Defensive Driving

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The National Safety Council reports that 1.6 million people were victims to disabling injuries from motor vehicle collisions and an additional 45,000 persons were killed on America's highways in 1994.

With 85 percent of all traffic accidents related to driver error, safety experts agree that it is a combination of good skills and reflexes, a properly maintained vehicle, and most important, a positive attitude that will reduce accidents. The following safety tips can be used as a reminder of recognizing hazards and avoiding injury.

Maintain Vehicles
Defensive driving depends on a vehicle that is well maintained. When it performs well, your vehicle can help you out of tight spots. If it is running poorly, it can cause a collision. The following elements should be checked once every six months at a minimum:

Cooling system (radiator, cap, thermostat and hoses)
Brakes and brake fluid
Belts (fan, alternator, and air conditioning)
Tires (including the spare)
Engine fluids (motor oil, transmission fluid, coolant)
Wiper blades

Never Tailgate
Tailgating is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents. Safety experts recommend using the two-second rule which provides a minimum safe following distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. Of course, weather, roadwork, or other conditions should be considered when determining a safe following distance.

The two-second rule works as follows: Start counting when the car ahead of you passes a fixed object, such as a tree or telephone pole. Count "one thousand and one, one thousand and two" measuring two seconds. If your car reaches that fixed object before you stop counting you're too close. Ease off the accelerator a mile or so per hour. This will widen the gap. Then check your following distance once more.

If your being tailgated, use a four second following distance and slow down. This will encourage the driver who's tailgating you to pass your vehicle.

When you haul a trailer or camper, add one second to your following distance for every ten feet of additional length. The added weight of the trailer requires longer stopping distance for your vehicle.

Yield the Right of Way
Failure to yield the right-of-way causes almost every intersection collision. You can prevent an intersection crash and avoid a citation if you adhere to the rules of the road and always yield the right-of-way.

As you approach an intersection where the light has been green for a while, get ready for the light to change. Cover the brake with your right foot and be prepared to stop. When you're stopped at a red light and it turns green, check to see that traffic has stopped on the intersecting street. Look left, then look right, then scan left before you proceed. You invite disaster when you bolt through an intersection without checking traffic.

A yellow light does not mean jam the accelerator to the floor and race through the intersection. A yellow light allows time to clear an intersection when you're driving through it, not when you're approaching it.

Drivers do not have the right to make a right turn on red at every red light. Turning right on a red light is allowed only when conditions are suitable and when:

No sign prohibits a right on red.
Your vehicle has come to a complete stop in the extreme right lane.
Traffic is clear.
Pedestrians are clear of the crosswalk.

Pass with Care
Keep these pointers in mind when you pass other vehicles:

Make sure you're in a passing zone.
Be certain there is no oncoming traffic.
Check behind you for vehicles that may be trying to pass you.
When all your blind spots are clear, signal to pass.
Move into the passing lane and accelerate.
When you can spot the front tires of the vehicle you're passing in your rear-view mirror, signal your move into your original lane.
Move into the lane ahead of the vehicle you've passed.
Cancel your directional signal
Maintain a legal speed. Don't continue to accelerate into an accident or a traffic citation.

Remember these passing rules when another vehicle is passing you:

Move to the right side of your lane.
Get ready to slow down in case the driver passing you has misjudged his or her maneuver.

Bad Weather Tips
Rain, fog and snow make driving difficult. Visibility can be significantly reduced and road surfaces become slick. Observing the following inclement weather tips will reduce your risk of becoming involved in an accident:

Use low beam headlights. High beams reflect water vapor and make it harder to see.
Watch the road to see if the vehicle ahead is leaving tire tracks. If it is not, slow down to prevent hydroplaning.
If your car goes into a skid, don't hit the brakes. Take your foot off the accelerator. Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the car to go. Use moderate turns of the wheel until you come out of the skid; don't overcorrect.
Slow down as you approach shaded areas, such as bridges and overpasses, in the winter. These sections freeze first and stay frozen long after the sun hits them.

Don't Drink and Drive
Alcohol is involved in about half of all fatal traffic accidents. Alcohol slows reaction time, blurs and distorts vision and impairs distance judgement. Don't drink and drive and don't ride with anyone who has been drinking!

Don't become the victim of an alcohol-impaired driver. Steer clear of drivers who are:

Drifting or weaving.
Traveling at erratic speeds.
Giving inconsistent signals.
Braking erratically.
Stopping without apparent cause.
Driving with their head out of the window or with the window rolled down in cold weather.
Driving into opposing or crossing traffic.
Driving with tires on lane marker.
Slow to respond to traffic signals.

The most dangerous time to drive is 2:00 am on Sunday morning. That's when many exhausted and impaired drivers, eager to get home after a night of partying are on the road. Your best defense is to remain alert, prepared, and keep your vehicle in sound mechanical condition. Don't drive under the influence, and refine your driving habits keeping these tips in mind.