Getting a driver’s license is a long, involved process. From successfully navigating a driver’s education class, to passing the DMV’s written exam and driving test, becoming a licensed driver is an accomplishment.
But that’s just the beginning of the journey to becoming a skilled, experienced driver. What’s more, an experienced driver is not necessarily a better or safer one. Skills can erode over time as drivers become lax about safety habits they once practiced with diligence.
How often do accidents happen?
According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), a driver can expect to be 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 vigilant and tighten up your safe driving skills. According to a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94% of crashes are due to driver error. “Drivers can easily become lax in safety,” says Kara Macek, communications director for the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
Here are 5 tips to help you continue to drive safely.
1. Don’t underestimate fatigue
The NHTSA estimates that fatigue or drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths in 2013. Similar to the affects of alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time while decreasing awareness and impairing judgment, factors that increase your risk of an accident.
To combat fatigue, get plenty 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.
2. Be wary of work zones
“A lot of 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 announce 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 required to merge, while traffic in work zones may abruptly stop. Watch for workers on the roadside, as well as trucks and other work vehicles entering the road.
3. Yield the right of way at an intersection
Failing to yield 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 occur 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 cars have come to a stop. If possible, opt for roadways with fewer intersections and congestion to avoid those potential accident scenarios.
4. 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.
5. Slow down and pay attention
“Two of the most common safety lapses 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 important to remember that limits are set for a reason. As your speed rises, the risk of injuries and fatalities increases exponentially.
Turning off cell phones and lowering the volume of the radio limits distractions and lets a driver focus on what’s most important: 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 important for drivers to realize that they themselves are guilty of unsafe driving behaviors, and then take action to change them.”
Becoming a better driver may not only keep you and others on the road safe – it can potentially help save you money, too. Learn how a safe driver discount from Nationwide could reward your safe driving with an accident-free discount of up to 10%.