An Ounce of Prevention: 5 Steps to a Safer Commute

traffic“Defensive driving” is a term we’ve all heard at one time or another, likely in a driving education course. For many of us, however, driver’s ed feels like it happened eons ago, and new driving habits can take the place of what we learned in school. Smartphones, kids, pets, a packed daily schedule–our busy lives create endless distractions that can be detrimental to driving habits, but taking the time to brush up on defensive driving skills could save your life.

Car Cash and Traffic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Americans spend more than 1 million days in the hospital each year from crash injuries.” Vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of injury, which should be no surprise–we spend a significant amount of our time commuting. The average commute to work is about 25.4 minutes, but Los Angeles and San Francisco are second only to Washington, D.C. in the amount of time commuters spend in traffic, with the average commuter in these cities spending about 60 hours each year stuck in congestion.

With all that time spent in our vehicles, it’s easy to become lax in following driving safety tips. So what, exactly, does it mean to be a defensive driver, and what steps can you take to become one?

Avoid Car Accidents

Defensive driving is all about being aware of your surroundings, and especially of other drivers. Follow these five tips to improve your defensive driving skills and decrease the likelihood that you will be in a serious accident.

  1. Calculate your following distance

It’s easy to get in the zone while driving and creep up on the person ahead of you–but what happens when you’re tailgating and the person in front has to make a sudden stop due to a road hazard? Increasing your following distance gives you the space and time to react to the unexpected. To find out whether you’re following too closely, pick a landmark–a telephone pole or mile marker, for example–and start counting the seconds from the time the car in front passes that landmark until you pass it. If you counted less than two seconds, you’re following too closely. If you’re driving an SUV or another large vehicle, or if you’re driving in poor weather conditions, make sure you leave even more distance between you and the vehicle ahead.

  1. Scan your surroundings

Failing to scan your surroundings can be another side effect of getting in the zone while driving. It’s 7:30 a.m., you’re bleary-eyed and coffee-deprived, and you’re focused only on what’s right in front of you. Not being alert to your surroundings, including vehicles to the side and rear, means you may not notice a road hazard until it’s too late. Keep scanning the horizon and your mirrors, watching for merging or turning vehicles. Staying aware of the location and movements of other vehicles, construction workers, and road conditions allows you to anticipate potential road hazards before they become a serious problem.

  1. Be a smart lane-changer

Changing lanes often, or without signaling beforehand, increases the likelihood of an accident by making your driving seem unpredictable to those around you. As noted in this article by Robert Schaller, “you don’t want to surprise anyone.” Have you ever been taken off guard by another driver’s sudden swerve into or across your lane, which required you to hit the brakes? Don’t rely on other drivers’ awareness or reaction time to prevent a collision. Always use your turn signal, and never cross multiple lanes at once. This gives the drivers around you time to process your intentions and react appropriately.

  1. Slow down

It’s easy to let the speedometer’s needle drift upwards, especially if you’re running late. The truth is, driving five or ten miles per hour faster won’t trim much time from your drive–but it will significantly increase your reaction time and the potential of a serious accident. Pay attention to posted speed limits, as well as the speed of surrounding traffic. If traffic is generally moving faster than the speed limit, stick to the limit and stay in the right lane to let other drivers pass. Chances are you’ll catch up with them at the next exit or stop light, anyway–and without having wasted fuel or endangered yourself by speeding.

  1. Put away the gadgets

Our smartphones and other gadgets have become integral parts of our lives. They keep us connected to family, friends, and work no matter where we are or what we’re doing. All that convenience takes its toll, however, and distracted driving due to texting and smartphone use is becoming an increasingly serious problem. According to Distraction.gov, 71% of teens and young people say they have composed or sent a text message while driving. In 2012, 421,000 people were injured and 3,328 killed in distraction-related accidents. If you’re tempted to use your phone or electronic device while driving, try putting it in the backseat. Keeping it out of sight and out of reach will help you keep your attention on the task at hand.

Personal Injury Attorney

Using defensive driving strategies can help prevent accidents by keeping us focused on the road and aware of possible hazards. Nonetheless, we cannot control other drivers; we can only pay attention to their behavior and try to avoid dangerous situations to the best of our abilities. Unfortunately, we can’t always prevent accidents, no matter how safely we drive ourselves. If you are ever in an accident due to another driver’s poor judgment, driving skills, or distraction, make sure you contact me as soon as possible. As an auto accident attorney, I will work with you to make sure your needs are met. Remember, you should not have to suffer due to another driver’s carelessness or negligence. An accident can be devastating, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. The sooner you contact me, the sooner I can help you get back to living your life.

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