In 2015 in the state of Arizona alone, there were 116,609 total car crashes. Of those crashes, 895 proved fatal. Alcohol was responsible for 295 fatalities and 3205 injuries. Excessive speed was responsible for 300 fatalities and 21,991 injuries. Clearly, if you drive on Arizona roads, staying sober, driving within speed limits, and paying attention are things you should be doing.
With all these crashes happening on the roads, how can one stay safe and avoid an auto accident? What are the best ways to prevent getting in an accident in the first place? Of course, there is simple common sense. Make sure you are aware of who goes first at an intersection. Don’t follow the car in front of you closely. Don’t exceed the speed limit – especially if road conditions aren’t ideal. But beyond these common sense tips and basic rules of the road, what else can be done to prevent an accident? Let’s take a look.
- Drive in the center lane, not the fast lane, or the slow lane. The majority of highway accidents actually occur in the left lane. When you drive in the center lane, if something should happen (say, a car slams on their brakes in front of you), you have multiple ways to avoid a collision by changing lanes, or pulling over onto the shoulder of the road or highway you are on. Also, you will attract more attention if you are driving in the fast lane, and it may not be the attention you want (think red and blue lights flashing in your rear-view mirror).
- Continually scan the area ahead of you on the road, and on the sides of the road too. If you’re in an urban area, don’t just concentrate on the car in front of you. Watch what is happening with the cars ahead of that one as well. When you watch traffic like this, you’ll be aware of anything happening while you still have plenty of time to react to it appropriately and safely. If you’re in a rural area, scan the sides of the road for wildlife that may be entering the road. Slow down and proceed cautiously if you do see anything on the side of the road because an animal can dart out in a heartbeat.
- Be aware of all the blind spots you have, and don’t just rely on your mirrors. Actually turn to look when you’re changing lanes, backing up, parallel parking, etc. so that you are completely sure of what there is in the area you’re entering.
- Keep both hands on the steering wheel, in the “9 and 3” position (as if you were looking at a clock). Driving with one hand on the wheel, or driving with your hands at the bottom of the wheel, arms resting in your lap will decrease your response time in the event of something unexpected happening on the roadway. You need to have your hands on the wheel in the correct position to ensure quick maneuvering should you need it.
- Position your seat close enough to the steering wheel so that you can rest your wrist on the top of the wheel with your arm stretched out in front of you. While you won’t be driving that way, this is the correct position to avoid arm fatigue while driving, and to make sure you can maneuver quickly.
- They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you should judge a driver by his or her car condition and appearance. While this certainly isn’t accurate 100% of the time, it makes sense that an ill-maintained car might just be driven by an inattentive driver. The point is, watch for signals that you may be near a driver who may be potentially unsafe.
- Be aware of the limitations of your own vehicle. A 4-wheel drive truck with a V10 engine isn’t going to drive the same as a sports car or a minivan. It’s up to you to know your vehicle and what it is capable of. Learn how the vehicle itself reacts to certain situations such as wet or icy roads, or sharp corners, and be acutely aware of how quickly your car brakes in normal driving conditions, and in inclement weather. Knowing all of this ahead of time will increase your reaction time when you need it.
- Be attentive to your vehicle’s maintenance needs. Skipping scheduled maintenance will result in problems that could cause an accident, such as keeping old tires on a car instead of getting new ones when you need to. It won’t be worth the money you save on the tires if you’re dead because you went over a guardrail. All maintenance is important, and you should stick to what your manufacturer’s manual recommends.
- Avoid nighttime driving whenever you can. First, you can’t see the best at night, and there are hazards that you may not be able to see at all. Second, nighttime is when you’ll find more drunk and/or tired drivers on the road, as well as more teenagers. Also, pay attention to your head- and tail-lights to make sure they’re not burned out. If you find that you must drive after dark, pay extra attention to the road and the vehicles surrounding you.
- Pay to learn how to drive well by going to a high-performance driving school. Not only will you have a blast taking a car to its limits, but you will also learn vital avoidance maneuvers that could save your life in an accident when you need to think quickly. And you’ll learn it in a safe environment, instead of on an icy road. This is a smart investment in your driving skills.
Of course, you can be the safest, most attentive, and un-distracted driver in the world, but you can’t control what other drivers are doing. Accidents will still happen. But you can be as aware as possible of the conditions, drivers, and vehicles surrounding you to help avoid accidents wherever possible. Remember that driving is not a passive activity.