Why don’t we do it?

It’s something the majority of us do every day—drive! It might be for work, going to activities, or taking a trip. Often, it’s not something we think about much, but we should. Car accidents are responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths each year. How can you avoid being in one? Are there other things you need to be aware of when driving?

What’s the most dangerous thing you do every day? Drive a car! According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), two out of three motorists will be involved in an accident during their life. Many people don’t realize that driving remains the number one cause of death in most age groups. According to the data, traffic accident deaths have been rising since 2007. In 2018, the National Safety Council statistics show approximately 40,000 people lost their lives in vehicle accidents. Per Driver Knowledge’s figures, around 2 million drivers in car accidents experience permanent injuries every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that about 10 million or more crashes go unreported each year. All of these are significant when you consider that the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found drivers made 186 billion driving trips, spent 70 billion hours driving, and drove 2.62 trillion miles in 2016. According to Statista, at the beginning of 2019, about 276 million vehicles were running on America’s roads. Even though most of the population lives in urban areas, about 50% of all accidents happen in rural areas where only 20% of the population lives. Also, the bulk of traffic accidents occur within 20 miles of someone’s home.

Common Driving Errors

There are many common driving errors that we all make. Some are more dangerous than others. How often do you do any of these?

It’s something that we’ve all done at some point…accelerating through a yellow light. The problem is that you don’t quite make it before the light turns red. Best case scenario, you end up holding up other drivers who actually have the green light. Worst case, it could lead to a major collision. Since the length of time a light stays yellow varies, it’s hard to judge if you’ve got enough time to make it through. Instead, do the responsible thing and slow down if you’ve got room to stop without ending up in the intersection. Per the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, over 900 people die a year, and almost 2,000 are injured because of vehicles running lights.

Another thing most of us are guilty of is not checking blind spots, which is when a vehicle or object is close to your car but not visible. There are few of these around your vehicle, so when you’re changing lanes or backing out of a parking space, you should look at them. This goes beyond looking in your rearview and side mirrors. It’s essential to glance over your shoulder. A helpful tool is to install on your side mirrors is a special blind spot mirror. It’s also crucial to check your mirrors and adjust them, if necessary, every time before you drive. While driving, glance regularly in the rear and side mirrors to see what is happening behind and beside you. If someone was visible but now isn’t, they might be in a blind spot. Backing up is always risky, especially if there could be are children playing nearby. Per Safe Kids Worldwide, more than 250 people die each year due to a vehicle backing over them, with over 30% are children under five years old. It pays to double-check before putting your car in reverse. It’s also vital to turn your head to check before opening your car door to get out, especially if parking on the street. This will help to ensure no vehicles or bike riders are approaching. Remind your passengers to be careful when opening their car door also.

When it comes to bicyclists, drivers need to share the road by not driving in bike lanes and giving three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist. Remember, bicyclists have the right of way. In 2018, 63% of bicyclist deaths happened on major roads other than interstates and freeways. Unfortunately, in the same year, 61% of bicyclists were not wearing helmets. So, if you’re riding a bike, be sure to strap on a helmet. Another critical aspect of preventing accidents between bicycles and other cars is using your turn signals. This helps let others know your intentions so they have sufficient time to react. One recent study found that over half of the drivers interviewed don’t use their turn signals. Another part of changing lanes is merging correctly. Some individuals let car after car zoom past them, thinking they’re being polite. Instead, they’re holding up the flow of traffic. Other motorists aren’t patient and race to the front of a line of cars.

Cutting other cars off by weaving between lanes without regard is hazardous. There are two problems with doing this. The first is you’re more likely to get hit from behind if the driver you’re cutting off isn’t paying attention. The second is if you’re going too fast and squeezing between two cars, you could end up slamming into the car ahead of you. This type of driving falls under aggressive driving. Some data states that over 60% of all traffic accident deaths are caused by aggressive driving. SafeMotorist.com says that 66% of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving. Over half of drivers who are on the receiving end of aggressive behavior respond to it with aggressive behavior themselves. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety asserts male and younger drivers ages 19-39 were significantly more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors. Another behavior under this category is tailgating. According to TeenSafe, tailgating is a contributing factor in more than one-third of all crashes on the road. This is dangerous and annoying for both drivers involved. If you want to go faster, pass the car ahead of you in another lane when it’s safe, but keep a safe distance until then. It’s helpful to remember the two-second rule. This means that under ideal conditions, there’s a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. To calculate this, locate a stationary item on the side of the road. After the car in front of you passes it, count ‘one thousand and one, one thousand and two.’ If you pass the object before you finish counting, you’re too close. A key point to remember is if the weather isn’t good or nighttime, extend the distance to four seconds.

Probably the most common driving error people make is driving above the speed limit. Not only is it a problem in itself, but speeding leads to many of the other behaviors we’ve discussed. Data from the NHTSA that speeding has been involved in one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities. The Insurance Information Institute states speed-related crashes cost Americans $40.4 billion each year. It’s not excessive speed that’s the cause; national data from Fortune shows that a 10-mph speed increase elevates the risk of a crash by 9.1%. It’s vital to remember speed is based on ever-changing driving conditions, not on how fast you are legally allowed to drive. If a speed limit sign isn’t displayed on a road, there’s a default speed limit in effect depending on the type of road you’re on. Another factor to keep in mind is the faster you’re moving, the longer it takes for the car to stop when you apply the brakes. Also, it’s a good idea to choose a speed matching the rest of the traffic as closely as possible without exceeding the speed limit. If you’re driving and see a vehicle in a hurry, yield the right of way even if you are legally right in refusing. If you don’t, it increases the risk of an accident. Over 3,000 accidents arose after drivers failed to yield.

Contributing Factors to Accidents

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found driver-related factors, such as error, impairment, fatigue, and distraction, are present in almost 90% of crashes. Distracted driving is the most significant issue. It occurs when your attention is diverted away from driving toward some other activity. This means your awareness of your surroundings is less, causing a slower reaction time. Reaction time refers to the amount of time it takes to react after realizing that you need to. The maximum amount of time you can safely divert your attention from the road is two seconds. According to the NHTSA, 3,166 people died in 2017 because of driving while distracted. The National Safety Council indicates that distracted driving may be under-reported because many state crash-report forms don’t have a field or code for it. The primary cause of it is smartphones. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute observed that dialing a phone raising a driver’s chance of crashing by 12 times, and reading/writing increased 10 times. When you send or read a text, the NHTSA says you take your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. If you’re driving 55 mph, you’ll travel the entire length of a football field during this time. In 2017, the Chicago Tribune stated that one in four drivers used a cell phone right before being involved in a crash. Almost all states have banned texting while driving. However, Driver’s Alert says that using a hands-free electronic device is four times more distracting than talking to an adult passenger.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that 35% of drivers sleep less than the recommended seven hours daily. The US Department of Transportation observed that tired drivers are twice as likely to make mistakes on the road as people who aren’t. The NHTSA data estimates in 2017, 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers, with 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths. According to the National Sleep Foundation, if you’re awake for 18 hours straight, it can impair driving as much as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%. (The legal limit in most states is under 0.08%.)

It’s very dangerous to drive while intoxicated. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol-impaired driving accounts for more than 30% of all driving fatalities every year. NHTSA states that every day 800 people are injured, and 30 people die due to drunk driving crashes. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) estimates that drunk driving costs $199 billion every year. The CDC indicates that men are almost twice as likely as women to have been intoxicated behind the wheel or involved in fatal motor vehicle traffic accidents.

It is illegal to drive with any illicit drug in your system. Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, after alcohol, marijuana is most often linked to intoxicated driving. On average, the National Center for Statistics and Analysis observed three in five people will be involved in a crash due to impaired driving in their lifetime. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) discovered that among drug-positive drivers killed in crashes in 2016, 4% tested positive for both marijuana and opioids, 16% for opioids only, 38% for marijuana only, and 42% for other drugs. There’s no safe amount of any of these because they can affect your ability to concentrate, your level of alertness, coordination, judgment, and reaction time. Similarly to alcohol, it can be difficult to know how long it takes for drugs to be fully metabolized by the body.

It’s important to note that some prescription medications can make you drowsy and dangerous on the road. To prevent an accident, read the label carefully and obey any instructions and warnings related to driving. When given a new medication, ask your health practitioner about how it will affect your ability to drive. This is especially important if you’re taking multiple medications since they can interact with each other to affect you in different ways. Over-the-counter medications can impact you too. The University of Iowa discovered that 50 mg of diphenhydramine (a popular over-the-counter antihistamine) can impair your driving more than a BAC of 0.10%. Cardiff University asserts driving while sick with the common cold can increase your reaction time about as much as a BAC of 0.08%. This doesn’t include any driving impairment that can come from medications taken to treat the illness.

The most significant external factor that leads to car accidents is the weather. Almost 25% of crashes every year are weather-related. According to the NHTSA, 17% of all vehicle crashes occur during winter conditions. Safe Winter Roads expresses that over 16,000 people are injured, and over 1,300 are killed on snowy, slushy, or icy pavement every winter. This isn’t surprising since almost three-quarters of the nation’s roads are located in snowy regions. The Federal Highway Administration’s 2019 data establishes that 70% of weather-related crashes happen on wet pavement, 46% during rainfall, 18% during snow or sleet, 16% on snowy or slushy pavement, 13% on icy pavement, and 3% in fog. Typically, these crashes are caused by people following too closely and not stopping in time. It can take 10 times longer (or more) to stop a vehicle in snow or ice. Hydroplaning, common when the road is wet, is when your car sits on top of a thin film of water between the tires and road so that there is no more contact between the two. Another issue is headlights. Some drivers don’t turn on their headlights at night or during inclement weather. Others turn on their high beams, causing too much glare for other drivers on the road, making it difficult to judge distances between their car and other vehicles on the road.

Accidents in Certain Populations

Let’s take a closer look at the number of accidents involving specific populations. One group that regularly interacts with vehicles are pedestrians. Unfortunately, the data shows the number of pedestrian fatalities increased by 27% from 2007 to 2016. This occurred despite all other traffic deaths decreasing by 14% during the same period. The GHSA state that pedestrians now account for a larger percentage of traffic fatalities than they have in the past 33 years. The main culprits are quieter vehicles and increased distracted driving. It’s important to realize that speed plays a key role. Per the Active Transportation Alliance, pedestrians struck at 20 miles an hour have a 10% chance of dying, while pedestrians struck at 40 miles an hour have an 80% chance of dying.

Another unique population that deserves attention are teenagers. They’re responsible for the highest rate of traffic accidents, especially during their first year of driving. The CDC states that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in this age group. The CDC goes on to say that per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are almost three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the fatal crash rate per mile driven is nearly twice as high for drivers ages 16-17 as it is for drivers ages 18-19. Teen Safe substantiates if a teen driving has a passenger, the risk of getting into a fatal car crash doubles, and that jumps to five times as likely if two or more passengers are present.

At the other end of the age spectrum, you’ve got senior drivers. The NHTSA data shows that 18% of all traffic fatalities in 2016 were among people 65 years and older. According to AAA, per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase beginning at age 75 and rise sharply after age 80. This is due to older drivers being more fragile than younger drivers. Elderly drivers make up for physical disadvantages through their driving experience, wearing safety belts, observing speed limits, and not drinking and driving.

Safety Considerations

A major safety concern is the use of seatbelts. According to AAA, seatbelts have a 45% to 60% effectiveness, making them the single most effective means of reducing the risk of death in a crash (they’ve saved almost 300,000 lives since 1975 just in the US). Driver Knowledge states that if you don’t wear a seat belt, you are 30 times more likely to be ejected from your vehicle during a crash. This increases your chance of death significantly. The national seat belt use rate is at 90.1%. It’s important to point out that men are 10% less likely to wear seat belts than women, Virtual Drive indicates. A survey found that 91% of front-seat passengers wear seat belts, but only 74% of rear-seat passengers in personal vehicles and 57% in hired vehicles (ex. taxis or Ubers) wear seat belts. The reason? Many people believe that the rear seat is safer than the front seat. This isn’t true…you should always wear a seatbelt, no matter where you’re sitting in a car. An additional safety feature that we take for granted is airbags. Per the IIHS, side airbags, which protect the head, chest, and abdomen, decrease driver deaths by close to 37%.

One thing we don’t realize that plays a role in our safety is that road rules are routinely reviewed and updated. For instance, did you know that the correct hand position is no longer 10 and 2? (Tip: it’s now 9 and 3). A study from National General Insurance found that 18% of licensed drivers would fail the knowledge test for a learner’s permit (if they had to retake it). Another study from CarInsurance.com found that nearly 40% would fail it. Also, we don’t understand some of the most common road rules, like giving way at intersections, giving way at roundabouts, giving way to emergency vehicles, giving way to pedestrians, merging lanes safely, passing correctly, and performing a U-turn. This is why adult drivers are often encouraged to take defensive driving courses. Many insurance companies provide discounts to those who go through a traffic school from time to time. Since safe driving habits start early, make sure your kids take a high-quality driver’s ed course. Many different online driver’s ed courses exist. If you want to learn more about taking a defensive driving course where you live, get more info at https://www.drive-safely.net/driving-statistics/

Tips on How to Drive Safer

There are several things you should do to stay safe while driving. Periodically, review the official rules of the road for your jurisdiction. Follow the speed limits. Pay attention when driving, even if you are familiar with the area, because most accidents happen close to home. Be courteous toward other drivers by yielding the right of way (even if you don’t have to), don’t block intersections, and use indicators. Always wear your seatbelt. As the driver, you are legally responsible for ensuring that you and your passengers are properly restrained. The type of restraint used depends on the person’s age and weight. Restrain any dogs in your vehicle can prevent them from being distracting. Try to anticipate what the other drivers might do, but don’t assume you know for sure (sometimes people forget to turn off their turn signal). Look out for gaps in traffic for space to take evasive action. If you see the traffic in front of you slowing down, you should too. Avoid talking, texting, or anything else distracting while driving. Definitely don’t participate in aggressive driving behavior.

For long trips, plan your route out in advance and keep a map or atlas in the car if you get lost. If you’re driving and feeling tired, pull over and take a power nap. Try to avoid driving while tired by ensuring you get enough sleep each night, don’t start a long journey after working all day, taking regular breaks during your trip (every 2 hours), sharing the responsibility of driving, eating well-balanced meals, and being well hydrated.

If you have consumed alcohol, the only thing that will clear it from your system is time. You can’t speed up the process by drinking coffee, showering, exercising, having fresh air, or vomiting. Another factor to remember is that your blood alcohol level won’t be the same as your friend’s, even if you’ve had the same amount to drink. This is from people metabolizing alcohol differently. If you have the same amount of alcohol, a smaller person will have a higher blood alcohol level than a larger person, and a person with higher body fat will have a higher reading. If you plan on drinking alcohol, make the decision not to drive by planning. If you’re going to be in a group, confirm who will be the designated driver. Before drinking alcohol, drink a soda or water first and then alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Drink slowly and keep track of how much you’ve had. Set time and dollar limits on your drinking. It’s a good idea to learn about what constitutes a standard drink and choose drinks with lower alcohol content. Keep track of your drink, and don’t let people top up your glass. If you’ve had multiple drinks, you may still be over the legal limit the following morning, so don’t drive. Remember, drinking alcohol while you are supervising someone who is learning to drive a vehicle is illegal.

The most sensible thing to do in adverse weather conditions is to slow down. Also, make sure that your car tires have the proper air pressure because overinflating them reduces the area of contact with the road. Run your headlights on low beam during the day because it reduces your risk of a crash. Always use low beam headlights when it’s raining and when there’s oncoming traffic.

When it comes to pedestrians or bicyclists, you must slow down and give them the right of way. This is true no matter where they are. You should always approach pedestrian crossings at a speed that will allow you to stop in time. The slower the speed, the safer it is.

For new drivers, practice on the road in all types of conditions before you apply for your license. While you don’t have to pass a license test when you reach a certain age, but it’s key to be aware of changes that could affect your ability to drive and adjust your behavior appropriately. Ask your doctor for advice about the effect that any illness, disability, or medical condition may have on your ability to drive safely.

When it comes to driving, reaching your destination safely is the most important thing. Safe driving is up to every one of us. To do this, you need to be alert and ready to take action at any moment. Also, be courteous to all road users, including pedestrians and bicyclists. Defensive driving will help you navigate most road and traffic conditions and avoid an accident.