Summer is a tempting time to let your hair down, to hit the road, and to throw caution the wind. But before you do, make sure your easy, breezy ways won’t have lasting repercussions.
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June is National Safety Month, and you can contribute simply by checking your driving habits. With car accidents still a leading cause of death, it’s worth reminding yourself to avoid these poor driving practices:
1. Texting While Driving
Despite the well-known fact that texting while driving is dangerous, drivers have a difficult time disconnecting when behind the wheel. The number of car accidents involving cell phones has increased since last year—and now stands at 26% of all crashes, according to the National Security Council.
Make a habit of putting your cell phone away when you’re driving. Silence it or stash it away if you struggle to stay focused on the road. In many states, it's the law.
2. Talking While Driving
Texting isn’t the only way your mobile device can distract you. NSC research shows that while 5% of crashes involve texting, four times as many accidents occur while drivers are talking on their cell phones, including hands-free devices.
Just because you can use your device hands-free doesn’t mean that it’s distraction free. Cognitive distractions, like having a conversation, can be as dangerous as physical ones, like holding your cell phone to your ear. Don’t fall prey to the misconception that calling, even with a hands-free device, is a safe alternative to texting when you’re in the driver’s seat.
When you combine accidents involving texting and talking, over a quarter of all accidents could have been prevented if drivers had put down their cell phones. Make it a point to quit texting, talking, and fiddling with other mobile features while driving.
3. Driving Under the Influence
This one seems like a no-brainer, but the numbers speak for themselves. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, someone in the US dies every 51 minutes in an alcohol-impaired-driving accident. Deaths are more frequent around holidays, like New Years and the Fourth of July.
The summer months offer plenty of opportunities to celebrate—at barbecues, on vacations, and over holiday weekends—but none warrant driving drunk. Make arrangements ahead of time: designate a sober driver, have the phone number of a cab company handy, or celebrate without the sauce if you have to drive yourself.
Fatality is the worst-case scenario, but less serious outcomes are still, well, serious. Getting pulled over while intoxicated and charged with a DUI could lead to jail time, heavy fines, and loss of driving privileges.
4. Driving While Sleep-Deprived
Thinking about pulling an all-nighter? Make sure you have a ride. Studies have shown that driving while sleep-deprived is as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Being awake for 24 hours is equivalent to blowing a BAC of .10 (.08 is legally drunk). Although there is no way to test how sleep deprived a driver is, drowsy driving can result in accidents and severe legal penalties.
If you’re prone to drowsy driving (which is especially the case for adults 18 to 29 and for parents with young children), know when to stay off the road. Pull over to nap if you feel yourself nodding off while driving.
5. Not Wearing a Seatbelt
If you forgo wearing a seatbelt because you’re confident in your driving skills, you’re forgetting an important, uncontrollable part of the road: other drivers.
Wearing a seatbelt protects you from what’s beyond your control. You can’t guarantee that other drivers are sober, undistracted, and focused on the road. Case in point: a 2012 estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration speculates that during daylight hours, 9% of drivers are talking on their cell phones.
Don’t gamble on something that's out of your hands. It’s easier to buckle up.
6. Driving an Unmaintained Car
Another way to surrender your control on the road is to drive a vehicle that isn’t well-maintained. No amount of driving skill can make up for an unreliable car.
The NHTSA recently reported that tire-related crashes alone totaled 11,000 this year, 200 of which were fatal. Simply keeping enough air in your tires and rotating them regularly can prevent accidents—not to mention save you money on fuel and repair costs. Don't blow out a tire or your budget by falling behind on maintenance.
Attending to vehicle upkeep ensures better performance and more safety for you and your passengers.
You can still be wild and free this summer, but avoid these major driving mistakes to stay safe and in the sunshine.