Driving is one of those things that, once you’ve learned how to do, it’s easy to slip into autopilot. Especially for adults in their 30s and beyond who have been driving since they were 16. Maybe you paid very close attention to the rules of the road when your license (and teenage independence) was on the line, but have started to be less-than-diligent the more comfortable you’ve gotten behind the wheel. You’re definitely not the only one. But it’s not an excuse to recklessly abandon the major tenets of road safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 32,000 people are killed and 2 million injured in motor vehicle crashes each year in the United States. By following some basic road safety rules, we can all make a significant impact in helping to prevent accidents and minimize fatalities and injuries. Here are some key safety tips that we could all probably use a little refresher on, no matter how much driving experience you have.
1. Minimize any potential distractions.
Most people inherently know they aren’t supposed to look at their phones while driving, says Kris Poland, Ph.D., deputy director of the National Transportation Safety Board Office of Highway Safety. “But they still have a tendency to keep them nearby, and maybe take a quick peak when a text or call comes in.” It may seem like a quick look doesn’t really matter, but this is a distraction that increases your crash risk, Poland says. What’s worse, is there’s some positive reinforcement happening. If you’ve looked at your phone a few times while driving and nothing bad ever happened, you may feel like it’s relatively safe. “Crashes are really rare but taking eyes off the road for even a couple of seconds—and we know for a phone or text, it’s much longer than that—it’s really risky,” says Poland. “If you say you’ve done it all the time and haven’t had a problem, that’s because you’ve been lucky.”
To help minimize distractions, put your phone in driving mode. It’ll sense that you’re in motion and send an auto-reply to anyone who messages you, saying that you’re driving. Or, just put your phone away, Poland says.
And remember that cell phones aren’t the only type of distraction. Children in the car, the food you’re eating, and the coffee you’re drinking can also take your attention off the road. “Take a moment and pull over someplace safe to take care of what you need to take care of. Don’t try to do it while you’re driving,” Poland says.
2. Wear a seatbelt. Always.
There are three kinds of people in this world: those who buckle before they even start the car, those who skip seatbelts when they’re just driving down the street but wear them on long drives, and those who seem to ignore seatbelts altogether. We should all strive to be the first person, because seatbelts really can save lives. “If there’s a crash, the seatbelt keeps you in the vehicle and gives you the best opportunity to ride out the crash forces,” Poland says. “If you’re either thrown around inside the vehicle or ejected from the vehicle, both of those are very risky scenarios.” According to the CDC, wearing a seat belt is one of the most effective ways to reduce injuries and fatalities when car crashes do happen.
Seatbelts are important in any type of moving vehicle, not just your personal car. Taxis, buses when equipped, limousines. If there’s a seatbelt, you should wear it.
3. Avoid substances that might impair your response time.
It’s very well known that this point that alcohol impairs thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination—all important faculties when operating a vehicle safely, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes. It increases reaction time and decreases the ability to make safe choices, says Poland. That’s why it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08 in the U.S. But most people may not stop and think about all the other substances that can impair driving. For example, marijuana also impacts the brain in very similar ways, including slowing reaction time and the ability to make decisions, impairing coordination, and distorting perception, according to the CDC.
Impairment can also come from over-the-counter or prescription drugs, says Poland. Something as seemingly safe and harmless as Benadryl can cause drowsiness and impact your driving abilities. “If the drug can make you sleepy, reconsider if that’s something you want to take before driving,” Poland says.
4. Save driving for when you’re most alert.
Driving when you’re fatigued, known as drowsy driving, can present some real safety concerns. According to the CDC, being sleep deprived can impair your driving the same way drinking too much alcohol does. And the thing is, “people aren’t good at knowing when they’re sleepy,” Poland says. So you might think you’re fine to push through a long drive and avoid having to drive at a more trafficky time, but that might not be the case. Similarly to distracted driving, when you close your eyelids for even a brief moment, it can impact your response time and cause tragic consequences in an emergency situation, says Poland.
This is especially important to think about if you’re planning to drive overnight so your kid can sleep, Poland notes. “If that’s what your normal sleep cycle is, fine. But if you normally go to bed at 9 and now you are driving at 9, you are at a risk,” she says.
5. Resist the need for speed.
“Higher speeds can result in more challenging situations,” says Poland. But simply following the speed limit may not always cut it. You want to make sure you’re always driving at an appropriate speed for the conditions—which is especially important as wintery weather approaches. It also doesn’t help that many people haven’t been driving over the past seven months, so we’re a little out of practice when it comes to navigating new driving scenarios, Poland notes. It’s a good idea to maintain a speed that’s similar to the cars around you—driving with the flow of traffic—but that doesn’t mean you need to speed just because other people are. If you’re feeling pressured to drive faster by the cars around you, move into the right lane where you can maintain a safer speed. Or, if you’re not on a highway, you can pull over and let them pass, as long as there’s a safe place to pull over, Poland suggests, adding, “Getting there safely is more important than getting there quickly.”
This article is presented by Volvo.