Taking a road trip is a grand American tradition, particularly once we escape the winter doldrums here in California and the days start getting a little sunnier.
Too many drivers, however, also take part in some other “traditions” that are far more dangerous – and very often deadly. They drive while they’re distracted. They drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And they drive too fast for conditions.
Those are three of the most common causes of car crashes in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And they have another thing in common: Each of these factors is completely controlled by the driver.
You can’t completely eliminate risks when you’re on the road in California and beyond, but staying aware of these common causes of car accidents may just help you avoid them:
1. Distracted driving
According to the NHTSA, at any given daylight moment in America, about 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or other handheld electronic devices while driving. That alone increases the risk of a crash. The picture gets even worse when you add in drivers who are playing around with the stereo, eating breakfast on the way to work, trying to pick something up off the floor, having an animated conversation with a passenger, putting on makeup and on and on and on.
What you can do: You can’t control what other drivers are doing, so make sure you are in complete control. You won’t just improve your driving. You’ll be ready to react more quickly when you encounter a driver who isn’t as responsible as you are.
2. Impaired driving
We hear all the time about how dangerous it is to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the numbers really drive it home. In 2012, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), nearly 15,000 people were killed in accidents involving impaired drivers.
What you can do: It’s simple – don’t drive after you’ve been drinking or using other drugs. This includes prescription drugs, too. If you take medications that impair your ability to drive safely, don’t get behind the wheel. And if you are unsure how a new medication will affect you, don’t drive until you know.
Accidents caused by excessive speed kill more than 10,000 people a year on average, the NSC reports. And though you might think that the majority of these crashes happen at very high speeds on the interstate, the NHTSA has some surprising data – the highest number of fatal speed-related crashes occurred on roads with a speed limit lower than 55 mph.
What you can do: Always drive at a safe speed – and keep in mind that is not necessarily at the speed limit. Sometimes conditions such as severe weather warrant driving slower than the posted limit. And remember, it’s not your job to prevent others from speeding. No matter how tempting it might be to stay in front of maniacs in the left lane who want to go 90 in a 65 zone, just move over and let them go. Trying to block them could create a dangerous situation and increase your risk of a crash.
Other common factors in crashes include driver fatigue and vehicle equipment failures (such as tire blowouts or brake issues), so make sure you get plenty of sleep before that road trip and keep your car maintained with regular checks and service visits. Also, many insurance companies now offer roadside assistance coverage. Check your auto policy or ask your agent so, if something does happen, you know help is on the way.
Above all, remember these three things: Pay attention. Stay sober. Don’t speed. Together, we can make the roads safer for everyone.
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