I have been driving for over 30 years and I provide the following safe driving tips, based on my experience. Bear in mind I have driven fire trucks for nearly twenty years, as well as sedans, vans and limousines. Driving in the city through the rural areas of the country.
Don’t Out-drive Your Headlights
I’m not talking about driving faster than the speed of light. That isn’t possible with today’s transportation – that I have experienced, anyway.
When driving down a dark road, hopefully your headlights will be on. At some point in the distance the effectiveness of your headlights diminishes. Other than reflectors, you cannot see the road or any objects that might be on it. The area before this point is your lighting distance.
If you are moving so fast that you cannot stop within the safe lighting distance, then you are out-driving your headlights. You cannot safely stop by time your headlights show something in your path or the road changes direction.
Using high-beams will help extend your safe lighting distance, but be aware of other vehicles. Mind the next tip for this.
Turn Off Your High Beams
Our eyes automatically adjust to the brightness of light. In the dark, your pupils dilate and allow you to see with less light. In bright light, your pupils get smaller to reduce the amount of light coming in. That means it is harder to see in the dark.
When there is another vehicle in front of you, your headlights are impacting their vision, just as the headlights of oncoming vehicles affect your vision. Change to your low beam when other vehicles are within about 1/4-mile of your position, regardless of their direction. Even if you’re going the same direction, your bright lights are impacting their vision.
Maintain a Safe Distance to the Next Vehicle
Tailgating is very dangerous, even if you think you can react rapidly. The vehicle in front of you is in a collision – they may stop instantly. Your foot is on the accelerator pedal, you need time to decide to stop and move your foot to the brake pedal – then you still need to stop. One second is not enough time, two seconds is barely enough depending on your reflexes and vehicle health.
As you are driving, notice a sign or utility pole next to the vehicle in front of you. Count the time between when they pass that object and you do. I’m not talking about saying one, two, three, etc. Say or think “One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three” to be fairly close to actual second lengths. Three seconds is reasonable, two seconds is pushing it, and anything else is dangerous.
Just as maintaining a safe distance to the vehicle in front of you, mind the vehicle beside you also. If driving next to another vehicle, you lose an area of safety if you need to suddenly swerve to avoid a collision. Be particularly observant of blind spots. Some vehicles now feature blind spot mirrors and/or side-view cameras to help improve side and rear vision. After market options are available also.
Perform Maintenance on Your Vehicle Regularly
Oil changes aren’t the only regular maintenance your vehicle needs. Your braking system, tires and more need to be in good health for safe driving.
If your tires, brake pads, rotors, drums, hoses or any other part of your braking system are worn, you might not be able to stop or control the vehicle well enough to avoid a collision. Not only that, worn or incorrectly inflated tires can rupture while in motion, causing you to lose control of the vehicle.
Windshield washer fluid is needed to clear the windshield when debris, like bugs or dirt, impede your view. Come to mention that – your wiper blades need to be in good condition along with the wiper motor and washer fluid pump.
Obey the Speed Limit
The speed limit is posted for a reason. It’s not to annoy people – the man is holding you down. Safe speeds are usually determined scientifically based[ref] I’m not saying there aren’t bogus speed limits imposed to trap people into paying fines.[/ref] on conditions for that specific road, such as traffic density, road patterns and surrounding properties.
Exceeding the speed limit puts you and people in your surroundings in danger. Pay particular attention to school zones and other conditional speed restrictions.
Save the crazy driving for video games.
While you’re at it, don’t rush to the speed limit. Rapid acceleration consumes more fuel and produces more pollution. In the ten years that I drove a Toyota Prius, I learned a lot about careful acceleration and best practices to maintain speed and save fuel.
Watch for Changing Conditions
Following the previous point, changing conditions like water or debris on the road will impact your ability to safely control your vehicle. Safe driving relies on paying close attention to everything in your path or about to enter your path of travel.
Even wind has an impact on your driving. I’m not talking about wind resistance in regard to forward motion. I’m talking about crosswind. Depending on the strength of the wind and your vehicle’s aerodynamics, a crosswind can alter your intended travel direction by pushing your vehicle sideways. Lightweight and large boxy vehicles, even trailers, have been know to be rolled or picked up by a strong enough gust of wind.
Rain not only makes roads slippery, puddles of water can cause tires to lose contact with the road surface. This is called hydroplaning. Similar to being on ice, when you hydroplane you have very limited control of the vehicle, including loss of steering or braking ability.
Autonomous Safety Features
Many of today’s vehicles have safety features including autonomous braking and lane departure warning.1 Under many conditions, these can save your life and those around you, but there are still instances where human judgement and reaction will still prevail. Don’t let these safety features lead you to being lazy about safe driving.
Safe Driving Summary
Just quick bullet points to summarize the above information.
- Don’t out-drive your headlights. Use your high-beams and slow down when driving at night.
- Turn off your high-beams for other drivers. Only use them when you are the only vehicle in the area.
- Keep a safe distance between vehicles. Stay at least two full seconds behind the vehicle in front of you.
- Maintain your vehicle. A vehicle in good condition is safer to drive.
- Obey posted speed limits. Speed limits are established for the safety of everyone on that road.
- Be aware of changing conditions and slow down. Rain, leaves or other debris on the road, curved roads, etc.
- Don’t let automation beat you. Autonomous braking and other features are no excuse for driving dangerously2.
Safe driving doesn’t stop there. It is learned over time as you experience more behind the wheel.