Although you cannot completely prevent all car accidents from occurring, you can certainly improve your chances of keeping you and your loved ones safe by taking the proper preventative measures. Preventing a car accident starts long before you put your hands on the steering wheel. You can increase the longevity of your car and your own personal safety by consistent maintenance of the following key vehicle components:
- Engine and Belts
Below we will discuss the implications of maintaining each of the aforementioned components and the possible consequences of failing to do so.
Tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), used to monitor air pressure in car tires, were first introduced in the United States in 1991 by General Motors. These systems were invented because of the high volume of accidents caused by under and overinflated tires each year. According to a 2003 NHTSA report, an estimated average 414 fatalities, 10,275 non-fatal
injuries, and 78,392 crashes occurred annually due to flat tires or blowouts before (TPMS) were installed in vehicles. These statistics may be surprising—nonetheless, they reveal that tires contribute to a significant number of car accidents every year. This is still the case today, even since President Clinton signed the TREAD Act mandating warning systems gradually be placed in all cars beginning in 2004 with all vehicles carrying the systems after 2008. Regardless of safety warning systems, tire-related accidents still occur. When maintaining your tires, you want to look at two main areas: tread and pressure. Both of these areas are briefly explained below:
- Tire treads—Bare treads can lead to uncontrollable swerving and almost guaranteed accidents. Treads are legally considered to be worn down (in most states) at 2/32″. While tires typically have indicators that help you know when they are worn down called “wear bars,” you can perform the “penny test” to help you determine the tread depth. Keep your tires properly rotated (according to the instructions in the car owner’s manual) so that the tires wear evenly. If you have to replace a tire, make sure that it is the same as the other three, and that they are all similar tires to the originals that came with the vehicle.
- Tire pressure—Tires slowly leak air over time, so it is important to maintain the proper air pressure in your tires, even if you have not driven your car in a while. Both under and over-inflated tires can quickly lead to tire failure, making it easier for the tires to blowout if they run over an obstacle in the road. It is recommended that you check your tire pressure at least once a month, and that you are constantly aware of how your tires look to keep them in good shape. Keep a tire gauge in the glove compartment to make it easier for you to check pressure.
While brake failure in cars is relatively rare (causing only about 5% of crashes in the U.S. per year), it is more common in crashes involving trucks carrying heavy loads. In a recent study by the Department of Transportation (DOT), over 29% of all large truck crashes are caused by brake malfunctions. As you can imagine, the implications of this statistic can be grave. It is important, then, to make sure that your brakes are in good working order. If you are routinely taking your car in for maintenance checks, a trusted mechanic will be able to warn you if your brakes are about to go.
More than 40% of fatal car accidents occur at night, making nighttime driving especially hazardous. Therefore, it is vital that you maintain your headlights and taillights and replace them immediately when they go out. It is nearly impossible to see other cars at night when they do not have their lights on, and most drivers typically dot realize there is another car on the road until it is too late.
About 23% of all car crashes are due to weather conditions, the vast majority occurring because of rain, which can severely limit your visibility. Check your windshield wiper blades to make sure that they are working adequately and that you have washer fluid to help you clean off your windshield. When you are driving in the evening or in the morning when the sun is setting or rising, the glass’ glare can be extra hazardous if your windshield is dirty, preventing you from seeing cars ahead of you. You also must be prepared for unexpected hazardous weather conditions.
Engine and Timing Belt Checks
Mechanical failures in cars play a role in over 12% of all car accidents, due to a lack of properly keeping your vehicle maintained. While the odds of your engine failing on you while you are driving are slim, if you do not keep your engine clean you will pay a heavy price. Keep the filters replaced, the oil changed, the battery clean and secured, the hoses in proper working order, and the other maintenance checks recommended in your owner’s manual—you will not only be saving yourself money, but you may also be saving your life. Replace your timing belts as needed. If you do not, the engine will shut off. If you are driving, this can cause you to lose control. Obviously, you should take care of any leaks that you might be experiencing, and you should do so immediately (unless the leak is water from the air conditioner after it has been running for a while).
Properly taking care of your vehicle may be a hassle in the moment, but it will surely save you money down the road and could save your life in the future. Proper maintenance is part of doing what you can to prevent you from getting into an accident, and is a duty that you do not only owe to yourself, but those other drivers on the road who could be affected by your negligence. Although you cannot always prevent accidents from happening, do not let your lack of preparation and effort contribute to your own injuries or those of another driver.
Photo copyright of Sean Freese
Sources: Sacramento Legal Examiner, BankRate, Street Directory, TeenDriving, NHTSA, Tiretech, RWMP, AA1, and NOLO