More people are killed or injured in motor vehicle accidents than in any other way, both on and off the job.
We can assume that most of the people killed or injured in motor vehicle accidents knew how to drive, yet that didn't prevent the worst from happening. We hope that by highlighting some of the most common causes of accidents—and some of the ways to prevent them—we can help you stay safe behind the wheel.
Driving can present all kinds of hazards: other vehicles, poor road surfaces, poor visibility, and stationary objects such as trees or posts. But the greatest potential hazard of all is the driver. Improper driving causes more than half of fatal accidents and more than two-thirds of accidents that cause injuries. Speeding is the worst culprit.
Other types of improper driving that often lead to accidents are:
- Ignoring traffic signs and signals
- Following too close to another vehicle
- Driving in the wrong lane
- Failing to yield to another vehicle.
There are three other factors that come up again and again in accidents:
- Drinking. About half of all fatal accidents involve drivers who have been drinking alcohol.
- Night. More than half of motor vehicle deaths occur in accidents that happen after dark.
- Seat belts. If you do have an accident, wearing a seat belt is considered 45 percent effective in preventing death and 50 percent effective in preventing moderate to critical injuries.
OSHA is concerned about the number of motor vehicle deaths and injuries and is developing a standard to try to prevent them. The standard will require all employees who drive or ride in motor vehicles on company business to wear safety belts. Employees riding on motorcycles on company business will have to wear helmets. The OSHA rule will also require employers to provide a driver safety awareness program for their employees.
Protection Against Hazards
Let's look at what you can do to prevent accidents.
First and foremost: buckle up. In many states, wearing seat belts is the law. And it's common sense at any time and place. Be sure to use seat belts even for the shortest and slowest trips. Serious and even fatal injuries can occur at speeds under 40 miles an hour.
For the greatest protection, place your shoulder belt across your collarbone and over your shoulder. Your lap belt should be snug and low across the hips. Then, if there's an accident, you won't get thrown into the windshield or steering wheel, or out of the car.
You don't need instructions for wearing a motorcycle helmet. The point is just do it. Even when it's not legally required, it's the best way to keep your head.
Driving is a skill. Don't take it for granted or decide that things like speed limits and red lights are only there for other people. People do sometimes get away with ignoring the law and good sense. But if you push the law of averages, dangerous driving will catch up with you.
A good driver is a defensive driver, always alert and aware when behind the wheel. Let's look at what that means in terms of specific driving rules and techniques.
- Obey the speed limit. Speed limits are considered the safest top speed for a particular road. Obey them even if you don't agree. It cannot only save lives, but your driver's license. Many states suspend speeders' licenses, plus impose heavy fines.
- Obey traffic signs and signals. Jumping stop lights and signs is a major cause of accidents—especially since the driver across the intersection may be jumping the light, too. Stop at red lights and stop signs. And remember: A yellow light doesn't mean go. It means stop unless you're already in the intersection.
Always slow down and look both ways before you go, even if the light is green or you're allowed to turn right on red. And pay attention to other traffic signs, including notices to yield, or construction or road hazards ahead.
- Don't tailgate. The rule is to stay at least two seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. When the car in front of you passes something stationary like a telephone pole, count 'one thousand one, one thousand two.' If you get to the pole before 'one thousand two,' you're following too closely.
- Pass on the left only. That's true on a highway as well as other roads. And before you pass, check that nothing's coming from the other direction or behind you. Then signal, pass, and signal again as you move back to your regular lane.
- Yield right of way. Always yield when the other driver has the right of way, or if he's determined to take it. At a four-way stop, take your turn before going into the intersection. When you're going onto a highway from an entrance ramp, check the traffic and yield to those vehicles on the highway. They're going faster than you and might not be able to slow enough to let you in.
- Don't overload a vehicle. A vehicle that's overloaded with people or weight is likely to have less stopping ability. Overloading can also make tires overheat and blow out. An overloaded vehicle can block the driver's rear and side vision. In addition, if you put too many people in a vehicle, there won't be enough safety belts to go around.
- Don't drink and drive. Everyone knows that, but we also know that people still do it. The same goes for drug use. Alcohol and drugs:
- Slow your reactions
- Blur your vision
- Reduce your ability to judge distance
- Impair your judgment
- Make you think you're doing great when you're not.
- Slow your reactions
- Be especially cautious at night. You can't see as well at night, and you're likely to be tired, which may reduce your attention or your reaction time. For safe night driving:
- Let your eyes adjust to the dark when you leave a building.
- Make sure your headlights are clean and working properly and turn them on as soon as it starts to get dark.
- Allow more distance between you and the car in front than during the day.
- Don't use your high beams if there's a car in front of you or coming from the other direction.
- Stop at a rest area when you're tired. Walk around and get some fresh air. Have a cup of coffee.
- Try not to stop on the side of the road, especially on curves. Other drivers may not see you or may not realize you're not moving. If you have to stop, use flares or flashers.
- Let your eyes adjust to the dark when you leave a building.
Driving always requires your full attention but never more than in bad weather when road conditions can change and other drivers are more likely to make stupid or careless mistakes.
Rain, even a light shower, makes the road slick, so slow down. Stay four, or two, seconds behind the driver in front because you may not be able to stop as fast. In addition:
- Use wipers, defroster, and headlights to improve visibility.
- Be careful of large puddles that can make your brakes less effective. Drive through slowly, tapping your left foot on the brake. Test the brakes once you're through the puddle, making sure the driver in back isn't so close he'll hit you.
- Avoid hydroplaning. That's when you lose control because your tires are driving on water instead of the road. Drive slowly and smoothly, avoiding puddles. If you do lose control, take your foot off the gas. Don't brake suddenly.
Fog is also causes accident. Slow down gradually as you enter fog so you don't hit someone and so the cars behind don't hit you. Put your headlights on low beam and use your wipers and defroster. Avoid passing. If you can't see well enough to drive, pull off the road, leaving flashers and lights on.
There are numerous other safety procedures and techniques that will help you stay safe on the road. Traffic is so heavy these days, and poor roads and road construction so common, that there's a lot to pay attention to. Make defensive driving a way of life.
- Keep your eyes on other drivers and expect them to do the unexpected.
- Keep your eyes on the road and be prepared to react quickly. Watch out for potholes, debris, pedestrians, bicycles, and animals.
- Look for changes in traffic and road conditions. Slow down when you see a lot of brake lights and expect to act quickly.
- Keep a little distance behind the car in front of you in heavy traffic so there's somewhere for you to go in an accident.
- Be especially cautious in heavy traffic. There's always the possibility of a disabled or overheated car, cars passing from any side, or cutting in and out of lanes to get to an exit or to try to move more quickly through the traffic. Be prepared to move or stop suddenly.
- Never pass a stopped school bus. Be on the lookout for children anywhere near a stopped or moving bus.
- Be especially cautious when driving a strange vehicle. Take it slow until you get used to the handling, especially in rain or wind.
- Check rear and side mirrors constantly for oncoming traffic. Learn your mirrors' blind spots so you know when and where to turn your head and check.
- Keep your mind on your driving, your eyes on the road, and hands on the wheel. Driving requires all your physical and mental attention. Don't daydream or get too involved in conversation.
In addition to safe driving, you need a safe car. To maintain your vehicle safety:
- Have your oil changed at least as often as your owner's manual suggests and get regular tune-ups.
- Make sure belts and wires are in good condition.
- Check that lights and signals work.
- Keep windshield washer fluid in the car and change wiper blades when they streak your windshield.
- Add antifreeze in winter, coolant in summer.
- Check that tire tread is good and, when your tires are cold, check tire pressure to keep tires properly inflated.
- Find the cause of any performance problems or unexplained noises promptly.
You know how to drive safely, but we all need reminders sometimes about how and why to do it. More people are killed and injured in road accidents than any other way, and most of them knew how to drive safely, too. But either they didn't use their knowledge or the other driver didn't. In many cases, careless driving turns fatal because a safety belt wasn't used. We all want to hold onto our lives and licenses, to keep our cars in good shape, and our insurance rates down. And certainly, no one wants to have someone else's death or injury on his or her conscience.
So pay attention to how you drive. Put your safety sense in high gear every time you get behind the wheel. And always buckle up!