We need to begin by saying that it is impossible to completely avoid car accidents. Because car accidents often involve 2+ cars, pedestrians, and public transportation, there are many drivers and individuals who bear responsibility when a collision occurs. Automobile accidents happen all the time, and you can never fully predict the actions of another human being.
Even though car accidents can never be 100% avoided, you can do your part as a driver to help make the roads a safer place. At Christensen & Hymas, our personal injury cases deal overwhelmingly with clients who have been injured in an automobile accident. By being a safe driver, you can help take responsibility for your car in the people in it—and you can make sure you will never be the person responsible for an accident.
- Drive in a safe position: Always drive with both feet on the floor and with at least one hand on the steering wheel. Keep your other hand free in case it needs to grab the steering wheel—this means away from your phone, your food, and your radio. Sit up straight, be alert, and don’t drive when you are overly tired.
- Check your mirrors each time you drive: Even if you are the only one driving your car, your side and rear-view mirrors can easily be bumped or knocked out of place by other cars, parked cars, or passengers in your own car. Check them each time you drive to ensure your visibility is as accurate as it possibly can be.
- Inspect your vehicle before driving somewhere: Taking 60 seconds for a quick safety run-through can mean the difference between driving safely and causing an accident a few miles down the road. Glance at your tires to make sure they have enough air, check your oil and windshield wiper fluid levels, and look for any battery or warning lights when turning on your engine. It is much better to discover a problem while your car is parked than while you are driving down a busy intersection! Do not attempt to drive on a flat tire or without enough gas.
- Have your vehicle inspected regularly: In addition to receiving your daily “safety checks,” your vehicle should be regularly inspected by auto professionals. Make sure to have your oil changed on a regular basis; your tires rotated and replaced when necessary; and your emissions and safety tests performed when required by law.
- Be aware of your blind spots: This tip may take you back to your driving school days. Many instructors teach student drivers to S.M.O.G. before changing lanes: signal, check your mirrors, look over your shoulder, then go. It sounds simple, but many drivers get comfortable and neglect the basics. Always check your blind spots, even when you think you are the only car on the road.
- Stop tailgating: It may be tempting to closely follow the car in front of you, but tailgating is one of the most common ways accidents happen. You need to give yourself enough time to brake should the traffic pattern change, not to mention most drivers get very stressed out when they are tailgated. Leave an adequate amount of room between you and the car in front of you—about six feet or a 3-second lead.
- Actually follow the speed limit: Following the posted speed limit is one of the simplest ways a driver can increase their safety and decrease their chance of injury on the road. Speeding not only puts you at risk for getting pulled over and being given an expensive ticket, but it drastically decreases your reaction time in situations where you need to brake or swerve. A vehicle traveling 80 mph versus a vehicle traveling 60 or 65 mph will not be able to stop or react to changes on the road as quickly. Plainly put, the faster you are driving, the higher your chance of getting in an accident.
- Pay attention to what the people around you are doing: This refers to people of all kinds—pedestrians, bikers, motorcyclists, and other drivers. You can help prevent an accident if you are aware that your fellow travelers are not aware. Be on the lookout for people on their phones, eating food, talking to their passengers, etc. Be extra cautious when changing lanes or interacting with these people, as their distracted behavior puts them at greater risk for causing an accident.
- Don’t stay in the fast lane: The left lane can seem appealing, especially when you are in a hurry. By continually driving in the fast lane, however, you limit your ability to move on the road. More highway accidents occur in the left lane than any other lane, and other drivers will often expect you to drive at speeds fast enough to be considered reckless. By sticking to the center or right lanes, you will be able to exit the road, change lanes, or pull off to the shoulder in case of an emergency—either your emergency, or someone else’s.
- Notice the physical appearance of other cars: While it may sound unfair to “judge a book by its cover,” one look at a car can tell you a lot about the driver. If a car is dented, dinged, and missing several crucial parts, it is probably wise to stay away from it. A driver who has visibly been in several accidents is likely careless—and a severely-damaged car may mean they are driving illegally and without insurance. In addition, avoid any vehicle that is swerving, speeding, or drifting. These dangerous behaviors could indicate an exhausted, intoxicated, or otherwise-distracted driver.
- Be extra vigilant at night: Most drivers are at their worst in the nighttime hours. Vision worsens at night, and people who have been working or driving all day will be tired by the time they grab their keys after dark. In addition, most sports games, concerts, and performances end late at night, meaning large pockets of traffic and large concentrations of irritated, exhausted drivers. Be careful around bars after dark, as drivers may (illegally) drive home while under the influence of alcohol.
- Beware of intersections: How many times have you run a “yellow” light that turned out to be quite red? Drivers are constantly trying to avoid being stuck at an intersection for another round of cars, which means driving through lights even when they should have stopped. After your light turns green, wait a few seconds before proceeding—you never know who might be speeding through an intersection last-minute!