The average person aged 35-54 will drive about 15,000 miles per year. When you think about it, that’s a lot of time behind the wheel. With all those miles accumulating day after day, year after year, it’s easy to forget that a moment’s inattention could spell serious harm, injury, or death. So, it’s really important to remember some basic rules of the road before we turn the key and take the wheel.
Know the basics
If you’ve been driving for a while, those lessons from driver education may have faded a bit. Basic things like using your turn signals, coming to a complete stop at stop signs, and yielding the right of way to pedestrians may have been forgotten, but they’re still important. Next time you’re driving, pretend you have a police officer sitting next to you, ticket book in hand.
Look twice (especially for bikes!)
Before you change lanes, pull out of your driveway, or enter an intersection look both ways and look more than once. It’s worth noting that 42% of motorcycle accidents involving a car occur when the car is turning left, so be sure to look twice for bikes.
Courtesy is contagious
Road rage is a very real, and a very dangerous phenomenon. Stories abound in the media about two drivers starting with words—or gestures—and ending with blows or gunshots. When you’re out on your daily commute, remember: All those other drivers around you are stuck in the same traffic jam. A little compassion (and a lot of humor) can go a long way. So, go ahead: let that guy in. Smile at the person who cut you off. And, if you really feel angry, just pull over and let the feeling pass. It’s a lot better than starting a fight with a total stranger.
Anticipate other drivers
The best accident is the one you avoid. Keep your head in the game, and remember a simple rule of thumb for following distances: 2-4-12. Keep a two second following distance (at least) between you and the car in front of you; be alert for what’s happening four seconds ahead of you in traffic; pay attention to what’s developing 12 seconds ahead at all times.
Yield is a two-way sign
It’s tempting to think that the guy merging onto the highway should be looking out for YOU, but did you know that it’s actually BOTH drivers’ responsibility to merge safely? If you’re in the right lane on the highway and it’s possible to do so, you should move left when another vehicle is merging on. Not only is this a courteous thing to do, it’s also a smart way to ensure you don’t have a wreck that could have been avoided.
Don’t talk, don’t text: just drive
Need we say more? It’s a proven fact that texting while driving is just as deadly as drinking while driving. And, even with a hands-free device, having a phone conversation behind the wheel can be a needless distraction from the road. If it can wait, let that phone call happen when you’re at your destination. Think of it as the “me” time you’ve been looking for all day.
Mind the volume
Music is great when you’re on the road—ask anyone who’s made a road trip mix tape, CD, or playlist! But having your music too loud can be a real danger, especially if the volume prevents you from hearing sirens, car horns, or other signs of danger. So, ease on down the road with your favorite tunes, but don’t blast them. Save the air guitar for the office.
Don’t outdrive the conditions
It’s one thing to drive the speed limit during ideal conditions, but remember: the speed limit isn’t for every condition. If there’s rain, snow, or ice on the road, SLOW DOWN. Same for heavy traffic, fog, or any other condition that’s less than ideal.
Don’t outdrive your headlights
At night, be sure you’re not “outdriving” your headlights. If your lights allow you to see 500 feet ahead but it would take you 600 feet to stop for what runs in front of your car (we’re looking at you, deer), then you’re outdriving your lights.
Don’t drive drunk, drugged, tired, or angry
A few beers. That new prescription your doctor wrote you. The end of a long day. An outsized argument with a loved one. All of these things can affect your ability to safely operate your vehicle. Take some time before you turn the key and do a self check. Are you up for driving? If you’re not, consider staying put or asking someone to drive you.