Driving Tips for Road Safety
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UPDATED: Jul 19, 2021
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Safe driving can help you avoid fines, tickets, or even getting your driver’s license suspended. A good record on the road can also help save you money on your car, with lower insurance premiums and less money spent on repairs and maintenance. More than that, though, safe driving can save lives, by reducing the number of collisions on the road.
Many of us probably think that we’re safe drivers. Years of experience on the road and a relatively clean record can help us become more confident in our abilities. However, more time spent on the road can also cause us to become a little lazy about our safety practices. No matter whether you’re a new driver or you’ve been on the roads for years, it’s never a bad idea to review essential practices for safe driving.
Part of safe driving is having the right car insurance coverage (more on that below), but you can start comparison shopping with our free tool above.
Avoid Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is one of the most common and dangerous forms of unsafe driving. The CDC defines distracted driving as “driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving.”
When you think of distracted driving, you probably picture teenagers driving while texting on their phones. Although this could be a real instance, distracted driving takes many additional forms.
Distracted Driving Statistics
Distracted driving has been studied as a cause of roadway collisions. Some of the information that researchers have discovered includes:
- According to the CDC, there are an estimated nine deaths and over 1,000 injuries due to distracted driving every day.
- 9 percent of all fatal crashes in 2016 were caused by distracted driving.
- According to that same report from the Department of Transportation, teenage drivers were more likely to get in collisions related to distracted driving than adult drivers, although both groups were capable of distracted driving.
- Almost half of American high school students who drive have reported texting while driving. Not only that, but texting on the road also made a driver more likely to engage in other distracted driving behaviors.
- Although we often think about texting as the paradigm of distracted driving, cell phone use was only present in 14 percent of all distracted driving collisions in 2016, meaning that there are many other forms of distracted driving to be aware of.
- 17 states have banned the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Meanwhile, 47 states have banned texting while driving, specifically.
Electronics in the Car
As we’ve seen, cell phones can be a common feature in cases involving distracted driving. However, other electronics in the car can also take your attention off of the road, and can include activities like: using the GPS, fiddling with the radio, and even being on a laptop computer.
The bottom line is clear: electronics in the car take our attention away from the road. They can do this by distracting us visually, getting drivers to look at a screen, instead of the road; taking our hands off of the controls as they fiddle with screens and buttons; and shifting our cognition towards devices, rather than on the task of driving.
Food in the Car
Food and drink can also be objects of distraction on the road. In fact, in 2017 the state of Washington instituted a law that, among other things, made non-electronic distractions a secondary driving offense.
This means that if a person was pulled over for a primary offense (such as reckless driving), and they were trying to clean up a spilled coffee at the same time, they could be given an additional fine for the non-electronic distraction.
Of course, not all food is distracting. Taking a sip of a non-alcoholic beverage while keeping your eyes and focus on the road and one hand on the wheel is safe and legal. However, safe consumption can easily turn into distracted consumption.
Grooming in the Car
It can be tempting to groom in the car and save time by multi-tasking, rather than applying makeup, checking hair, or fiddling with clothing accessories at home. However, this counts as distracted driving.
Trying to fix your appearance in the car requires you to take your eyes off the road, and it often requires taking one (or both) hands off the wheel for an extended period of time.
Finally, grooming often requires you to think about what you’re doing, making it harder to turn your attention towards the task of driving. Activities like brushing your hair, doing makeup, and other grooming practices are best done off the road.
You can make your driving a little safer by getting ready earlier in the morning so that you’re ready to go by the time you hit the road, or by pulling over if you really need to fix something while you’re driving. Keeping items like hand mirrors or hairbrushes out of reach may help you resist the temptation to fiddle with your appearance.
Kids in the Car
Having kids in the car (especially if you’re a parent) can be unavoidable at times. However, kids can sometimes be a huge source of distraction while driving. In order to keep your focus on the road, talk to your children about the importance of being attentive while driving when they’re old enough to understand. If you have younger children, make sure that they’re securely fastened into their car seats before hitting the road.
Sometimes children can throw tantrums — especially during longer trips — and these can be a huge distraction. If you don’t have someone in the car with you who can handle the tantrum, or your child doesn’t calm down on their own, it’s best to pull over and soothe them rather than let yourself be distracted.
How Distracted Driving Can Impact Your Insurance
Distracted driving does more than just endanger lives.
If distracted driving manifests as serious incidents on your record — whether that involves getting pulled over, getting into a fender bender, or becoming involved in a severe collision — it can cause your car insurance premium to go up.
One study found that distracted drivers saw their insurance rates go up by as much as 41 percent. Teenagers — and those who pay for auto insurance for teenagers — should be especially aware of this, since that age group is more likely to engage in distracted driving. The bottom line is that you can save money on your car insurance by practicing safe driving and keeping your attention on the road.
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Impaired Driving: DUI and DWI
Driving under the influence (DUI) or, driving while impaired (DWI) are a couple of the most frequently talked about forms of dangerous driving. Although we often think of DUI and DWI as driving after too many alcoholic drinks, the terms actually apply to a wide range of conditions that may affect a person’s ability to drive safely.
Impaired Driving Statistics
Several government agencies and nonprofit organizations monitor occurrences of impaired driving and especially occurrences of driving under the influence of alcohol. Here are some of the things that they have found:
- According to the CDC, 28 percent of traffic-related deaths in 2016 involved alcohol use. That was 10,497 total in just 2016 alone.
- Also according to the CDC, 16 percent of all traffic collisions involve non-alcohol drugs, both legal and illegal.
- In 2010, there were more than 1.4 million DUI arrests. That puts impaired driving among the most commonly committed crimes in America.
- Research has shown that impaired driving laws do seem to have an effect on drug and alcohol-related deaths. The percentage of alcohol-related deaths on the road dropped from 50 percent to 24 percent between the years of 1990 and 2009, following the implementation of Zero Tolerance Laws for impaired driving.
- Adults are responsible for the most alcohol-related accidents, while teenagers were involved in 15 percent of fatal alcohol-related crashes in 2017.
Alcohol is responsible for many incidences of impaired driving. Blood alcohol content (BAC) is a measurement of the amount of alcohol in a person’s body for both medical and law enforcement purposes, expressed as a percentage.
In 49 states and the District of Columbia, the legal limit for driving is a BAC is 0.08 percent for any person 21 years of age or older. In 2018, Utah began to enforce a law that made its legal limit 0.05 percent, making the state an outlier when it comes to drunk driving laws. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVFWcUMv0TQ
Alcohol and other substances can impair your ability to drive by affecting your judgment, disrupting your vision — including your ability to distinguish colors, and increasing the time that it takes you to react to events on the road.
Combined, these effects of alcohol on your mind and body make it unsafe to drive under the influence of alcohol. It’s important to remember that the legal limit is a baseline for law enforcement purposes. It is possible to have your driving ability impaired, even if you have in a BAC below 0.08 in a breathalyzer or blood test.
Instead of relying on law enforcement to tell you whether or not you are driving safely, you should take the responsibility into your own hands. If you are driving somewhere where you know you will be drinking, it’s best to arrange for a designated driver — someone who will not be drinking at all — to take you home.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
Alcohol is a common factor in many instances of impaired driving, but it’s not the only way to affect your ability to drive safely. Many drugs — both legal and illegal — can affect your judgment, slow your reaction time, and make your vision cloudy.
Driving under the influence of such drugs is illegal and can result in a fatal automobile collision. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 12.8 million people drove under the influence of illegal drugs in 2017. Marijuana is the most common drug found in the blood of drivers who are involved in vehicle collisions.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana impairs judgment, hampers motor coordination skills, and slows reaction time. Marijuana is a unique case because it is legal to possess and use in some states, and illegal in others.
Regardless of whether it’s legal to consume marijuana in your area, it is always illegal and unsafe to drive under its influence.
If you believe that you have consumed an illegal drug, stay off the road until it has passed through your system. If you need to go to the hospital following your consumption of that drug, then find someone else who can drive you. If you have consumed a legal drug that impairs your ability to drive, then you should have been given a warning about the drug’s effects by the doctor who prescribed you the medication.
You should contact your doctor if you are uncertain about when it’s okay to drive again.
Some over-the-counter medications also impair your ability to drive. Make sure to check a medication’s labeling for information about whether or not it’s safe to drive after taking the drug and, if so when you will be allowed to drive once again. It’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid driving at all if you may be under the influence of a drug, even if aren’t concerned about being arrested.
Even if you haven’t consumed a single substance that could affect your ability to drive, it’s still possible to engage in dangerous impaired driving. The CDC reports that drowsy driving — driving while feeling tired or without getting enough sleep — was responsible for 72,000 collisions in 2013. 800 of those were fatal.
Drowsiness can make it difficult to pay attention to the task of driving, slow your reaction time, and affect your judgment behind the wheel. Some drivers can even fall asleep behind the wheel.
Even if you haven’t had any alcohol or used any drugs, your driving can still be seriously impaired. For example, if you work in one of the occupations with the highest risk of drowsy driving, you need to be prepared to recognize the signs of drowsiness, as you will be battling drowsiness more than other drivers.
You can avoid drowsy driving by trying to get enough sleep each night, talking to your doctor if you have a sleeping disorder that makes it difficult for you to remain awake and alert, and avoiding medications that may make you feel tired.
Laws concerning drowsy driving are still in the works in many states and at the federal level. However, in the states of Arkansas and New Jersey, it is illegal to drive after going 24 hours or more without sleep. Remember, even if it isn’t illegal to drive while drowsy in your area, it can still be reckless and dangerous.
How Impaired Driving Can Impact Your Insurance
The costs of impaired driving aren’t just measured in jail time or the number of collisions. If your impaired driving leads to a collision, then you may see your car insurance rates go up accordingly. If you are charged with a DUI, then you may have to purchase high-risk insurance, which carries higher premiums than conventional auto insurance at a similar level of coverage.
Road Safety Tips
Safe driving is everyone’s responsibility. Even if you aren’t personally distracted while on the road or driving while impaired, it’s still your responsibility, as well as the responsibility of every driver, to identify potentially dangerous situations and avoid them. You can do this by obeying driving laws and by practicing defensive driving.
Road Rules and Laws
Laws about driving exist largely to make the roads a safer place for everyone. By obeying the rules of the road, you can make them safer for everyone. Some laws to be aware of include:
- Priority Vehicles: Some vehicles have priority on the road and it’s important to respect this. If you see or hear sirens behind you, pull over carefully and let the emergency vehicles pass before resuming normal traffic patterns. If you see a school bus, respect its stop sign.
- Signal Use: Vehicles are equipped with turn and braking signals to indicate your intentions to other drivers. As long as they are working, brake lights will engage automatically as you activate the brakes. However, it’s important to manually engage your turn signals before you make a turn.
- Seat Belts: In 2017, seat belt use saved almost 15,000 lives in traffic accidents. If you do become involved in a vehicle collision, wearing your seat belt can make the difference between life and death. Even if you are a safe driver, wearing a seat belt can still protect you from the reckless driving of others. If you have children in the car who are too young to use a seat belt, make sure to use a car seat specifically designed for their safety.
- Speed Limits: In 2017, speeding was responsible for more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities. Speeding makes it harder to react to situations on the road in time. It also means that, if you do become involved in a collision, your vehicle is imparting more force on whatever you hit. Safe driving involves obeying posted speed limits.
- Stop Signs: It’s often tempting to roll through stop signs, especially in areas that we know well or drive through often. However, stop signs exist to protect other drivers and pedestrians alike. When you encounter a stop sign, come to a complete stop and check the intersection carefully before driving through it.
Defensive Driving Tips
“Defensive driving” is a term that encompasses a variety of driving skills that can help you to defend yourself against the reckless driving of others. Even if you are following the rules of the road, avoiding distractions, and staying off the roads while impaired, you can still only control your actions.
Defensive driving helps you to acknowledge that there will be unsafe drivers on the road with you, helps prepare you to respond to their driving. Some of the strategies of defensive driving include:
- Alertness: You don’t always know what other drivers will do. Whenever you’re driving, it’s important to remain alert for activity from other cars on the road so that you can respond to it quickly and safely.
- Being Communicative: Your car is equipped with tools to communicate with other drivers, such as your horn or your signal lights. Use these to signal your intent or warn a reckless driver.
- Blind Spots: It’s important to recognize that both you and other drivers have blind spots. These are areas around your vehicle that you can’t see right away while driving. Respect the blind spots of other drivers and be aware of your own as you reposition your vehicle.
- Driving Conditions: Conditions such as visibility and weather can change often, and the way you drive should change with them. Give more space and drive at slower speeds in poor conditions. If conditions are very bad — such as a severe blizzard or storm — it may be wise to stay off the roads entirely.
- Leave Space: You should leave at least two seconds of following distance between you and another driver. This way, if the driver in front of you comes to a sudden stop, you will be able to slow down and match their speed before colliding.
Defensive driving can help to protect you and your passengers from the reckless driving of others. It can also help you save money. Some insurance providers will provide a defensive driving discount for drivers who take a class in defensive driving.
Preparing For Emergencies
Emergencies are often unpredictable. By planning ahead, you can ensure that a vehicle emergency doesn’t turn into something worse. Here are some things you can do to prepare for any situation:
- Emergency Kit: It’s a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car in case you become stranded. This should include items like some long-lasting food items that can be kept at room temperature, roadside flares to indicate your position to rescuers, first aid supplies, plenty of water, and a warm blanket.
- Spare Tires: You never know when or where a tire might fail. Carry at least one spare tire with you at all times, along with a tire-changing kit. If you don’t know how to change a spare tire or you’ve forgotten, it’s a good idea to read through the instructions and practice so that you’ll be able to do it quickly in an emergency.
- Weather Accessories: Items like snow chains for your tires or cold weather kits to help you get through dangerously low temperatures are good things to have in your car. This is especially true during the winter or if you live in an area where temperatures can drop quickly to below freezing.
Insurance Laws and Tips
Automobile insurance is another important facet of vehicle safety. Not only is it required by law in all 50 states, but good car insurance can also protect you against the financial harms of getting into an accident or experiencing vehicle trouble.
Reckless driving, such as getting a ticket, being convinced or a DUI, or being responsible for a collision, can cause your insurance rates to go up.
Meanwhile, a consistent record of safe driving and other testaments to your driving ability, such as defensive driving courses, can help you save money on your premiums. It’s a good idea to compare car insurance plans for affordability and coverage.
Good driving will help you to avoid accidents on the road and good insurance will help to mitigate the harms of an unavoidable accident. Don’t wait another minute before comparison shopping with our free tool below.