WASHINGTON, April 15, 2013 – After you understand that safe driving starts with paying attention, as in buckling your seatbelt and not speeding, you should learn more about this critical topic. You owe it to yourself and your family.
My law practice involves representing injured people, mostly people who are automobile accident victims. In the process, I have been involved in some unbelievable stories.
One client was following a vehicle on a major highway only to see that vehicle stop suddenly without warning, leaving almost no time for this client to react. My client clipped the rear end of the lead vehicle as she swerved to avoid the collision. It turns out that the front passenger in the lead vehicle had decided to perform a sex act on the driver, and in so doing moved the gearshift, causing the vehicle to stop. The passenger and the driver of this vehicle were teenagers.
Thus, Advanced Safety Rule #1: No sex while driving. Rule #1a: Passengers must always wear seatbelts.
Another of my clients was injured many years ago when she reached over from the back seat to grab the steering wheel, causing the driver to lose control in the ensuing struggle. This client initially lied to me about the sequence of events, significantly failing to tell me the part where she grabbed hold of the steering wheel. I dropped the case, but came to appreciate the need for the enforcement of rule #1a: Passengers must always wear seatbelts. In this case, observing this rule would have prevented the back seat passenger from grabbing the steering wheel.
According to humor writer Dave Barry, the one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or economic status, is that deep down inside we ALL believe we are above-average drivers.
Clearly, at least half of us are not.
Do you think you’re a good driver? So do 99 percent of people currently on the road, according to a National Safety Council survey. Ninety three percent of you (not me, of course) fail to follow basic safety practices like turning off cellphones or obeying the speed limit.
Please acknowledge your potential shortcomings. Even with the advanced vehicle safety features built into many of today’s vehicles, don’t take it for granted that your car is going to protect you 100 percent of the time.
Most of us now drive safer cars and most of our roads are safer compared to ten years ago. Advertisements and public safety information campaigns have made most of us safer drivers. In 2010, the most current year of available statistics (from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), there were 2.24 million automobile collisions in the United States where an injury or death was reported. This translates to 4.26 injuries caused by an automobile collision every minute. In 2010, there were 32,885 deaths. In 2011, there were 32,310 reported deaths caused by automobile collisions (the number of injury collisions was not available).
Even though improvements in technology will continue to reduce the number of collisions, the most important fact to appreciate is that most car accidents are the result of human error.
In 2011, drunk drivers caused 32% of all collisions. Speeders caused 31% and distracted drivers caused 16% of all collisions.
Whether you are just learning to drive or if you’ve been behind the wheel for decades, you should always keep some rules in mind to assure both your safety and the safety of those around you.
Let’s start with the basic rules and explain the “why” behind each one. After all, understanding why you should do something leads to better and more informed compliance than when you’re simply told to do something.
Do not drive after you have consumed alcohol.
Alcohol causes impairments that lead to accidents. Even small amounts of alcohol reduce reaction time and coordination while lowering inhibitions, which in turn can cause drivers to make foolish choices. At higher consumption levels, alcohol causes blurred or double vision and even loss of consciousness.
You must make a conscious choice not to drink if the car keys are in your pocket. Thinking that someone else will drive later or that you will call a taxi is fine, but that is simply challenging death–never a good idea.
Do not speed.
Remember the public service campaign warning “speed kills?” Research has shown that for every mile per hour you drive, the likelihood of your being in an accident increases by four to five percent. As you drive faster, the risk increases much more rapidly.
For your average drive across town, driving even 10 miles per hour faster is only going to save you a few minutes, while increasing your crash risk by as much as 50 percent. On longer trips the time you’ll save is inconsequential compared to the risks associated with speeding. If you are concerned about the time, just leave earlier.
Put down that cell phone.
Distracted driving is the third highest cause of accidents.
Many states have passed laws that ban or limit the use of cell phones while driving. The reason is the number of resultant deaths: approximately 2,600 every year. If you think that talking and texting while driving isn’t a big deal, consider this: One researcher compared the reaction time of a 20-year-old driver talking on a cell phone to that of a 70-year-old driver. The older driver, not distracted, fared significantly better in reaction time and awareness of surrounding measures. Using a cell phone can delay reaction times by as much as 20 percent.
Assume everyone else is an idiot.
You can be doing everything right. Others on the roadway may not be doing the same. In other words, always be prepared for unpredictable lane changes, sudden stops, swerving, tailgating and every other bad driving behavior imaginable. Inevitably, you are going to have to deal with others’ bad driving. It pays to be ready and to anticipate.
It’s impossible to list all the things another driver might do, but there are a few common examples. If you’re pulling out of a driveway into traffic and an oncoming car has its turn signal on, don’t assume it’s actually turning. You might pull out only to find that turn signal has been blinking since 2006.
If you’re approaching an intersection where you have the right of way, and another approaching car has the stop sign, don’t assume the other car will actually stop. As you approach, take your foot off the gas and be prepared to stop.
One in three Americans admitted to driving through a red light or stop sign without coming to a complete stop in a poll commissioned by Volvo Cars. That means that even if you’ve got the green, you could be in the right, but you could also be dead wrong.
Yield anyway, even if you have the right of way. Look both ways and then look both ways again. Know what it takes to bring your vehicle to a complete stop.
A few more thoughts
Deer: Deer can be cute (like Bambi), and they can be deadly if they’re either on or near roadways. If you have no other choice when suddenly coming upon a deer, hit the deer. Do not over-swerve. The likelihood is you will lose control or cause an accident. If you approach a deer in the roadway at a moderate speed, slow, stop, blow your horn, flash your lights, and wait until it moves. Deer travel in groups, so if you see one, there are probably more.
If you do hit a deer, stay away from it. Wild animals, particularly when injured, can inflict injuries on humans as well. Call the police.
Trains: Trains are bigger and faster than your car. Never race a train to the crossing. Even if you tie, you lose. The train you see is closer and moving faster than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.
Driving when tired: More than half of us admit to driving while drowsy and one in five drivers say they have nodded off or fallen asleep at the wheel during the past 12 months, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Pay attention to your body. Constant yawning, a nod of the head, heavy eyelids, blurred vision and lane drifting are warning signs that you may be on the verge of falling asleep. Stop driving. Rolling down the window, drinking coffee and cranking up the stereo are only temporary fixes. You’ll feel more refreshed if you take a 20-minute power nap.
Aggressive driving: Some driving behaviors qualify as “aggressive,” including speeding, tailgating, and, counter-intuitively, driving slowly in the passing lane. A single aggressive act by one driver can trigger escalating responses from other drivers. Be aware and avoid reacting in impatience or anger. It is better to get home and tell everyone about the idiot you saw.
And finally, always remember that brakes are there for a reason. Push harder. Push even harder! You’ll be glad you did.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show, the featured legal analyst for America’s Radio News Network, heard in 165 markets nationwide, and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.
His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website. Others can obtain it via Amazon.
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