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Automobile Safety and Accident Prevention

Preventing An Auto Accident

When you consider the costs in terms of damaged property, lost time and resources, and most importantly the possibility of injury or even death, the best result you can hope for in a motor vehicle accident is to avoid the accident in the first place.

The Legal Examiner has developed this article to provide you with important information and simple techniques that will help you and your family stay safe and prevent accidents when on the road.

An infant is safely buckled into a child carseat

What You Drive Matters

The first thing to consider in safety and prevention of on the road accidents is the fact that what you drive matters.  To be as safe as possible, you want to make sure that you are driving a vehicle with a high safety rating, outfitted with the best safety equipment available, that you are using that equipment properly, and that you are keeping your vehicle properly maintained.

Organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars each year performing tests that determine the safety and “crashworthiness” of popular makes and models of cars.  Before you buy, make a point of checking out the safety features and the final ratings of the vehicles you are considering.  Take advantage of the extensive tests and make safety an high priority in your final choice.

Quick Link – IIHS Crash Test Results

Safety equipment continues to develop at a high rate, saving more and more lives each year.  From early devices such as seat belts, hazard lights, and rear-view mirrors, to more recent advances of front and side impact airbags, electronic stability control (ESC), and backup monitor systems, it seems there are more and more choices each year.  While you certainly can’t add every safety device to your car or truck, you should spend time considering your vehicle and personal driving habits to see if there is equipment that you could add that would make a significant difference.  For example, many SUVs and other vehicles with a high center of gravity would be much safer with new advances in stability control.

KEY STRATEGY — When considering options for a new car, put safety devices as a higher priority then a deluxe sound system or luxury features like custom paint or a sunroof.

Quick Link – NHTSA

Properly using the safety equipment you already have in your vehicle, seems like an obvious choice, but statistics tell us that many accidents result in worse injury because of failure to use even the most simple of equipment.   The U.S. National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that every hour of every day someone in the U.S. dies in an accident simply because they were not wearing a seat belt.  Studies also show that failure to buckle up leads to more on the road deaths than any other single behavior, and almost 60% of passengers killed in car accidents  were not wearing their safety belt at the time of the crash.  Simple choices save lives.

KEY STRATEGY — Always wear a seat belt and make sure all your passengers buckle up and  use their seat belts properly every time you drive.

Quick Link – Click It Or Ticket Seat Belt Enforcement Campaign

Finally, make efforts to keep your motor vehicle in safe working order with regular maintenance and equipment checks.  No matter how high a vehicle is rated in terms of safety,  no matter what equipment you have and use, sometimes the most important thing you can do to prevent an accident is the simple matter of properly servicing your car.  Some things on your list should be making sure your headlights, turn signals, and safety lights are working properly,  checking and replacing your brakes as necessary, and maintaining the correct air pressure and replacing bald or worn out tires.

KEY STRATEGY — Make a practice of checking your lights, brakes, and tires every time you go for an oil change or every 3,500 miles.

How You Drive Matters

As far as safety is concerned, how you drive can be even more important than what you drive.  Your attention to the road and how you interact with other drivers on the roadway can mean being involved in a serious accident or avoiding one altogether.  Here are some important things to remember every time you get behind the wheel.

Drive Safely — this simple technique seems obvious but being aware of your surroundings and making smart decisions are the single biggest things you can do to prevent an accident.

Avoid Aggressive Driving and Aggressive Drivers — excessive speeding, tailgating, improper passing, and road rage are all ingredients for serious trouble on the road.  Be willing to be late if necessary rather than cause an accident by trying to make up for lost time.  Be courteous and considerate to other drivers.  And, if you see another driver acting aggressively on the road, don’t challenge them.  Simply give them plenty of room and if necessary call and report them to the police or highway patrol.

A businessman yawns while driving a speeding car through the countrysideDon’t Drive when Drowsy or Distracted –long trips or driving when you’re tired or fatigued can mean danger for yourself, your passengers, and other drivers on the road.  As soon as you start feeling sleepy at the wheel, find a safe place and pull off the road.  Take a short walk if necessary, and if you’re still not alert, make it a point to stay parked and rest until you can drive safely.  Also, don’t let yourself get distracted by cell phones, texting, reading, your radio, or even conversations in the car.  Remember as a driver, your first responsibility to yourself and others is to operate a vehicle safely.  Don’t drive until you make sure that can happen.

Don’t Drive under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs — DUI, DWI, and driving under the influence have been the subject of national awareness campaigns for several decades, but each year nearly 40% of all traffic fatalities have an alcohol or drug connection.  Recent statistics show that more than 250,000 Americans are injured every year due to crashes that involve alcohol.  These and other reports continue to support this simple but effective advice  — don’t drive drunk or impaired.

Quick Link – Drunk Driving Statistics

KEY STRATEGY — Even after a few drinks, your reaction time and ability to control a vehicle is significantly impaired.  If you plan on drinking, assign a designated driver.  If you’ve had even a few drinks, don’t drive — find another safe and sober ride home.

When You Drive Matters

The majority of traffic accidents happen during daylight and in clear conditions, but statistics show that there are certain times of the day and several days of the year when accidents occur more often.

Holiday Driving — it should come as no surprise that accidents increase around the holidays.  With more travelers on the road and more party-goers moving from even t to event, the roads become more dangerous, even deadly.  Take special caution anytime you’re driving on vacation or during a major holiday.

Late  Night on Weekends — for most people the weekends are time to relax and recharge.  Late night drinking at the bar or a house party means that there are more drunk drivers on the road.  Find out when bars close in your area and remember that drunk drivers are more likely on the road several hours before and after “last call”.

Rush Hour — it might seem strange at first, but your commute from work may actually be the most dangerous time to drive.  While 12AM – 3AM Saturday and Sunday mornings (after Friday and Saturday nights) are the two most deadly times to drive during the week, the deadliest time period overall is actually from 3PM – 6PM.  More drivers are on the road in the afternoons, fatigued from a day of work, distracted by the issues of the day, and in a hurry to get the kids to an event or make one last business call.  All of these factors add up to dangers for every driver.  Keep an eye out and be extra safe during this important time.

Quick Link – Accident Fatality Analysis Reporting System

Make Your Passengers A Priority

The ability to move quickly and easily around our cities, states, and country is a privilege most of us take for granted.  But with great rewards come great responsibilities and driving or operating a motor vehicle is no different.  When you’re driving you have a responsibility for yourself, for your passengers, and for those around you — other drivers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  Here are a couple of simple techniques that help keep everyone safe.

Make Sure Everyone Buckles-Up — we’ve already learned how seat belts and seat belt use make a huge difference in the safety of drivers and their passengers.  Whenever you drive or ride with someone else, make it a point to make sure that everyone is wearing a seat belt.  If you have to — insist.  If they still say “no” refuse to drive or take the ride.  Everyone’s safety is that important.

Use Car Seats Properly — If you have an infant or small child in the car, make sure they are properly secure in a car seat, booster seat, or whatever other safety measure is required by your local laws.  As children grow, they may test your limits by unbuckling their belts or changing seats during a drive.  Make sure you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their safety.

Make Sure Passengers are in the Right Seats  — very young and very elderly passengers may sometimes be more safe in the backseat, where they are protected from powerful airbags and other safety devices.  Also arrange any passengers who ride in the backseat, especially small children, behind empty front seats if possible.  If the front seats are full, put the smallest backseat passenger behind the lightest front seat passenger.  Think through who’s riding with you and any special needs they may have and then seat them accordingly.

Close-up of a seatbelt buckle in a passenger vehicle

Remember Who Else is on the Road

With more than 200 million licensed drivers in the U.S., it’s obvious that you’ll have plenty of company when on the road.  But some of these other drivers and those who are affected by our driving need special consideration.  Take a moment and learn about the needs of others you might come in contact with while driving.

New and Inexperienced Drivers –think back to when you first began driving.  Remember the anxiety you felt when you faced new situations and the wrong decisions you made because of your lack of experience?  You’re not alone!  Every new driver goes through a learning process as they develop the skills they need to be safe.  Be on the lookout for young or inexperienced drivers and give them an extra margin of error as you drive.

Elderly Drivers — reports show that older drivers are among the safest on the roads (most insurance companies offer a discount to drivers over the age of 55), but statistics also show that older drivers are more likely to suffer from hearing loss, and slower reflexes, or be on prescription medication that slows reaction time.  Only half the states in the U.S. have specific age-based requirements or testing for older drivers, so it’s important to be aware — no matter what your age — of how age might affect other drivers on the road.

Motorcycles and Bicycles — Motorcycles enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as any other motor vehicle and in most states, bicycles are given the same opportunity to share the road.  Because they’re less visible, maneuver differently, and face different challenges on the road, it’s important for drivers to drive cautiously and be considerate whenever motorcycles or bicycles are near.  Keep an eye out for motorcycles and bicycles and remain alert of their location until they’re safely out of the area or you reach your destination.

Quick Link – Cycling Laws

Pedestrians — more than 10% of all fatalities from motor vehicle accidents involve pedestrians (nearly 5,000 people each year).  The highest rates of crashes involve 5 to 9 year old boys, who tend to rush out into the street while playing.  The vast majority of pedestrian-car accidents occur in cities (85%) and away from intersections (65%), showing safe drivers must take special care in both of those areas.

Quick Link – Pedestrian Safety Tips

BOTTOM LINE — The safety and prevention information above is important and when followed will reduce the likelihood and frequency of auto accidents.  Remember, even the safest drivers can find themselves involved in a crash.  No matter what circumstances lead to the accident, there will be a number of issues that need to be addressed, possibly with the help of an expert who specializes in these matters.

Read the next article: What to do After an Automobile Accident