Whoever said that there’s safety in numbers surely wasn’t thinking about rush hour traffic. In fact, the best recipe for a safe drive involves few other cars on the road, zero distractions while driving, and the avoidance of dangerous driving habits altogether. Since it’s unlikely that you’ll always drive in light traffic, however, steering clear of hazardous, illegal, and negligent driving behaviors as detailed below is all the more important.
Don’t Drive While Distracted
To start with, don’t read this article while driving—eyes on the road at all times, please! Distracted driving can come in many forms, many of which you may not feel are that unsafe. The truth is that any activity that diverts your attention away from the road and other drivers puts you and anyone around you at increased risk.
Do NOT Text and Drive—Not Even at Stoplights!
There have been too many news stories in recent years surrounding deadly car accidents due to texting. Many highways now feature signs indicating pull-off sections to be used for emergency phone calls and texting sessions, so there’s no excuse for texting and driving. On regular streets and roads, there’s almost always a gas station, fast food parking lot, or even a driveway to pull into and send your messages. In an increasing number of states, distracted driving laws even prohibit texting while at a red light.
Don’t Eat While Driving
Even if you don’t like eating in public, there’s no reason that you can’t keep your vehicle in park while you chow down. Otherwise, your sustenance could cost someone his or her life—a lot can happen in the time it takes to look for one dropped French fry.
Beware of Brake Lights
Even if your eyes never leave the road, what you’re looking at matters. Don’t expect the car ahead of you to keep going just because the traffic light is green—as soon as you see brake lights come on, you should be prepared to hit your brakes, too, no matter what the circumstances are like further down the road.
An Aside: Brake Checking and Road Rage in Action
You should never use your brakes to bully or try to teach other drivers a lesson. Brake checking, or pressing the brake pedal to prove a point to another driver who’s tailgating, is more than just bad behavior—it can cause an accident.
Just a few weeks ago, a woman driving in Missouri narrowly managed to survive a brake checking crash. In this case, the woman had no time to practice defensive driving due to the high speed at which she was traveling when cut off and brake checked by another driver.
Fortunately, this story is not one of a death by dangerous driving—the woman’s car hit the barrier and flipped, but other motorists pulled her from the wreckage with no serious injuries. However, this accident acts as a reminder of what’s at stake when people take out their anger via reckless driving.
Don’t Fall Out of the Flow of Traffic or Tailgate
Maintaining a safe speed is basic Driving 101. If all the other cars on the road are moving 10 miles per hour faster than yours, it’ll be a lot harder for you to react defensively to any sudden lane changes or maneuvers. If you get stuck behind a slow driver, it’s in your best interest to pass that car if at all possible, but do stay within the speed limit and use your turn signals per the rules of the road.
Also, don’t engage in tailgating, or following the car in front of yours too closely, for any reason. The rule of thumb for following distance is to leave a count of three seconds or more between your car and the one in front of you, calculated by passing the same stationary roadside object, such as a streetlight. You can read all those bumper stickers when you come to a red light.
Don’t Plug Up the Passing Lane
Some drivers like to think of the leftmost lane on the freeway as the speeding lane. While it’s certainly necessary on occasion to speed up to get around a slow or hazardous vehicle, that lane is only meant for passing one or two other cars at a time and emergencies. Once you’ve passed the cars that you’ve intended to, it’s time to look for an opening to move back into the right lanes.
Don’t Drive While Impaired
The most obvious type of impairment, alcohol intoxication, comes to mind first. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost a third of deaths from traffic accidents are caused by drunk drivers as of 2014.
While it may be obvious advice not to get behind the wheel after drinking a few beers, impairment comes in many other forms as well. Reasons not to drive can be as simple as having blurry vision or confusion from a new medication or medical condition. Inexperience and unpreparedness are some additional considerations among the unwritten rules of the road.
When you’re driving in an unfamiliar area, GPS maps can be very helpful. However, sometimes the directions can get confusing—for whatever reason, you’re about to miss your turn. Before that moment comes, just remember that taking a few more minutes to recalculate directions and turn around is always worth it. The alternative of a rash, last-second turn can cost a lot more.
There are, of course, many other things that you should do in order to drive safely—it doesn’t have to be all don’ts. For instance, buckling your seat belt, maintaining your car’s airbag system, and keeping up with repairs in general are some great preventative measures to take. If you do find yourself regularly contemplating going on a road rampage, there’s no shame in enrolling in anger management classes. It’s always okay to ask for help.