If you were to pick 100 drivers at random and ask each of them if they’re a safe driver, you probably would hear “I don’t drive as safely as I should,” from less than five of them. We all want to believe that we’re behaving wisely safely, and that we’re skilled in our driving, that we’re in the right, and it’s very difficult to show even the most reckless driver that they need to change their mindset. They do, though, because that’s where safe driving begins.
Safe driving starts by being mindful and considerate of the people and objects around us. Driving is a self-centered activity by its nature- you have to remain focused on your destination and surroundings while isolated inside your comfortable, familiar passenger compartment. Allowing yourself to slip deeply into that insulated, self-absorbed atmosphere is dangerous. When your focus shifts away from the road, (whether it’s to your cell phone, to your passengers, stirring a Slurpee, catching a Pokemon or to combing your hair,) you’ve become a distracted driver. By keeping your senses concentrated on the ongoings outside your car, you’re giving yourself the maximum opportunity to perceive dangers early, and to avoid them. And never listen to music on earbuds or headphones- you can cut your sense of hearing off from your surroundings, so an important horn or siren never makes it to your ears.
Fighter pilots were trained to “keep their head on a swivel” to avoid being surprised by hostiles coming from an unexpected angle. This expression can be applied to roadway travel as well. It means to keep your neck loose and to maintain good rotation when you look over your shoulder to check your blind spots or move in reverse, and to pay attention to your peripheral sight while focused on your vehicle’s movement. Make it a point to remain aware of your car’s surroundings, and you’ll be much more likely to identify erratic drivers or other dangers.
Car accidents are nothing new; in 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn’t to drive at all.” The character being given this excellent advice says that she’s perfectly safe because, “it takes two to make an accident.” The final chapters of that novel show the reader just how deluded that way of thinking is. One reckless driver is perfectly capable of damaging or destroying the property and lives of many other people, plus themselves. You cannot rely upon others sharing the road with you to be aware and focused, while you operate a vehicle irresponsibly. It does not take two bad drivers to make an accident; all it takes is one good driver who fails to be safe for just one unfortunate moment. If you see a vehicle moving too fast, or in the wrong direction, or weaving within its lane, or exhibiting reduced reaction time, or making sudden changes in speed, you should put as much distance between them and yourself as possible.
Speed and distance are the two keys to a mindset of safe driving. Maintaining a safe space from the vehicle in front of you, relative to the speed you’re traveling at, is especially vital in arriving at your destination safe & sound. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the leading cause of highway collisions as of 2016 is tailgating, also known as drafting. Every driver- even a highly skilled driver who’s anticipating danger- is going to have a delay between when their eyes tell the brain it needs to act, and when the brain tells the foot to press on the brake. That delay is called reaction time. If you add to that the time it actually takes your vehicle to drop its speed, you can begin to calculate the total time required to come to a full stop. That sense of speed and distance improves with driving experience, and you can determine if you’re too close with the Five-Second-Rule, which is this: If the vehicle ahead of you passes an object by the roadside, and you pass it as well in under a five count, you’re too close. When in doubt, yield on the side of caution. And speaking of yielding…
Driving defensively is an excellent way to cultivate safe driving habits. Defensive driving means exposing your vehicle and its passengers to the least risk possible, to defend and protect yourself and your passengers. Yielding, keeping your speed at or below the posted limit, and not expecting your fellow drivers to behave responsibly are great habits that defensive driving encourages. When you’re intent on making a turn, for instance, and an oncoming vehicle has its turn signal on, driving defensively would be waiting for that oncoming car to drop speed and execute its turn before pulling into its lane: the oncoming driver may plan on turning further along its path, or not be aware that false signals are being sent. If a person has been advised to take a course in defensive driving by their lawyer or a judge, the purpose of those classes is to encourage a thought process and habits that make them a safer driver. Aggressive driving, generally speaking, is not safe. There are many scenarios in which decisive action is required to avoid a hazard, or to avoid becoming one however, so while they’re similar, and defensive driving leads to safe driving, they’re not quite the same thing.
Another essential component to safe driving is keeping your vehicle in good condition. When your brakes start to sing and groan from having to stop in normal circumstances, it’s a sign that they are dangerously worn, which means they need more time- no-one can know how much- to bring the car to a full stop.
While keeping the car’s brakes in good repair is paramount, all the auto’s other systems’ functions are part of safe driving. Lights, signals, and the horn are essential to communicate with other drivers; good alignment, tire pressure, and tread ensure you move in straight lines & have adequate grip on the asphalt. A properly running transmission means you accelerate at steady predictable rates, and so on. If your machine isn’t at its best, it won’t perform the way it needs to in an emergency.
Road condition and weather hazards have a tremendous effect on safe driving. Ice, rain, and strong winds and all make it more likely for your vehicle to loose its grip on the road and for you to loose control as a result. When mother nature complicates your commute, its almost always safest to reduce your speed. Here in Dallas Texas and in the surrounding suburbs, for example, most of the local populace is not used to driving in icy conditions. That lack of familiarity makes Dallas-Fort Worth roads quite dangerous in icy conditions, not just because you have a higher likelihood of sliding around and loosing control, but because other drivers have the same problem & the number of vehicles moving in unpredictable ways is massively increased. In bad weather; in fact, in almost every traffic complication, the best way to drive safely is to reduce your speed. In severely icy or wet conditions, slowing to two-thirds or half the posted speed limit is a good guideline to get where you’re going without courting disaster. The same is true of primitive roads, roads that need repair, or unpredictable events in your path- when in doubt, slow down.
To sum up, safe driving begins with wearing your seatbelt, maintaining your vehicle, keeping your focus on the road and your surroundings, keeping a safe distance between the vehicle you’re following & your own, being courteous & aware of others on the road, and preventing your speed from exceeding safe limits. Unsafe habits include speeding, driving aggressively or distractedly, forgoing your seatbelt or your vehicle’s maintenance, and getting behind the wheel in an emotional or impaired state of mind.
If you’ve been injured by a collision with an unsafe driver, the best way to protect your interests is to contact a trustworthy, skilled, thorough, personal injury Attorney without delay, and to strongly consider their advice.