Every time you get behind the wheel, you are taking on a very big responsibility. One wrong decision could affect someone’s life, especially your own. In 2016, there were more than 37,000 car accident fatalities in the U.S., a 5.6% increase from 2015.
Some of the top causes of these fatal accidents? Risky and negligent behavior shown by the driver, like drugged driving, aggressive driving, texting behind the wheel, and so on. But sometimes unexpected complications within your vehicle or your neighbor's can put your ability to react safely to the test.
“Driving can be dangerous,” says Jared Staver, Managing Partner, Staver Law Group P.C., Chicago. “Car accidents are typically caused by driver negligence, but surprise situations can put even the most experienced of drivers into a hazardous position.” These situations most commonly include unknown maintenance problems, such as blow outs, problems with power steering, or problems with brakes.
“The freeway is no place to discover that your car has a mechanical problem,” he adds. “So regular upkeep and repeated checkups on a vehicle can prevent a driving emergency or a car accident. Whether it is a simple tire issue or something more serious with the engine, a faulty performing car can undoubtedly lead to an emergency situation behind the wheel.”
Other driver behaviors that can lead to a driving incident include:
- Overly aggressive drivers
- Drivers that interrupt the natural flow of traffic
- Exceeding the speed limit
- “Camping” in the passing lane
- Distracted driving (anything from texting to adjusting your mirrors while driving)
Safe Driving Tip #1: Plan Ahead
Staver advises getting yourself situated in the driver's seat before starting your trip. Prepare while you are parked and take care of these things before you hit the road:
- Adjust all of your mirrors
- Adjust the driver’s seat position
- Adjust the steering wheel position
- Choose your music
- Turn your phone off or set it to hands free.
He reminds drivers that taking your eyes off of the road for even a few seconds is enough to bring on a startling surprise situation that could lead to an emergency or car accident.
Safe Driving Tip #2: Be Aware
However, the way a person reacts to an emergency situation can be just as dangerous. Something as simple as drifting out of your own lane can lead to overcorrecting, which can cause you to hit another car or flip your car. For many people, the default reaction in a driving emergency is fueled by anxiety or panic, such as slamming on the brakes or overcorrecting.
According to Dr. Farrah Hauke, a licensed psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ, there is a scientific reason for these reactions.
“When exposed to a perceived threat, such as a car erratically swerving in front of us while we are driving, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode,” she explains. “This stress reaction happens naturally and automatically as part of our sympathetic nervous system. During such an event, our bodies react in ways that are conducive to either fighting or running away.”
These physiological reactions may include tightening of the muscles, rapid breathing, and increased heart rate. It is the body’s way of preparing to handle the situation in the way that is most likely to preserve life.
Safe Driving Tip #3: Stay Cool
Fortunately, we don’t have to be slaves to our impulses or give in to the fight-or-flight panic. While that reaction is hardwired in the human brain, being prepared and proactive in an emergency can give you some degree of control over an emergency situation.
“Driving safely is all about control,” Stavers says. “Drivers can avoid emergency situations by keeping their vehicle in a healthy condition and simply staying focused on the road ahead.”
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