There are around six million car accidents in the United States each year. Accidents are scary and expensive, and they can also cause injuries and claim lives. More than 35,000 accidents per year end in fatalities, and an even larger number of people sustain injuries in vehicle crashes. It’s impossible to control the other drivers on the road, but incorporating a few smart safety measures into your driving habits makes it more likely that you will avoid being involved in a crash and will arrive safely at your destination. But accidents aren’t the only hazard of the road, of course, which is why you need to be prepared for a variety of situations. For instance, extreme heat or cold can pose a threat to vehicles and their passengers. Practice defensive driving and plan for whatever might come your way to ensure a safe trip.
The first (and maybe most important) safety tip is to stay awake and alert at all times when you are behind the wheel. It’s estimated that drowsy drivers are the cause of about 100,000 automobile accidents each year. Drivers need to understand their limitations. When you’re planning a long drive, factor in plenty of breaks. Always stop if you get too tired. It’s also important to stay hydrated and fed! Skipping meals and becoming dehydrated can increase feelings of tiredness and lead to decreased alertness while driving. Also, be careful with taking medications: Some medicines cause tiredness or dizziness, both of which can lead to accidents on the road.
Drivers must manage many distractions while they drive, and these distractions are the cause of more than 3,000 fatal accidents each year. Cell phones are the focus of a lot of anti-distraction safety campaigns, for good reason: People calling, texting, or using apps on their phones causes a lot of accidents. Many states have now implemented hands-free laws that make it a crime to touch a cell phone while driving. But even if a state doesn’t have this law, it’s a smart idea. However, there are other distractions drivers should also be aware of and try to minimize. Passengers, including children, can distract drivers. Don’t hesitate to pull over if a passenger needs help or is distracting you as you drive. And don’t eat or drink at the wheel; this can also be a distraction while you drive.
Use Technology Smartly
Technology can be a distraction and a safety hazard while you’re driving, but it can also make driving safer and more efficient. Voice-controlled navigation helps drivers confidently travel through unfamiliar locations without needing to look at either a map, a screen in the car, or their phone for directions. Newer cars often have alarms that alert you if you are drifting into another lane or at risk of crashing into the car in front of you. Some cars are even equipped to take action if the car thinks there’s a risk of an impending accident! And passenger-focused technology can help entertain passengers so that they don’t become a distraction for drivers.
Maintain Your Car
Even if money is tight, every car on the road must be properly maintained. Properly maintained vehicles run better and last longer, meaning they are less likely to break down. Well-maintained vehicles also help drivers avoid accidents caused by mechanical issues or a blown-out tire.
Sometimes, the car manufacturer knows there is a safety concern with a specific type of vehicle, and when this occurs, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announces a recall. Sometimes, the car manufacturer does this voluntarily, while at other times, the NHTSA forces the manufacturer to cooperate. Recalled vehicles are repaired at no cost to the owner of the car. Typically, cars are taken to a dealership run by the manufacturer for repair. Consumers should stay aware of recalls and take their car in for repairs if their car is subject to one.
Beware of the Weather
Driving in extreme weather presents challenges to drivers, passengers, and cars. Each season presents its own challenges. Summer driving is known for having high gas prices and crowded highways, but you also need to worry about the heat itself. Heatstroke is a major concern for drivers and passengers in extreme summer heat. That’s why it’s important to make sure that your car’s air conditioning system is in good working order. Having it maintained before leaving for a long summer journey is very important. You should also never leave passengers in a parked car, especially if they’re children or older people, who can be at higher risk of developing heatstroke. The heat can be bad for your car as well, causing the vehicle to overheat. Drivers should regularly keep an eye on their car’s temperature gauge to make sure that it isn’t getting too high; if it does, find somewhere to pull over and let it cool down before you continue to avoid damaging your engine. Summer is also the time when municipalities work on highway construction projects. Keep an eye open for people working on the roads, and look out for the lower speed limits and hazards that go along with roadwork.
Winter weather also presents issues. One newer problem to look out for is that LED screens can freeze up and stop working during periods of extreme cold. Drivers depend on these screens to manage their car’s climate control and other necessary functions. Luckily, just warming up the car before driving usually fixes a cold and sluggish screen. Another potential problem is water vapor freezing in fuel lines. Gasoline only freezes at arctic-level temperatures, but water vapor can get into fuel lines and turn to ice in the winter. Preventing this is as simple as keeping your car’s fuel tank as full as possible. If it’s suspected that liquid is in the fuel lines, add antifreeze specifically formulated for fuel lines to combat the problem. Of course, it’s also important to be prepared for driving in winter weather, leaving yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go so that you can drive cautiously and arrive safely.
Planning ahead for any trip can help to avoid many issues. Planning your route using an app like Google Maps or Waze before you get behind the wheel alerts you to issues like road construction, traffic, and inclement weather. Often, you’ll be able to choose a route that will avoid these hazards. Before any road trip, make sure your tires are in good shape, including your spare. Check to make sure that all of the tools needed to change a tire are in place and in good condition. Bring along a portable jump-starter and you’ll never need to worry about a dead battery. Phone charger cables are important to keep on hand, too. Bring water and emergency food for all passengers, including pets, just in case of an emergency. A small first aid kit also makes it easier to deal with little issues on the road and keeps them from turning into major problems.