frustrated or running late.
Aggressive driving is one of the leading causes of crashes and fatalities on our highways and roads. Many drivers don’t realize they’re driving aggressively until they get into a dangerous situation.
What is aggressive driving?
In the United States, the term aggressive driving covers a diverse range of unsafe driving behaviors. So far, 15 states have adopted aggressive driving laws and 11 states have passed specific laws that clearly define certain aggressive actions.
For example, California treats aggressive driving the same way it treats reckless driving, with severe penalties if you are found guilty. Examples of aggressive driving offenses in Arizona are speeding, tailgating, failure to obey a traffic control device, and unsafe lane changing.
Taking risks on the road can get you into legal trouble, as well as endangering yourself and others on the road. Consult your local State Highway Safety Office for a detailed list of aggressive driving offenses in your state.
Aggressive Driving Statistics
According to their research, about 60 percent of drivers surveyed said that they had witnessed examples of unsafe driving. Over half of respondents admitted they had driven aggressively.
In Canada, previously released collision statistics (Transport Canada) reveal that 27 percent of fatalities and 19 percent of serious injuries are caused by speeding. When you consider that most people killed in speed-related crashes were the drivers themselves, you have a good incentive to curb your speed.
Authorities in the UK have used speed cameras and financial penalties to deter speeding drivers for many years. Efforts to stamp out aggressive behavior have increased in recent years, with some offenders being forced to take their driving tests again. In some cases, the authorities are seizing vehicles to keep the worst offenders off the road.
Are you an aggressive driver?
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you will probably get pulled over sooner or later. If you’re lucky, you will only get a warning, but if your actions are bad enough, you may face serious penalties.
Answer these questions honestly:
- Do you tailgate slower vehicles?
- Do you race to beat red lights or run stop signs?
- Do you weave in and out of traffic to improve your position?
- Do you pass illegally on the wrong side?
- Do you fail to yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be an aggressive driver and be putting yourself, your passengers, and other drivers at an increased risk. Many law enforcement agencies around the world are taking hard stances on aggressive driving. They know that enforcement and education will reduce the death toll on our roads.
Tips on dealing with aggressive drivers
Even if you adopt safe driving behaviors, you will probably still encounter other aggressive drivers while you are behind the wheel. Here are some tips to help deal with them…
- Move out of the way and don’t attempt to challenge an aggressive driver with your vehicle.
- Stay calm and relaxed, and avoid making direct eye contact. Don’t make any rude or offensive gestures, even if the other driver does so.
- Avoid trying to block the passing lane. Leave it to the police and the cameras to catch the culprit, rather than endangering yourself.
Many people confuse aggressive driving with road rage. These are often two separate issues in the eyes of the law. Road rage, which is generally classified as a criminal offense, often occurs when an aggressive driver escalates after another driver challenges them. It can result in physical confrontation.
Driving Under the Influence
Impaired driving (or drunk driving), is one of the major threats to the safety of everyone on the road. About 40 percent of traffic deaths in the United States involve alcohol. Drunk driving is illegal in all US states and in many countries around the world.
The criminal offense is referred to as DUI, or Driving Under the Influence. There are serious criminal and financial penalties for anyone found driving under the influence of alcohol.
The UK has seen a decrease in the number of DUI fatalities, with the Department of Transport reporting that 230 fatal casualties in 2011 were caused by drunk-driving. This is the lowest annual figure since records began in 1979.
But the message is not getting through to everyone and there are some common misconceptions among drivers about how much alcohol they’re allowed to consume. You can find a number of blood alcohol calculators online, and there’s a range of devices you can use to test yourself before getting behind the wheel.
Law enforcement agencies continue to increase their efforts to identify drivers who are either under the influence of alcohol or impaired by drugs and prescription medicines.
Cost of drunk-driving
The actual costs associated with an impaired or drunk-driving arrest can vary greatly depending on where you are, but the consequences are always severe. You will face a series of fines and criminal conviction.
You will also be facing much higher insurance premiums once you’re allowed back on the road. If you have to drive to your job, you’re also putting your ability to earn a living in jeopardy.
Underage DUI is also an issue. In some states and countries, drivers who are under 21 could face a jail term of up to six months. This zero-tolerance approach is designed to ensure that new drivers don’t acquire bad habits.
Child Passenger Safety
We all want to keep our children as safe as possible. Adult drivers must take responsibility for any children in their vehicle and help them stay safe. The number one priority is to make sure children are securely restrained with their seat belts fastened before setting off.
Seat belt laws
Seat belt legislation in the United States is dictated by individual state governments, but every state requires children under a certain age to be restrained using an approved car seat. New Hampshire stands alone as the only state that does not require adult drivers to wear safety belts.
All provinces in Canada have primary enforcement seat belt laws, as does Australia, the UK, and many other countries around the world. Thousands of deaths have been prevented as a result of making their use mandatory.
Look Out for the School Bus
Early morning and after school are peak traffic times in many areas. Drivers have to contend with school buses and children awaiting their transportation. School bus drivers and motorists, together with parents and teachers, all need to do their part in keeping our children safe.
Tips for parents and students
- Arrive at the bus stop five minutes early so you won’t have to run across the road to catch the bus.
- When waiting for the bus, stay away from traffic. Line up at least five good steps from the curb or roadway.
- Never run after the school bus if it has already left the bus stop.
- Never push when getting on or off of the school bus.
- Always walk at least 10 feet in front of the bus when crossing so the bus driver can see you.
- Be Aware – Cross with Care! Wait until the school bus has stopped all traffic before stepping out onto the road.
- When the bus is moving, always stay in your seat. Never put your head, arms, or hands out of the window.
- Talk quietly so that you don’t distract the driver.
- Never play with the emergency exits. If there’s an emergency, listen to the driver and follow instructions.
- When getting off the school bus, make sure all drawstrings and other loose objects are secure so they don’t get caught on the handrail or the door.
- Never cross the street behind the school bus.
- If you leave something on the bus or drop something outside, don’t run back for it. The driver may not see you and could begin driving, which would be very dangerous.
- Never speak to strangers at the bus stop and never get into the car with a stranger.
Tips for school bus drivers
- Always do a pre-trip inspection to check for mechanical defects that could jeopardize the safety of your passengers.
- Be reliable and dependable – your students are counting on you every day.
- Establish a positive relationship with your students so they respect your safety advice.
- Many local laws prohibit children from standing on the bus while the bus is in motion. Enforce this rule.
- Make sure all children getting off the bus are safely away before deactivating your hazard warning lights.
- Do not allow children to exit the bus before all traffic has come to a complete stop and the safety lights are engaged.
- After unloading all children at the school or after your last stop, do a post-trip check to make sure no child is left on the bus.
- Ensure items and/or students are not blocking the aisles or the emergency exit.
- Be prepared to act appropriately in emergency and crash situations. Your actions could be critical.
- Familiarize every student with school bus emergency procedures and equipment use, as well as safe loading and unloading procedures.
Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety
Although the focus of this guide is on driver behavior, cyclists and pedestrians share the road. There are steps they can take to improve highway safety and reduce the number of incidents.
Cyclist safety tips
Many people rely on their bikes to get around, especially in urban areas. Here are some important safety tips to help reduce the number of accidents involving cyclists:
- Always wear light-colored or reflective clothing.
- Wear an approved helmet and other protective gear.
- All children under 12 must wear a safety helmet.
- Always ride on the correct side of the road.
- Signal your intentions well in advance.
Drivers must yield to pedestrians when they cross the road at designated crossing points. There are still way too many accidents caused by drivers failing to stop at marked pedestrian crossings.
Pedestrians can improve their safety by observing the following tips:
- Wear light-colored reflective clothing so drivers can see you.
- Walk against the flow of traffic.
- Make eye contact with drivers before crossing, to confirm they see you.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
- Don’t listen to headphones so loud you can’t hear what’s going on.
There has been a noticeable increase in the number of motorcycles on our roads in recent years. Motorcyclists and automobile drivers need to be aware of each other, and respect each other while sharing the roadway.
Safety tips for motorcyclists
There are a number of ways motorcyclists can enjoy a safe journey.
- Always wear protective clothing and an approved helmet with face protection.
- Know your motorcycle and get into the habit of conducting a pre-ride check.
- The same rules apply to motorcyclists as car drivers. Use common sense by riding sober, obeying all speed limits, and allowing enough space to react to dangerous situations.
- Motorcycle riders are far more vulnerable than motor vehicle drivers in an accident, so be more vigilant than you would be when driving a car.
- Practice safe riding techniques and know how to handle your motorcycle in adverse weather and road conditions. Potholes, gravel, and wet or slippery surfaces are minor annoyances to drivers, but major hazards for motorcyclists.
- Consider attending a motorcycle training or safety program in your area to keep your skills and knowledge up to date.
Safety tips for motorists who share the road with motorcycles:
- Keep an eye out for motorcycles, they’re smaller than other vehicles and may be difficult to see.
- Check your mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes and at intersections. Large vehicles can block a motorcycle from view, which means a bike can suddenly appear out of nowhere.
- Allow a greater following distance of at least four seconds when behind a motorcycle.
- Treat a motorcycle the same way you would a full-size vehicle, affording them the same respect as any other vehicle on the road.
- Allow a motorcyclist the full width of a lane, as they often need that much room to maneuver safely.
There’s often conflict between motorists and truckers. We all need to try and respect each other and learn to share the road. When driving a car down the highway surrounded by trucks there’s little margin for error. Although it’s stating the obvious, the car would fare much worse in a collision.
Here are a couple of facts about trucks that motorists need to consider:
Trucks approaching from a distance may be moving faster than you think.
Due to their large size, trucks appear to be traveling toward you at a slower rate than they actually are. Allow plenty of time for perception and reality to meet. Give yourself more room than you think you need to pull out in front of an oncoming truck.
You should also never pull in front of a truck and then slow down, as this eliminates the cushion of safety that the driver originally had before you made the move.
Trucks have large blind-spots.
Many trucks now carry a sticker on their backs that say “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” Don’t hang out in the blind spot, even if you’re in slow-moving traffic. Trucks take sweeping and wide turns. If you’re too close and they can’t see you in their mirrors, you could easily end up in a truck collision, so hang back.
Tips for truck drivers
- Always ensure you get plenty of rest before getting behind the wheel and observe legal limits on how long you can drive between stops.
- Avoid drowsy driving by finding a safe place to pull over to rest.
- Maintain your vehicle, as about 12 percent of crashes are a result of vehicle defects.
- Carry tire chains, as road conditions can change rapidly in poor and freezing weather.
- Always be wary of vehicles that may hang out in your blind spot.
- Remember to slow down in work zones and avoid tailgating.
- Wear your seat belt. US federal law requires commercial vehicle drivers to buckle up. Many other countries have similar legal requirements.
An estimated 80 percent of fatal crashes involving large trucks are attributed to driver error. We all need to share the road and respect other vehicles.
While getting older doesn’t automatically make you a worse driver, there will come a point when a decision will have to be made about your ability to continue driving.
Driving is a critical lifeline for many senior citizens. The loss of independence and mobility for a mature driver can be very difficult to accept. Nevertheless, there are some red flags that could signal it’s time to stop driving.
Here are some of the warning signs to look out for:
- Feeling uncomfortable, nervous, or fearful when driving
- Unexplained dents and scrapes on the car
- Frequent incidents of near-misses on the road
- Getting lost and not being able to complete the journey
- Slowed response to unexpected situations
- Easily distracted or have difficulty concentrating while driving
- Difficulty staying in the lane of traffic
- Difficulty reading signals, road signs, and pavement markings
- Noticeable difficulties judging gaps in traffic at intersections or junctions
- Medical conditions or medications that may affect the ability to handle a car safely
- Regular traffic tickets or warnings in the last two years
Mature driver safety tips
If you’re a mature driver, there are ways to ensure you stay safe on the road and keep your license for as long as possible. The following tips will help you to stay safe:
- Have regular eye and medical exams. Near and far vision is essential to driving safely.
- Aging eyes are more sensitive to bright light and glare. Consider limiting your night time driving and avoid looking directly into the headlights of approaching vehicles.
- Avoid stressful driving situations such as rush hour traffic, driving at night, or driving in poor weather. Always plan ahead, know your route, and stay on familiar roads.
- When driving long distances, especially in winter, call ahead for weather, construction, and road condition updates.
- Avoid taking medications before driving. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs cause drowsiness.
- Make sure your seat and mirrors are properly adjusted before beginning a trip.
- Maintain a safe speed and look ahead so you can make adjustments well in advance of a problem.
- Always keep a safe distance behind the vehicle ahead of you. A four-second gap between your vehicle and the vehicle in front is recommended.
- Consider taking a refresher course to sharpen your driving skills. This may also qualify you for a discounted insurance rate.
Statistically, 16-24 year olds are more vulnerable to vehicle crashes than other age groups. Their lack of driving experience and fast or careless driving make young drivers far more likely to have an accident.
Here are some tips to keep young drivers safe:
- Always wear your seat belt.
- Don’t drink and drive. Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal.
- Don’t talk or text on your cell phone while driving.
- Obey the speed limit. Going too fast gives you less time to react.
- Don’t eat or drink while driving.
- Adjust the driver’s seat and all mirrors before beginning a trip.
- Adjust radio and climate controls before beginning your trip, have your passenger adjust the controls for you, or pull over to a safe place to adjust the controls.
- If you can’t see a truck’s mirrors, the truck driver can’t see you.
- Plan ahead. Know where you’re going and get directions.
- Leave early. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
- Be alert and expect the unexpected. You never know what can happen.
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