Preventing Car Accidents
According to New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles, there were 9,185,181 vehicles registered in the State as of 2013. 20% of those cars were owned by residents of New York City. But you don’t need statistics to know that driving in New York can be a challenge.
It’s not just your own actions you have to think about; it’s everyone else on the road, too. This is the point of “defensive driving,” which is both a set of best practices and a mind-set. Defensive driving aims to “save lives, time and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.”
Once you’ve got the basics of defensive driving down, you won’t just be following the rules of the road. You’ll be anticipating dangers ahead, including the mistakes of others.
10 Defensive Driving Basics
Many of defensive driving’s core tenets will probably seem obvious to you. Most of us already know how we should driving to keep ourselves and others safe, but doing and knowing are two very different things.
Think of these tips as reminders.
1. Pay Attention
New York City’s motor vehicle accident statistics make it clear: distracted driving leads to more crashes than any other human factor.
Defensive drivers keep their eyes and minds on the road at all times, which is really just common sense, but how many of us can actually say that we’re always focused on our driving?
Performing any task while you’re driving, other than holding your hands at 10 and 2 o’clock, is a bad practice.
According to a study performed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, teenage drivers are distracted by something almost 25% of the time they spend behind the wheel. Adults are no better: 49% admit to texting while driving.
2. Think Ahead
While you’re driving, keep your eyes moving. Scan the traffic up ahead for potentially dangerous behavior and slowing traffic. The point here is to anticipate problems, before they actually affect you.
And use those mirrors regularly to check for vehicles behind. Then put that shoe on the other foot. Assume that other drivers cannot see you. Most people only check their side mirrors right before a lane change, so never hang out in another driver’s blind spot.
At all times, you should be prepared for a crash. You can’t control the actions others, and even the most vigilant drivers don’t notice everything. Wear your seat belt every time, and make sure to review the 9 steps every driver should follow after an accident here.
3. Two Seconds Is All It Takes
Almost 20% of all accidents in New York City are contributed to by following too closely.
When traffic is moving at a good clip, use a stationary object up ahead to gauge your distance from the car in front. When it passes the object, start counting: “One Mississippi, two Mississippi.” If you pass the object before you’re done counting, you’re following too closely. If the car stops abruptly, without warning, you probably won’t have enough time to stop yourself.
In traffic, following the “two second rule” might feel silly or inconveniencing. But it’s more important here, where most rear ends happen, than anywhere else. If other cars use the gap you’ve left to cut in front of you, don’t get angry. Just remember that they’re more likely to crash than you are.
4. Maintain The Speed Of Traffic, Intelligently
Unsafe speed contributes to around 14% of all crashes in New York. And driving too slow can be just as dangerous as too fast. Instead, pace yourself against the other cars on the road.
Maintain the flow of traffic, unless everyone else is well above the speed limit. If that’s the case, stay in the right lane, drive at a speed near the limit where you feel comfortable, and let others pass you on the left.
5. Indicate Your Intentions First
One of the most maddening driving behaviors is switching lanes or taking off-ramps without signaling first. It’s also extremely dangerous: researchers from the Society of Automotive Engineers found that 48% of drivers failed to use their turn signals when changing lanes, and the problem led to an estimated 2 million crashes annually.
6. Be Adaptable
When the weather changes, so should your driving. Slow down in rain and snow, which can decrease your tires’ grip on the road and lower visibility. It’s also a good idea to increase the “two second rule” to three seconds. Most inclement weather makes it more difficult to stop on a dime.
If you feel unsafe, pull over. Just remember that your harm is more important than any appointment.
But here’s a crucial point: if you pull over, and visibility is poor, turn off your lights. In snow and rain, many drivers follow the lights of other cars to stay on the right track. If they see your lights, but your on the shoulder, they might follow you right off the road.
7. Don’t Be Aggressive
Aggressive driving is hard to define, but most of us know it when we see it.
Cutting other people off? That’s aggressive. Speeding? Aggressive, too. Going out of your way to instigate conflict, like flipping someone the bird? Definitely aggressive.
Defensive driving is everything aggressive driving is not. If someone else angers you, resist the urge to respond. If the only option other than waiting in a line of cars is cutting someone else off, choose the former.
9. Maintain Your Vehicle
Almost 4% of all motor vehicle accidents in New York State are caused by vehicular malfunction. And almost half of those resulted in personal injury.
Check your tire pressure regularly and make sure that it meets the manufacturer’s specifications. Most cars have a sticker inside the driver-side door that lists the correct tire pressure in pounds per square inch (PSI).
If your brakes feel soft, or vibrate when you press down, visit a mechanic as soon as possible.
And never shirk your responsibility to get your vehicle inspected. New York State requires inspections every 12 months.
10. Familiarize Yourself With New York’s “Rules Of The Road”
Need a refresher in State driving regulations? Check out this quick guide to the most important laws on New York’s SafeNY website.
Out of the over 38,000 motor vehicle accidents investigated by the NYPD in 2013, 20% were caused by a driver’s failure to yield the right of way. Here are the basics:
- Approaching an intersection? Drivers already stopped there have the right of way.
- If you reach an intersection at the same time as another driver going in the opposite direction, whoever is turning left has to wait for the other driver to pass or turn right.
- At intersections with stop signs and no other traffic signals, drivers to your left have the right of way if you both reach the intersection at the same time.
- Pulling into traffic from a driveway or alley? Cars already on the main road, along with pedestrians, have the right of way.
- Pedestrians always have the right of way.
- If traffic beyond the intersection is backed up, and you’d have to sit in the middle, wait for the lane to clear before proceeding.
- Drivers already in a traffic circle have the right of way.
How Much Does A Car Accident Cost?
According to Verisk Analytics, an insurance industry research group, the average crash victim made claims totaling $3,073 for vehicle damage and $14,635 for personal injury in 2012.
Beyond saving your family and loved ones money and grief, avoiding crashes can save the State of New York a ton of money.
In New York, approximately 1,100 drivers, passengers and pedestrians are fatally injured in motor vehicle crashes every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, one year of these tragic deaths costs the State $1.33 billion:
- $18 million in medical costs
- $1.31 billion in lost work (includes salary, benefits and the value of household tasks a person would have earned or performed in the course of their lifetime)
In 2013, 28% of the State’s fatal crashes occurred in New York City. That amounts to $3.274 billion lost.
Only six States in the Union: California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas, bear higher economic and social burdens as New York.
Surprisingly, New Jersey, America’s most densely-populated State, incurs only 50% of the lost dollars that New York does.