When you get behind the wheel and head out on the road, you not only shoulder immense responsibility but also expose yourself to considerable risk. The fact is that negligent (and worse) drivers are out there, and they make our roads more dangerous for all of us. There are, however, five important steps that you can take to help ensure that you and everyone else in your vehicle stay safe out there.
The Duty of Care Owed
Motorists owe everyone with whom they share the road a significant duty of care. This duty includes following all the rules of the road and not interfering with the safe passage of others. Further, obeying the rules of the road is about more than simply sticking to the speed limit. The fact is that the weather, visibility overall, the condition of the road, and other extenuating circumstances can all factor into the calculation of a safe driving speed, and drivers are responsible for choosing their speed accordingly. Motorists who ignore the duty of care they owe others are often responsible for dangerous car accidents.
One: Drive Defensively
You remember the mantra of your driver’s education class – drive defensively – and it is just as true today as it was back in the day. Negligent drivers are out there, and remaining aware of your surroundings and everything that is happening on the road ahead can help you avoid dangerous situations in the first place. Defensive driving involves thinking ahead to what could happen and strategizing safe moves in the event that X, Y, or Z does happen. There are several basic defensive driving techniques that can help make you a safer driver.
Always Put Safety First
When you first get behind the wheel, always take a moment to go through your safety checklist. This should include things like general maintenance (are your tires in good working order?), general safety (is everyone in the car buckled up?), and overall preparation (do you know where you are going and how to get there?). When you put safety first – every time you get behind the wheel – you help decrease your vulnerability to the dangers of the road.
A critical component of defensive driving is paying attention to what is going on around you. Consider all the following:
Scan your mirrors frequently to help ensure that you have a good overall idea of what is happening on the road around you.
Scan the driving conditions that are about 20 to 30 seconds ahead of you to help ensure that you are well prepared for whatever is to come
If you spot a potentially aggressive driver in your midst, allow him or her as much room on the road as you can, and if the matter becomes more serious, exit the road and alert the authorities (you could help prevent a serious accident from happening).
The goal here is to manage the number of dangerous variables you face on the road, and remaining alert to them can help you accomplish this goal.
Allow Space between Your Vehicle and Forward Traffic
The greatest danger when you are driving is what lies ahead, which makes leaving plenty of space between you and forward traffic paramount. Generally, leaving about three to four seconds worth of space is advised, but if any of the following apply, it is a good idea to increase the number of seconds you allow:
Poorly maintained roads
Debris strewn roads
Watch Your Speed
Do not exceed the speed limit and do not exceed a speed that safely accommodates whatever is happening on the road you are traveling. The danger associated with excess speed is twofold. Driving too fast makes accidents more likely, and it increases the risk that those accidents will be fatal. Excess speed makes it more difficult to control your vehicle safely and leaves you with less time to react safely to any sudden dangers.
Do Not Rely Upon Other Drivers
While it is important to be a courteous driver, you should not rely upon other drivers to do the right thing. Do not assume that the other driver is going to slow down to let you in or is going to allow you to merge. The fact is that, even if the law is on your side, it will not do you much good if you are severely injured in the process. Be on the lookout for drivers who run red lights and fail to stop at stop signs – and have a contingency plan in place. Barreling forward in the hope that the other guy is going to do what he or she is supposed to do is not a plan.
Plan Your Escape
With all of the above in mind, it is important to have an escape plan in place. Position yourself on the road where you are most likely to see other motorists and where other motorists are most likely to see you. As you drive, consider what you would do if an emergency arose ahead and you were required to leave your lane immediately (often, this means sticking to the rightmost lane of traffic whenever feasible). When you tailor your driving to the situation at hand – rather than simply making it your mission to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, you elevate your defensive driving game.
Two: Mind Your Blind Spots
Every car has blind spots, and it is your job to know where your vehicle’s blind spots are and to ensure that you allow them the attention they require. Whenever you change lanes, make a turn, take an exit, merge, or leave your lane for any other reason, it is critical that you pay careful attention to your blind spots, which should include actually turning to your head to take a quick peek (in addition to checking your mirrors). It is especially easy for motorcycles to get lost in the blind spots of other, larger vehicles, and because motorcyclists are so vulnerable to traffic accidents, being on the lookout for bikers in your midst is essential.
It is not, however, only your own blind spots that you need to be on the lookout for. The motorists behind larger vehicles on the road, including trucks, vans, SUVs, and semis, experience even larger blind spots along all four sides of their vehicles, and you should make a concerted effort not to position yourself in another driver’s blind spot. Keep all of the following in mind:
Always pass on the left – when it is safe to do so – and do not linger beside the vehicle you are passing.
If you cannot see the trucker’s reflection in his or her left side mirror, you are in the trucker’s blind spot, and he or she cannot see you.
Far too many motorists are distracted or simply do not bother to check their blind spots before changing lanes, which makes proceeding with utmost caution critical.
When there is too little distance between your vehicle and a massive semi that is in front of you or behind you, the truck driver in that semi cannot see you, and any ensuing accident can prove life-threatening.
Three: Maintain Your Vehicle in Safe Working Order
If your car is not road-worthy, you greatly increase the chance that a dangerous accident will occur. Keep your car in safe working order by following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedules, by regularly checking your tires, and by paying attention if your car exhibits any warning signs that trouble is brewing. Before heading out on a trip of any magnitude, check all the following to help ensure that you are well prepared for whatever comes your way:
The driver’s seat is well-positioned and at the correct distance from the dash, and the steering wheel is positioned for driving.
The head restraint is at least two inches from your head, and the top of the restraint is in line with the top of your head.
Your seatbelts are all in good working order and show no signs of wear.
No warning signs are lit up on your dashboard.
Your brake pedal is working appropriately.
Your windows and windshield are clean – both inside and out.
Any load you are carrying is secured appropriately.
Give your horn a tap to make sure it is fully functioning.
Program your GPS ahead of time.
Ensure that your phone is connected via Bluetooth and that it is stored appropriately. Once you are on your way, take and make hands-free calls only when necessary.
Check your spare tire and car jack to ensure that they are both ready for use if the need should arise.
Fuel up before you head out.
Do not leave unsecured objects in the passenger portion of your vehicle (they can turn into missiles in the event of an accident).
Make sure that you have a well-stocked first-aid kit, a flashlight, spare washer fluid, an emergency blanket, safety triangles, and a fire extinguisher at the ready.
Never take off before everyone in the vehicle has his or her seatbelt on correctly.
Increasing your safety on the road is all about planning ahead.
Four: Give Distractions the Cold Shoulder
Some of the most dangerous drivers out there are distracted drivers, and you should make it your policy not to be one of them. When a driver fails to pay adequate attention to his or her driving and to what is happening all around him or her on the road, it amounts to a recipe for disaster. Distractions are generally divided into three basic groupings that include:
Distractions that engage your vision
Distractions that engage your thoughts
Distractions that engage your hands
Texting manages to meld all three of these life-threatening forms of distraction into one blowout of a distraction that every driver should refuse to engage in. The following common example helps to clarify exactly how dangerous texting behind the wheel is:
When traveling at highway speeds, a motorist travels about the length of a football field in the space of five seconds.
The average text takes about five seconds to either compose or read.
A motorist who is distracted by texting basically drives blind for about the length of a football field every time he or she takes to his or her phone.
Do not be part of the problem – put your phone away until after you have arrived alive. And steer clear of those drivers who are obviously tapping away on their phones.
Five: Get Your Shut-eye
While you would not get behind the wheel while impaired, you may not realize that drowsy driving is a form of impairment. Think about how difficult it is for you to keep up with everything you need to accomplish on any given day when you have too little sleep under your belt. Driving is no different. If you have not had enough sleep, it decreases your ability to drive safely. In fact, exhaustion can lead to impairments that mimic those experienced by drunk drivers, including:
A diminished capacity to make sound decisions
A diminished capacity to think clearly
A diminished capacity to control your movements
When a driver actually falls asleep behind the wheel, the danger involved spirals out of control. It is important to note that certain health conditions and/or certain medications can increase the dangerous effects of drowsy driving.
It Is Time to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Personal Injury Attorney
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is an accomplished personal injury attorney who recognizes the seriousness of your situation and who is well prepared to staunchly defend your rights in pursuit of the compensation to which you are entitled. Your case is important, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today for more information about what we can do to help you.