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How To Stay Safe On The Road (Even When You Drive A LOT)

Driving is an inherently dangerous activity.

So dangerous that more people die in auto accidents each year than in airline, train, bicycle and pedestrian accidents combined.

And the more time you spend in your vehicle, the greater your risk.

That’s simple probability.

Despite the inherent dangers in driving, however, there are many things you can do to increase your safety on the road.

Some of these things you have absolute control over; others not as much.

But the smarter and more focused you are as a driver, the better your odds become.

So, let’s start at the car lot.

Our 10 Tips For Road Safety

man adjusts his rearview mirror

1 – Buy a vehicle with the best safety features within your budget.

We get it. Everyone wants a sweet ride that turns heads.

But, if you’re on a budget and have to choose between extra airbags and a sunroof, those airbags should be your priority.

At least, if your goal is to be as safe as possible on the road.

Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have shown all those safety features they’ve been adding to vehicles over the past several decades are actually pretty effective, which makes newer cars safer cars.

So, when buying a vehicle for safety, buy the newest vehicle with the most safety features you can afford.

And if you can get that vehicle in a shade of white or yellow, the colors least likely to be in an accident, all the better.

2 – Regularly inspect your vehicle (or take it in for inspection).

Once you have the safest vehicle you can afford, the next step is to keep it that way.

That means regularly inspecting your vehicle for signs of wear and tear and ensuring it has everything it needs to keep safely rolling along.

Things to check on a regular basis include:

  • Tire tread
  • Fluids
  • Brakes
  • Headlights and brake lights
  • Windshield wipers

Those warning lights on your dash can be helpful, but they don’t check all of these things.

That said, you shouldn’t ignore the warning lights in your vehicle either.

If they pop up on your dash, take your car in for an inspection, or at least figure out what they mean.

3 – Wear your seatbelt.

All of those new-fangled safety innovations in vehicles, and yet the seatbelt remains the leader in road safety.

Seatbelts are so effective, just putting one on reduces your risk of dying in a car accident by nearly half.

According to the NHTSA, wearing your seatbelt also makes the other safety features in your vehicle more effective.

So, buckle up every time… even if you’re just running down the street for some ice cream.

4 – Go the speed limit… unless it feels too fast.

Speeding is a contributing factor in nearly a third of deadly car accidents.

But the posted speed limit alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

If you are driving in rain, on curvy or unfamiliar roads, or in heavy traffic, the posted speed limit may not be the safest speed.

So, use your instincts.

If 45 mph feels too fast on a hilly country road, slow down.

And don’t let other drivers coming up behind you make you feel the need to speed up.

You know how you feel when driving.

If the posted speed limit feels too fast for the terrain, weather, or unfamiliar territory, kick it back a notch and drive safe.

(And, if you can, pull over to let the cars behind you pass. Then, you won’t have to worry about them causing an accident.)

5 – Don’t drive tired or impaired.

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – if you’re not feeling sharp, you shouldn’t be driving.

A lot of the time, avoiding an accident is about quick reflexes.

So, never drive tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which all lower your ability to react.

6 – Carry smart emergency items.

One of the times you’re at the highest risk on the road is when you’re stopped and other cars are still moving.

Avoid it if at all possible.

This means pulling off at an exit before pulling over for the police or trying to make it to the next exit if you experience car trouble (don’t forget to use those hazard lights).

Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid stopping on the side of the road.

Especially in the event of an accident, you’ll probably have very little choice.

What you can control is what you have with you in your vehicle that can provide some protection in the event of a roadside stop.

Reflective triangles and flares are some of the best means of making sure your vehicle can be seen if you do have to stop on the side of the road, especially on interstates and in the dark.

7 – Scan the road.

Much of the time, driving is a relatively straightforward activity.

You can only go in one direction at a time.

Because of this, drivers sometimes develop tunnel vision, looking only at what’s directly in front of them.

But there is a lot more going on on any given road than what’s directly in your line of sight.

To be at your safest, you should get into the habit of scanning the road on repeat, looking at not just what’s coming ahead, but at what might be coming at your sides and rear as well.

Get in the habit of glancing out the side windows of your vehicle and at your mirrors (rearview and side mirrors) every few seconds.

This is your best defense when it comes to anticipating what drivers around you might do, so you don’t get taken by surprise.

8 – Pay attention to other drivers, not just to stoplights and signs.

This kind of goes along with scanning the road.

When you are stopped (or stopping) at a stoplight or following the directions of a road sign, don’t ignore the other cars around you.

While stoplights and signs keep roads moving smoothly, for the most part, and prevent a lot of accidents, they can also give us a false sense of security.

The thing to keep in mind is that just because you know the rules of the road doesn’t mean all the drivers around you do.

Or that they’re paying attention.

So, whether you’re zooming up to a green light or pulling into a shopping plaza, make sure you know what the other cars around you are doing.

You may have the right away, but that doesn’t mean Joe in the BMW won’t think that he does.

9 – Leave yourself an out.

The most dangerous traffic you’ll ever drive in is traffic you can’t get out of.

Multi-car pileups happen when the cars involved in them have no place else to go but careening into each other.

That’s why, whenever possible, you should leave yourself an “out” when driving.

This means leaving a dedicated space, typically at the side of your vehicle, that you can move into if an accident takes place in front of you.

(If you are driving on an interstate, the slow lane typically has a built-in “out” – the road’s shoulder – for instance, which, if unoccupied and level, offers a much better option than plowing into the car in front of you… usually.)

Basically, pay attention to what’s around you, both to other cars and to the terrain, and try to leave yourself somewhere to go in case the way ahead becomes hazardous.

10 – Put your phone down.

Reading or sending a text while driving takes your eyes off the road for five seconds on average, or the equivalent of an entire football field at 55 mph, according to the NHTSA.

So, it’s no wonder cell phone usage is a main cause of distracted driving accidents.

When driving, turn off your notifications at the very least. Or, better, put your phone down and out of sight.

Whatever it takes.

Anything coming in can wait. And, if it can’t wait, pull over and take care of it before getting back on the road.

Road Rules for Safe Travels

Nothing you can do on the road can keep you entirely safe, I’m sorry to say.

As troubling as the fact is, it’s still a fact – no matter how safely you drive, you are still somewhat at the mercy of other drivers.

You can, however, reduce your risk of accident or injury by being the best, most prepared driver you can be.

If you want to be safe on the road, you need to make safety your number one priority.

Buckle up, slow down, and be ultra-attentive.

While following these road safety rules won’t be a failsafe – nothing is – they will keep you a whole lot safer than abiding by no safety rules of the road at all.