We all know distracted driving is dangerous, but what about other dangerous activities drivers do? An article from Car and Driver has nine answers to this question.
Driving under the influence – Drunk driving causes accidents. Most traffic-related deaths are caused by drunk drivers. It’s a well-known fact that alcohol impairs your ability to drive, and more importantly, to react. So, follow common-sense guidelines like taking a taxi or using a designated driver if you’re planning a booze-fueled night on the town. Doing so can avoid tragic consequences. As laws governing the use of marijuana become relaxed in some places, it, too, has the potential to become a bigger part of the traffic-accident statistical mix. You may think you’re good at driving high, but chances are that you aren’t.
Driving tired – Drowsy driving is every bit as dangerous as drunk driving. When your body needs sleep, it’s going to get it, one way or another. People who insist on driving when they should stop for a rest will have slower reaction times and are likely to fall asleep at the wheel. Drivers who are sleepy or asleep tend to crash on high-speed roads, and they usually don’t do anything to avoid the crash in the moments before impact. So, if you feel yourself nodding off, pull off the road and grab a few Z’s someplace safe. You might get home later than planned, but that’s a small trade-off for your safety and that of the drivers sharing the road with you.
Speeding – Speeding is the second leading cause of traffic fatalities after drunk driving. According to a 2005 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “The relationship between vehicle speed and crash severity is unequivocal and based on the laws of physics.” The faster you are traveling when you crash, the more likely it is you’ll be pulverized. The IIHS study also points out that the likelihood of a crash increases when a driver goes above or below the average speed on a given roadway, although this has less to do with absolute speed and more to do with discrepancies between the speeds of those on the road. When everyone travels at the same general speed, things are more predictable, and the road is safer as a result.
Distracted Driving – You know the drill. Shave and/or put your makeup on at home, and turn off the cell phone while you’re driving. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that there are 660,000 distracted drivers on the road most of the time.
Driving too fast for the weather conditions – When the weather gets bad, slowing down is the best way to avoid an accident, even for highly trained drivers. This goes back to that physics thing. Unfortunately, not everyone gets that. All-wheel drive isn’t an excuse for driving fast in inclement weather. When the road surface is slippery, a 3500- to 5000-pound vehicle will probably lose traction if you need to slow down in a serious hurry. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 24 percent of all vehicle crashes are weather-related. That’s a good reason to slow down and leave a little space between your car and the one in front.
Drafting/hypermiling tractor trailers – Yes, following closely behind a tractor trailer can increase your fuel economy. That doesn’t mean you should do it. Drafting works for NASCAR drivers, so it makes sense that a 4000-pound car can “hide” in the low-pressure zone behind a 13-foot-tall, 80,000-pound big rig. Back in 2007, the TV show MythBusters even proved that it worked. But they also pointed out that following closer than 150 feet behind a truck is really dangerous. Even that distance gives a driver less than two seconds to react if the trucker suddenly slams on the brakes. Other things to consider are that truck drivers can’t see what’s directly behind them, and the relationship between trailer heights and car hood heights is a recipe for decapitation.
Reckless driving – Reckless driving is a good way to cause a crash. This includes swerving, weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the right, accelerating and braking suddenly, and yes, driving slowly in the left lane on the freeway, among other things. This goes back to predictability. If your movements in traffic are drastically different than those of other drivers, you’re more likely to cause an accident.
Not wearing a seatbelt – According to NHTSA, seatbelts saved more than 75,000 lives between 2004 and 2008. Airbags certainly make cars safer, but they’re designed to work in conjunction with seatbelts, which help prevent passenger ejection during high-speed crashes and rollovers. Really, putting on a seatbelt is such an easy thing to do, it’s almost incomprehensible that everyone doesn’t wear them. Also, consider that many accidents occur at low speeds near home, so even if you’re “just running down the street” on a quick errand, you need to buckle up. It matters.
Failure to yield the right of way – One of the leading causes of accidents, hands down, is failure to yield the right of way. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that it’s the top cause of accidents among drivers aged 70 and older, particularly on freeway merge ramps. In Uncommon Carriers, his book about long-haul truckers, John McPhee points out that space cadets in the merge lane are a constant source of teeth-grinding anxiety for the people driving 80,000-pound big rigs. Another facet of failure to yield that’s more prevalent in cities is running stop signs and red lights. Drivers coming from other directions expect the intersection to be clear when the light on their end turns green. Once again, predictability is good.