The Essential Guide to Driver and Traffic Safety

Millions of people are hurt or killed annually in motor vehicle accidents. From big rigs to foot traffic, here’s how you can safely navigate America’s roadways.

Last year more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents, with the top three causes of fatal crashes attributed to alcohol, speeding/aggressive driving, and distracted driving.¹

Vehicle crashes on U.S. highways injure more than 2 million people annually, racking up losses of more than $242 billion in economic damages.

That’s not counting the values of lives impacted, and the loss of workplace and household productivity resulting from traffic accidents.²

Whether you’re a new driver or have been driving for decades, single or a soccer mom, or you drive for a living, you’ll be safer and wiser by regular review of the latest driving safety recommendations. We also have tips for road safety while driving abroad.

Dealing with Aggressive Driving

It happens to the best of us. Some days you get behind the wheel in a positive frame of mind, while on other days, you might be frustrated or running late. Then you see another driver do something stupid or act like a jerk and you lose your cool.

The fact is that eight out of ten drivers have committed at least one act of aggressive behavior while driving in the last year.

From someone laying on the horn at the idiot that didn’t go when the light turned green, to deliberately tailgating the old lady driving slow in the fast lane, you’re likely to encounter aggressive driving in some form or another every time you’re on the road, and sometimes the aggressive driver might be you.

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?

The term aggressive driving covers a wide range of unsafe driving behaviors. So far, 15 states have adopted aggressive driving laws that make aggressive driving an offense punishable by fines and penalties.

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.

Find your State Highway Safety Office for a detailed list of aggressive driving offenses in your area.

Are you an aggressive driver?

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you’ll 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.

  • 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?

Remember that speeding is a type of aggressive driving. As vehicle speed increases, so does the risk of severe crash injuries.

Seat belts, airbags, and child safety seats aren’t as effective in high-speed crashes, contributing to severe injuries and fatalities.

Tips for Handling an Aggressive Driver

Even if you’re a careful and safe driver, you’ll 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 avoid making direct eye contact. Don’t make any rude or offensive gestures, even if the other driver does.
  • Avoid trying to block the passing lane. Leave it to the police and traffic cameras to catch the culprit, rather than endangering yourself.

Protect Yourself from Road Rage

Many people confuse aggressive driving with road rage. Road rage is classified in some states as a criminal offense and happens when an aggressive driver’s behavior escalates after another driver challenges them. It can result in a violent physical confrontation.

Here’s how to protect yourself from road rage:

  • Control your own road rage. Let it go. Acting out will only make everything worse.
  • Drive defensively. Stay on the lookout for distracted or rude drivers and stay out of their way.
  • Don’t make eye contact. Avoid looking at other drivers. You’ll only get ticked off if they yell at you or flip you off.
  • Ignore them. Aggressive drivers may want to start something. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
  • Let the aggressive driver have the right-of-way. Yeah, even if it’s your right-of-way. Letting them go is your way of staying in control of your situation.

If you have a dash-cam or a passenger with a cell phone, take pictures or video of the aggressive driver, so long as you can do it safely. They probably are too enraged to care, but if they do cause an accident, you’ll already have some good evidence of the other driver’s fault for the crash.

Driving Under the Influence

Impaired driving is a major threat to the safety of everyone on the road. More than 28 people die each day because of drunk driving on American roadways.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a criminal offense in every jurisdiction. Convicted drivers face criminal and financial penalties, and possible jail time depending on the level of intoxication, prior DUI arrests, and if the DUI caused an accident resulting in injuries or death.

Don’t kid yourself about how much you can drink and still drive safely. You can be below the legal limit for your state and be impaired enough to cause an accident. And don’t think for a minute it won’t be used against you if you hurt or kill someone.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is the measurement of the percent of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream after they’ve been drinking. The BAC level is used by most jurisdictions to determine if a person is legally too drunk to drive, sometimes called the “legal limit.”

It’s not just the number of alcoholic beverages that contribute to impairment. The strength of the drink, the size and gender of the person, medications, and even lack of sleep can make a person more intoxicated than they realize.

The only way to completely avoid a DUI is never to drink and drive. It’s not worth risking your life, the safety of others, and a criminal record that will follow you forever.

If you’ve been the victim of a drunk driver, contact a personal injury attorney to discuss how to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries, pain, and suffering.

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.

Impaired Driving Will Cost You

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. Drunk driving puts everyone at risk, so every state makes the penalties severe enough to deter others from driving while impaired.

You’ll lose your driving privileges, maybe for good. If you have to drive for your job, you’re also putting your ability to earn a living in jeopardy.

But you’ll need that job because fines for drunk driving run into thousands of dollars. Fees and costs can range from $9,000 to $27,000, even if you didn’t hurt anyone else.

You will also be facing much higher insurance premiums once you’re allowed back on the road, and your insurance company may choose not to renew your policy.

Underage DUI is also an issue. In some states, 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.

Keeping Kids and Young Drivers Safe

Drivers between the ages of 16 to 24 are more vulnerable to vehicle crashes than other age groups. Combined with all the school-children traveling by bus each day, it adds up to a lot of inexperienced young people on the road in every neighborhood and town.

It may be helpful to use a road safety app for younger drivers.

Tips for Young Drivers:

  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Don’t drink alcohol and drive. Ever.
  • Don’t text while driving.
  • Don’t talk on the phone while driving. Even hands-free talking is not a good idea for teen drivers.
  • 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.

School Bus Safety Tips for Kids:

  • 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.
  • Don’t push when getting on or off the bus.
  • 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.
  • Stay in your seat when the bus is moving. 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 bus, make sure drawstrings, and book bag straps aren’t hanging loose, 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.
  • 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.
  • Don’t allow children to exit the bus before all traffic has come to a complete stop and the safety lights are engaged.
  • After unloading all the 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 students are not blocking the aisles or the emergency exit.
  • Be prepared to act appropriately in the event of a medical emergency or traffic accident.
  • Familiarize every student with school bus emergency procedures and equipment use, as well as safe loading and unloading procedures.

Safety for Bicycles, Pedestrians, and Motorcycles

Although the focus of this guide is on driver safety, cyclists and pedestrians share the road. There are steps they can take to improve highway safety and reduce the number of accidents.

Basic Bicycling Safety

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.

Safe Pedestrians Walk with Awareness

Drivers must yield to pedestrians when they cross the road at designated crossing points. There are still a significant number of accidents involving pedestrians hit by cars.

Pedestrians can improve their safety by observing the following tips while walking along a roadway:

  • 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 wear headphones with volume so loud you can’t hear what’s going on.

Motorcycle Safety for Bikers and Motorists

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of motorcycles on our roads in recent years and a corresponding increase in injuries from traffic accidents.

Motorcyclists and automobile drivers need to be aware of each other and share the road respectfully.

Motorcycle Driving Tips:

  • 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. 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.

What Car Drivers Should Know About 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.

Sharing the Road with Semi-trucks

There’s often conflict between motorists and truckers. 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 with a tractor-trailer.

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.

Never pull in front of a truck and then slow down, as this eliminates the cushion of safety the truck driver had before you made a 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 collide, so hang back.

Safety Tips for Truckers:

  • 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.
  • Be on the lookout for vehicles that may hang out in your blind spot.
  • Remember to slow down in work zones and avoid tailgating.
  • Wear your seat belt.

An estimated 80 percent of fatal crashes involving large trucks are attributed to driver error. Be careful and stay safe.

When It’s No Longer Safe to Drive

While getting older doesn’t automatically make you a worse driver, be aware of the signs that a decision has to be made about your ability to continue driving. Maybe someday we’ll have working self-driving cars, but until then, we have to do it ourselves.

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 may come a time when you are better off hanging up your keys.

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

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 nighttime 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.
  • Don’t drive after taking certain medications. 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.
  • 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.
Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>