Driving Defensively at Any Age
Ah, the lure of the road! There's nothing like the ability to hop in the car and go. Driving gives us a sense of freedom, mobility, and convenience. If you want to stay safe (and keep your insurance premiums low), you'll need to drive defensively.
Do unto others, and watch what they do unto you
In some respects, driving defensively is about guessing. You want to communicate clearly with others on the road, so they won't have to guess what you're going to do. At the same time, you want to guess what others might do that could put you in harm's way, and take steps to avoid the harm.
Here's some tips every driver should keep in mind:
- Maintain your car, particularly the tires, brakes, lights (including turn signal and hazard lights), and windshield wipers.
- Clean all your windows (inside and outside) and mirrors, and keep them free of obstructions.
- No matter what time of day it is, turn on your lights on gloomy days or while driving in poor weather conditions. Always use your lights during the twilight times--the half-hours after sunrise and before sunset.
- Reduce your speed in bad weather and at night. In the dark or in fog, don't drive beyond what your headlights will illuminate.
- Use your turn signals, even if only changing lanes.
- Watch for turning vehicles, and be cautious about trusting another driver's turn signal that's been on for a while; watch for the execution of the turn, rather than the intention.
- Keep your distance from other vehicles (especially large trucks), particularly those in front of you, and stay out of their blind spots (close up behind them on either side). If you can't see a truck's side mirrors, the trucker can't see you.
- When pulling away from a stop sign or a traffic light, check the intersection for oncoming cross traffic.
- Always wear your seat belt; it'll keep you in place if you suddenly have to change direction.
The young and the restless
It's an unfortunate fact, but drivers 16 to 24 years old have the most trouble focusing on the job at hand. Since they haven't yet driven much, they're inexperienced at scanning traffic. As a result, they fail to recognize danger while it's still at a safe distance, and they're sometimes slow to make a tough decision. What they've learned about good driving is too often offset by their overconfidence and willingness to take risks. Compared with other age groups, teenage drivers are more likely to drive too fast, follow too closely, and leave too little margin for error. As a result, they have the highest rate of accidents and fatalities per mile driven--and the highest auto insurance rates to show for it.
In addition to the tips listed above, if you're a teen, here are some things you can do to improve your safety record on the road. They include:
- Pulling away gradually: Jackrabbit starts out of intersections are for jackrabbits.
- Looking twice before pulling out, especially to your right: You'd be surprised how often an oncoming car has been hiding behind your passenger-side windshield post.
- Looking to your rear before backing out of a parking space in a lot: Maybe the people directly behind you are leaving, too; you don't want to rear-end their car.
- Looking both left and right when making a right turn: Granted, the traffic's coming toward you from the left, but that lady on the curb to your right entered the crosswalk while you weren't looking. . . .
- Turning your head to physically check for a clear passage before you change lanes.
- Keeping 2 seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you; 4 seconds if you're going over 35 miles per hour: Mark when the car ahead of you passes a certain point, and do the "one thousand one, one thousand two" routine until you reach the same point; if you didn't even reach two, back off!
- Watching the road 12 seconds down the road: Give yourself plenty of time to see trouble developing.
- Slowing down!
The not-so-safe senior?
Aging may not cause accidents, but older individuals do have some special concerns when it comes to maintaining safe driving habits. Medical problems (or the medications prescribed for them) can affect one's ability to drive. Signs of unsafe driving practices among seniors can include:
- Stopping when there's a green light, or running a red light without realizing it
- Drifting from one lane to another
- Confusing the gas and brake pedals
- Unwittingly hitting or coming close to people, cars, or other objects
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Going too slowly
When measuring the number of crashes per mile driven, the accident rate for seniors begins to rise at age 70 and goes up rapidly at age 80. These factors cause insurance premiums to rise for drivers entering their 60s, and to increase thereafter. Taking a driver improvement course may reduce these increases; many states require insurance discounts for drivers (usually those over 55) who complete a state-certified course.
Some steps you can take to maintain good habits and to drive defensively as you grow older include:
- Seeing a doctor: Have a physical exam, including vision and memory testing. Review what medications you take, and their side effects.
- Checking the visibility: Can you still see clearly all around you? Make sure your seat cushions provide firm support. To minimize potential whiplash, center your head restraint even with your ears, not on the base of your neck.
- Planning your trips: You can then concentrate on your driving, not on figuring out how to get there. Let passengers help with the navigating.
- Trying to avoid driving in bad weather, in heavy traffic, or on unfamiliar roads: If you can't avoid driving at night, use the day/night positions on the rearview mirror to reduce headlight glare.
- Learning where your dashboard controls are: When driving, find them by feel, and keep your eyes on the road.
- Watching for the flashing lights from emergency vehicles: You may not always hear the sirens.