Most people couldn’t easily pass a driving test if given one today—particularly the written test. It’s easy and tempting to slip into bad habits as a driver, especially with more distractions than ever. Taking risks, not being a defensive driver, and indulging in distractions are just a few reasons we’re not as good of drivers as we good be. Even though everyone knows that using a phone is dangerous behind the wheel, a lot of people still do it. Even hands-free phone use and speak-to-text is a distraction that keeps you dis-engaged from the task at hand. If you’re tempted to use the phone and drive, there are a number of apps that let you temporarily “freeze” your phone and/or send an automated response to any texters or callers letting them know you’re unavailable.
However, phones are just one distraction behind the wheel. If you want to be a safer driver, avoid eating and drinking while driving, too. Music can be a distraction, as can multiple passengers. Younger drivers aren’t as used to multi-tasking behind the wheel, so minimizing distractions for new and/or younger drivers is a must. Distracteddriving.org is a government site that puts the reality of distracted driving into clear terms. Simply checking a text can take your eyes off the road for long enough that you could drive the length of a football field depending on speed. Studies have also shown that distracted driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
There’s also the issue of drinking alcohol or using drugs before driving. Although there are legal limits in place, any amount of alcohol can impair a driver. Plus, most drinking takes place at night, which already limits vision. “Night blindness” is a very real issue that causes some people to have even more impaired vision at night than their counterparts. Bringing alcohol into the mix, day or night, isn’t just dangerous for the driver and everyone else on the road. It can also come with hefty fines, jail or prison time, and having your license revoked. Fortunately, with ride share apps as well as taxis, it’s easier than ever to plan for a night out without risking drinking and driving.
Driving tired has also been proven to be just as dangerous as drinking and driving. It’s why long-haul truck drivers are required to not drive for a certain amount of miles per day. However, according to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans are chronically fatigued. Few people get enough sleep to wake up naturally, which averages eight hours per night but can be more or less. Parents, those with demanding work schedules, overachievers, and students who are also working are just a few of the demographics who likely drive tired. Not only is there the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel, your perception is impaired as well as your reaction.
The health of the driver is just one part of the equation. Driving a car that isn’t well maintained is a huge risk. Don’t ignore squeaky brakes or any signs that your vehicle isn’t in top working order. Getting a regular maintenance check in the autumn and spring can help diagnose issues before they spiral out of control. Make sure the tires are regularly rotated and checked. The check engine light is notoriously overlooked, but can be a warning that a part isn’t functioning like it should. Everything from checking the brake pads to regular oil changes is paramount for making sure your vehicle is as safe as it can be.
Surprisingly, there are also still quite a few people who don’t regularly wear their seat belts—or don’t wear them correctly. There’s also an unfortunately high incident of children not being in the correct car seat for their height, or car seats not being installed correctly. Common safety measures like these are one of the easiest ways to ensure your safety while in a vehicle. For car seats, there are many organizations including fire departments that offer free checks and installations year-round.
Driving an older car, from classics to cheap commuters, might help you save money up front but they come with big risks. The older the car, the more likely it is to break down. It also may not have safety features like air bags that we now consider standard. When shopping for a new (or new to you) car, make sure you take the safety ratings into account. Some manufacturers are known for their great crash test ratings, and might even be able to get you a discount on car insurance.
How can we be safer behind the wheel?
- Avoiding distracted driving including phone use, too many passengers, and eating behind the wheel.
- Don’t drive when you’re tired.
- Use a taxi, public transportation, or ride sharing app if necessary.
- Make sure your car is regularly maintained.
- Don’t ignore warning signs like squeaky brakes or the check engine light.
- Choose to drive a safe car.
Many people are surprised that the majority of accidents don’t happen at night. They happen during rush hour when people are stressed, tired, multi-tasking, and distracted.