7 tips to drive more safely by an expert
How to stay safe on US roads
11 May 2021
In many ways, our vehicles have become extensions of our homes; they’re places where we often feel safe and happy. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of the open road and the freedom of a full tank of gas while heading off on new adventures across state lines on a vacation. And sometimes simply hearing the bleep of the car door opening when you’re headed home after a long day can make you feel at ease.
Happiness is important, but when it comes to spending time on the roads, safety should always come first, above all else.
The National Safety Council reveals in their annual report that 42,060 people died in the US because of auto accidents in 2020, which was the first rise in these figures in four years, showing an 8% increase from the numbers they released in 2019.
“At SmartCitti we firmly believe true happiness comes from feeling well protected and secure, and planning for the future is a key component of that,” says Mark Chappell, President of SmartCitti U.S. “Knowing you and your loved ones are safe is crucial for peace of mind.”
Here’s 7 simple ways to improve your safety on the roads. You can share these with your loved ones and friends, so you’ll feel happier knowing they’re driving more safely too.
Perform vehicle safety checks before leaving your home
220 million tires get punctured every year in the United States, resulting in an average of seven flat tires occurring on American roads every hour.
“An incredible 60% of motorists admit they don’t know how to change a punctured tire, meaning if it happens to you and you’re not sure how to change a tire, you could end up stranded at night or far from a town, or having to rely on a stranger to help you,” says SmartCitti’s Mark Chappell.
Tires are frequently punctured while driving but sometimes don’t deflate until the vehicle is parked overnight, so always check your tires before leaving home.
“As well as looking out for punctures, check your tire’s tread is at least 1.6mm,” Mark advises. “Take out a penny and slot it in between each tire’s tread, checking the top reaches Lincoln’s eyebrows. If the depth of your tire only reaches the top of Lincoln’s head, then it’s a strong sign you need to replace them. Get your tires checked out by a professional.”
Ensure you have a fully functional spare tire in the trunk. As well as a spare wheel which has an inflated spare tire, you could also invest in a wheel wrench and tripod jack so you’ll be fully prepared if you have a flat tire.
Once you have checked your tires are adequately inflated and you have checked the treads, top up your windshield wash and check your oil levels, filling if needed.
If your vehicles’ windows are looking a little dirty, take it to the local car wash or give them a quick clean yourself – good visibility out of the windshield, plus the side and rear windows is essential for safety while driving.
Perform the following vehicle safety checks once a month
If you wash your car every Sunday, set a reminder once a month to check your vehicle’s oil levels, water, electrics and anti-freeze.
“Also, take a good look at your auto safety kit and replace anything that’s not in good working condition.”
Check your auto insurance coverage is up to date and covers all your current needs.
Keep a safety kit in your trunk
It’s a great idea to keep an auto safety kit with your spare wheel.
What should an auto safety kit include? - checklist
You can purchase ready-made auto safety kits, with some created especially for winter roads, but you can also put together your own. Include many of the following items:
A reflective neon high visibility vest which you can wear so other motorists can see you easily if you must leave your vehicle to walk and wait somewhere for help, perhaps to a diner or motel, for example.
Reflective hazard triangles which you can easily erect in front of and behind your car to warn other motorists to slow down.
A book with the telephone contact numbers of your auto insurance provider, your towing company and your loved ones and the office written down, you could also save these in your cell phone.
A battery powered charger for your cell phone – if your car battery is flat this will mean you don’t need to worry about not being able to call loved ones, and you’ll be able to communicate with your auto insurance and towing company.
Drinking water and high energy but non-perishable snacks, such as nuts, potato chips, or dried fruit.
A flashlight with spare batteries.
Jumper cables – these come in different sizes so ensure these are the right size for your vehicle’s battery.
A tow kit, including a rope.
First aid kit with gauze, tape, bandages, antiseptic cream, pain meds such as an anti-inflammatory or paracetamol, a blanket, non-latex gloves, scissors, hydrocortisone, thermometer, instant cold compress, and hand sanitizer. Any prescriptions you might need if away from home for longer than expected.
Spare cash – ‘always handy for tipping tow truck drivers, or for wait staff if you need to go to a diner for coffee.
A fire extinguisher designed for use with autos.
A cold weather kit including a shovel, a snow brush, shovel, windshield washer fluid, warm clothing, cat litter to use for traction under your tires if they get stuck on ice or snow, and warm blankets.
An overnight kit with a spare toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant. Include extras for each member of your family. Young children may need diapers, you might need spare contact lenses, for example.
You could also add other things to suit your family’s needs, if you have young children include coloring books to entertain them, if you have seniors in the family double check what they might need in case of an emergency and why not keep a photocopy of prescriptions for any essential medication in case you unexpectedly need to stay in a motel overnight while your vehicle is being towed?
Whilst vehicle safety is extremely important, a recent study showed 90 percent of auto accidents involved problems with the driver- such as fatigue, impairment, or distraction.
Never drive while emotional or tired
Multiple studies have found that driving whilst emotional is extremely dangerous. It’s almost as perilous as driving whilst impaired by alcohol. Motorists who are angry, sad, crying, or agitated, are almost ten times more likely to be involved in an auto accident than a driver who is calm and focused.
A major study - which was published in 2016 - fitted hidden cameras and sensors in the vehicles of 3,500 people aged between 16 and 98 for two years. This allowed researchers to gauge the most dangerous types of behavior behind the wheel that led up to an accident.
“Whilst it’s incredibly important to keep your vehicle safe and well maintained, flat tires and mechanical faults causing accidents are rare, instead driver error is overwhelmingly to blame in the majority of cases,” says Mark Chappell.
Researchers found that motorists who were overwhelmed by their emotions were 9.8 times more likely to have accidents than drivers who remained calm.
“If you’re feeling sad or mad, stay out of the car, or ask a friend to drive you instead,” Mark Chappell advises.
A huge safety issue for driver safety is fatigue on long journeys
“The National Safety Council’s 2020 report shows that drivers who experience concentration lapses on long journeys can often end up in fatal accidents,” says Mark.
“The fatality rate per every 100 miles driven by motorists rose by a staggering 24%, which sees the largest increase in these numbers since The National Safety Council first started gathering data in 1923.”
Do not allow yourself to become distracted while driving
Many of us love listening to our favorite music while driving or chatting to friends and family. But it’s not safe to allow your attention to wander whilst at the wheel.
“Scrolling social media, taking cell phone calls, replying to emails, changing the radio station, or doing anything that means your eyes aren’t on the road – if even just for a few seconds – more than doubles your risk of having an accident,” underlines Mark Chappell.
Researchers have found that younger drivers are more likely to engage in distractions while driving than their older counterparts.
A 2016 study revealed that almost 50% of drivers – of all ages - engaged in distracting behavior while on the road. That means half of all drivers have at some point put themselves at twice the risk of ending up in an auto accident.
“To drive safely, keep your focus on the road and if you need to perform another task, park safely, or take a longer break,” Mark adds.
Don’t reach for items you can’t see while driving
Many vehicles come with attractive added extras which can lead to you taking your eyes off the road. This might include tapping a change of location into a GPS, flicking through songs on a sound system, or taking calls from your vehicle’s cellphone system.
Perhaps you sometimes find yourself feeling for a bottle of water or can of soda that has rolled under the passenger seat.
Reaching for an item and having to feel around increases the risk of a collision or car crash by as much as nine times, compared with the risk of an accident while your eyes are on the road.
Don’t make calls on your cell while you’re at the wheel
Reaching for a static cell phone, for example one that’s on a holder or sitting in a fixed cradle, while you’re driving increases the risk of having an accident by as much as six times.
Typing on a cell that’s in your hand, for example tapping out an email or hitting the dial keys on your cell’s keypad while driving increases the risk of having an accident by 12 times, so it’s almost as dangerous as drunk driving, or driving whilst very tired.
When driving always know the speed limit and don’t drive fast or erratically, stay calm and aware of vehicles, pedestrians, and buildings around you.