Acquiring a driver’s license is a long, tedious process. From successfully navigating a driver’s education class, to passing the DMV’s written exam and driving test, and then becoming a licensed driver is an accomplishment.
But that is just the beginning of the journey to becoming a skilled, experienced driver. What’s more, an experienced driver is not often a better or safer one. Skills can erode over time as drivers gets lax about safety habits they once practiced with diligence.
How often do accidents happen?
Based on data from the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), a driver can expect to get in an accident once every 17.9 years, or three to four accidents throughout their driving lifetime. It’s all the more reason to be observant and tighten up your safe driving skills. According to a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94% of crashes are because of driver error. “Drivers can easily get lax in safety,” says Kara Macek, communications director for the Governors Highway Safety Association(GHSA).
Here are 5 tips to assist you continue to drive safely.
- Do not underestimate fatigue
The NHTSA keeps that fatigue or drowsy driving was responsible (PDF) for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths in 2013. Similar to the affects of alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time while reducing awareness and impairing judgment, factors that increase your risk of an accident.
To combat fatigue, get plenty lots of rest – seven to eight hours of sleep per night – especially before a long trip. Also, be aware that peak periods of drowsy driving are between midnight and 6 a.m., and in late afternoon. If you are tired, don’t hesitate to pull over to the side of the road.
- Be wary of work zones
“Most crashes occur at work zones,” says James Baron, director of communications with the American Traffic Safety Services Association. “The majority of deaths are the motorists themselves, whether through excessive speed, equipment in the roadway and not slowing down as a result.”
Look for orange traffic signs and cones that indicate a work zone ahead and prepare to slow down – speed limits are typically reduced by at least 10 mph in these zones. The road may narrow, lanes might shift, or you could be needed to merge, while traffic in work zones may abruptly stop. Watch for workers on the roadside, as well as trucks and other work cars entering the road.
- Yield the right of way at an intersection
Failing to go the right of way at intersections and freeway merge ramps is a leading cause of accidents, and another area where experienced drivers – especially older drivers – can lapse. In fact, 36% of accidents happen while vehicles are turning or crossing at intersections, according to the NHTSA.
Even road veterans should drive defensively, particularly before entering an intersection, checking that the left, front and right zones are clear and other vehicles have come to a stop. If possible, opt for roadways with fewer intersections and congestion to avoid those potential accident scenarios.
- Double-check your blind spots
Double-check blind spots before changing lanes, and always signal your intentions. Look behind you when slowing down to make sure other cars are doing the same, and keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead for last-minute maneuvers, allowing you to avoid a potential accident.
- Slow down and be attentive
“Two of the most common safety issues while driving are speeding and distraction,” says Macek. It’s easy for drivers to go five or 10 miles above the speed limit, but it’s vital to remember that limits are set for a reason. As your speed rises, the risk of injuries and fatalities increases greatly.
Turning off cell phones and reducing the volume of the radio limits distractions and lets a driver focus on what’s very vital: the road ahead. “Too often, we blame the other guy for texting while driving or speeding, without recognizing those same behaviors in ourselves,” Macek says. “It’s vital for drivers to realize that they themselves are guilty of unsafe driving behaviors, and then take action to change them.”
Getting to be a better driver may not only keep you and others on the road safe – it can potentially make save you money, too.