While most people believe accidents are a random and unpredictable occurrence, studies have shown that anywhere from 86 to 94 percent of all accidents can be attributed to driver error in one way or another. Whether it’s a mistake made on the road or an error in judgment before you even start the car, accidents often result from an individual’s driving habits.
Follow these defensive driving tips to do your part in preventing accidents and increasing your safety.
Tips to Prevent Accidents and Increase Safety
We all know a car cannot stop on a dime. The time it takes to stop is a factor of three components:
- Perception time—only about one second
- Reaction time—less than a second
- Braking distance—distance required to bring the vehicle to a stop once the brakes are applied
It’s important to remember that these are figures for the ideal circumstance in ideal driving conditions. If you are tired, distracted or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, these times increase. Your speed also affects your stopping distance. For example, when you double your speed, you actually increase your braking distance by four times.
Before starting the car, make all necessary adjustments for maximum visibility and safety.
- Position the seat for easy access to the pedals and comfort while steering. It’s a general rule that the seat should be positioned so your wrist is at the top of the steering wheel with your arm fully extended. If your vehicle is equipped with an air bag, the seat should be positioned so that the closest part of your body is at least 10 inches from the steering wheel to avoid injury in the event of air bag deployment.
- Adjust the mirrors to allow for maximum visibility out of the back and side of the car.
- Remove all articles from the back window. Placing articles on the seat or floor prevents them from becoming dangerous projectiles in the event of an emergency maneuver.
- Position the head restraint high and close to the back of the head. Proper positioning of the head restraint can reduce neck injuries in rear-end collisions.
- Secure all objects in the car so they do not become a distraction while driving.
Let’s face it, we are living in a fast-paced and high-tech society. It’s almost impossible to go anywhere without reaching for our phone to make a quick call or seeing someone turning a corner and talking on the phone. While most people would think of this as effective multitasking, research indicates that the improper use of cell phones is a safety hazard. In fact, it’s been shown that while using a cell phone, a driver’s reaction time is slowed by three to four times. The best and safest situation is to stop in a safe place when using your cell phone.
Remember–driving safely should be your main priority. If you cannot safely answer a call, let your voicemail pick up and return the call at a later time.
Being sleepy behind the wheel is dangerous. It slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment. The following are some danger signs for drowsy drivers:
- Your eyes close or go out of focus by themselves
- You have trouble keeping your head up
- You can’t stop yawning
- You have wandering, disconnected thoughts
- You don’t remember driving the last few miles
- You missed your exit
- You keep driving out of your lane
- Your speed becomes variable
Tips for staying awake:
- Get rest and don’t start a trip late in the day
- Don’t drive alone if possible
- Avoid driving at night
- Adjust your vehicle’s environment to stay alert–air conditioning and music may help
- Watch your posture
- Take frequent breaks and exercise
- Stop for light meals and snacks
- Don’t allow your eyes to become fatigued and hypnotized
- Wear sunglasses to fight glare
- Break the monotony
- If all else fails, pull over to a safe area to rest
One way to practice safe driving is to allow an adequate amount of space between you and other vehicles. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by following the three–second rule.
- When the vehicle ahead of you passes a fixed object, start counting “one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three.” If you have reached the fixed object before “three,” you are following too closely. If this is the case, slow down to create a three–second space.
- In poor driving conditions, add an extra second for each weather condition encountered. For example, rain and fog would add two more seconds to your following time. It may sound like this will slow you down; however, a study of salespeople driving from Philadelphia to New York City (a 100-mile trip) showed using an additional two–second following distance only added two minutes to the drive time. If the three–second rule is used, accident avoidance is increased by 70 percent over a two–second following distance.
Most accidents occur at intersections within two to three seconds after the light changes. Follow these tips to avoid intersection accidents:
- As you approach any uncontrolled intersection, never assume the other driver is going to yield. Cover the brake with your right foot and always be prepared to stop.
- If you are approaching an intersection where the light has been green for a while, cover your brake and prepare to stop.
- When a traffic light turns green, wait to make sure the cross traffic has stopped. Never assume that everyone is going to stop. Then, before proceeding through the intersection, you should look left, right and left again to make sure it’s clear.
- Always look for pedestrians at intersections.
Every day you get behind the wheel, there are factors under your control and others outside of your control. Be aware of the factors that you cannot control and concentrate on those that you can.
Some factors outside your control include:
- The other drivers
- Road surfaces
- Energy of motion
- Force of impact
Factors within your control include:
- Emotions (good and bad)
- Vehicle condition
- Vehicle speed
- Position in traffic and space around vehicle
- Concentration on the driving task
Before leaving on a trip, know the route you are going to take. It is also important to always keep a current map of the areas you will be traveling through in the car for reference. If you need to refer to a map, pull off the road to a safe area, such as a rest stop or parking lot. If you are lost, ask for directions and, most importantly, stay in control of your emotions.
Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death and injury for all ages and have a large impact on employees, their families and coworkers, and employers. The document below, produced by NETS, NHTSA and OSHA, is a joint effort to reduce motor vehicle–related deaths and injuries in the nation’s workforce.
Safety belt use is required by law in most states. Just because your car is equipped with an air bag does not mean you can get by without wearing a seat belt. Air bags are only intended as a supplemental feature to safety belts.
The proper use and correct positioning of a safety belt minimizes most crash injuries. A properly adjusted safety belt has the lap belt positioned low and tight across the hips, not the stomach. If the safety belt includes a shoulder belt, it should be placed over the shoulder, not under the arm or behind the occupant.
The safest place for children in a car is the back seat with safety belts properly used. Most states require children three years old and under to be in a child’s seat. Check with your state officials for your state’s requirements.
Defensive driving starts with vehicle maintenance. The following items should be checked regularly:
- Brakes and brake fluid
- Belts (fan, alternator and A/C)
- Tires and tire pressure
- Engine fluids (motor oil, transmission fluid, coolant)
- Wiper blades
- Windshield and window cleanliness
The inside of the car should be well maintained, too. All items should be secured during use so they don’t become projectiles during a sudden maneuver.