Simple Driving Practices to Avoid Car Accidents

Intersection AccidentCredit: By Shuets Udono ( [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I spend at least a couple of hours a day driving as a commuter and the thing I want to do most in that time is avoid a car accident. 

For the last ten years I’ve been commuting an hour each way, 43 miles, on interstate, four lane commercial and local streets.  215,000 miles I figure, with only two minor accidents: one standing still, the other at about 25 MPH, and both avoidable if I’d been practicing some of the points listed below.  These don’t come from the National Safety Council, but from my personal observations on driving and drivers.  Therefore there’s room for discussion, and I’d like to hear some, but they seem to work for me and are ones that I’d share with my kids. In no particular order:

Don’t be the first one to enter the intersection when the light turns green. 
Red light running happens. It’s easy to assume that green light means it’s safe to go so why bother looking right or left before starting out. But the car will come out of nowhere and if you’re the first one out, you’ll be the one getting T-boned.  If you find that you are first and way ahead of everyone else, that might also be a time to check whether you’re being a little too aggressive in your driving.

Be on high alert if you have to stop in an unusual spot. 
You’re on a street travelling at a good speed and the guy ahead has stopped to turn left, or there’s a cow in the road or there’s someone who doesn’t know how to merge into moving traffic.  Whatever, but now you’re stopped and you’ve become a sitting duck because you’re not moving either and you’re in a place where the guy coming up behind you at 40 MPH doesn’t expect or realize that you’re stopped until he’s about 50 feet away. This is especially true at night when distances and movement seem harder to judge.

After getting rear-ended because of this (my accident #1), I’ve decided that when I get put in this situation the flashers come on immediately.  That’s what they’re for; to show a stopped vehicle.  They’re not to indicate that it’s raining hard and I’m driving slowly. Flashers mean I’m stopped and I want to get moving safely again as soon as I can.

I play a game with other cars.
Now that sounds like the beginning of bad advice for sure.  Many drivers will signal their next move before their blinkers go on.  A slight shift to one side of the lane, a head movement, a premature turn signal, the back seat driver’s hand gestures can tell a lot about where that car is going next.  So my game is trying to predict when a neighboring driver is going to take an exit, change lanes, speed up, select a different toll lane or make some other decision.  I don’t like surprises from other drivers and this game gives me something to do on the interstate.

Look through the car in front of you to see what the car ahead is doing.

This is all about getting lead time on changes in the traffic flow.  If you include watching the car ahead of the car in front of you then you’ve doubled your reaction time if the pace of traffic changes suddenly.  If you’re following a truck or something that prevents you from doing this it’s OK to slow down and open the space with the truck you’re following to gain that reaction time, or change lanes.

Avoid the middle lane in heavy traffic.
I drive an interstate with six lanes of traffic divided by a concrete barrier.  It has a wide outside shoulder and room next to the fast lane to one day put in another lane.  Commuting traffic moves at about 60 MPH, but is dense with limited changes to change lanes.  Under those conditions I think it’s OK to travel in the passing lane as long as I keep my speed up.  The experts say stick to the middle or slow lane except to pass as the bad accidents happen in the fast lane. But if I’m in the middle lane I’ve got nowhere to go if something goes wrong and the slow lane is full of mergers.  Some people have told me that they make better time in the middle lane under stop and go conditions, but I usually like the roominess of the edges.
open laneCredit: By Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Stay one car length behind the car ahead for every 10 MPH that you’re travelling.
This is a classic rule of thumb, and it’s the right one for estimating safe following distance.

Stay out of the other guy’s blind spot.
We hear a lot about remembering to check our blind spot before changing lanes.  That’s because a lot of people don’t check it.  And if you’re cruising along and sitting in the other guy’s blind spot, guess what’s going to happen next.  Still I see a lot of drivers sitting in a car’s blind spot. I’ve caught myself doing it.  Muster your courage and complete your pass of the car or fall back into a safer place.

Avoid the right hand lane on local streets.
If I’m driving for a distance in a commercial area with lots of curb cuts and intersections, the big threat comes from your right with drivers bolting into traffic in front of you or the guy ahead suddenly remembering he was supposed to pick up the dry cleaning and does an emergency stop to make the turn.  The right lane is too crazy to stay in for long – unless I’m picking up the laundry.

Watch oncoming traffic.
If you’re on a divided highway this isn’t as important, but otherwise don’t get complacent and assume that oncoming traffic will stay where they should.  According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll, 60% of adult drivers – about 168 million people – say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than one-third, (37% or 103 million people), have actually fallen asleep at the wheel! In fact, of those who have nodded off, 13% say they have done so at least once a month.

While most nod offs happen after midnight and before dawn, the third highest period is between 2 and 4 in the afternoon.  It’s been a long day, you had a big lunch, maybe even a martini or two to go with it and, yawn…

Accidents don’t just happen.
There’s always a cause.  If you have a close call, don’t just blow your horn or flip him the bird – well, if it helps you get through it, maybe that’s OK – but think about what happened and how it could have been avoided.  Maybe it was the other guy’s fault 100%, but there’s probably something you could have done to avoid the situation.  Think about what it might have been and do it the next time.  There are no points awarded for being dead right.

Stay away from other cars.
This one is pretty much the basis of all the others.  Don’t drive as part of a pack of cars.  The more room around you the more reaction time you have.  If you keep your wits about you while driving and keep your distance from others who may have only half their wits, chances are you’ll have a happy drive home.Open Road(121630)Credit: By Martin Greslou (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons