Most of us spend a great deal of time in our car. And frankly, we may not always drive as courteously or safely as we should, potentially putting ourselves and others in danger. Let's resolve to actively curb dangerous driving behaviors this coming year.
Even though vehicle fatalities are at their lowest level since 1949 at 32,367 for 2011, there are still too many lives impacted by crashes. While automotive design and safety features are making a difference, a key factor to further reducing injuries and deaths is modifying driver behavior.
In the spirit of New Year's resolutions, we list some of our suggestions below on how to be a safer driver in 2013 and beyond.
I resolve to:
- Never drink and drive. Over 9,800 people died in drunk driving car crashes in 2011 (over 30 percent of all traffic fatalities). If you plan on drinking, make sure you have a designated driver, hand over your keys, or call a cab.
- Not use my cell phone behind the wheel. In 2011, over 3,300 people died in crashes related to using a cell phone or texting while driving. Put the phone down or pull over to use it. If you can't control the urges, use an app to block the phone from being operated while driving or make use of vehicle/phone interfaces such as Bluetooth that makes phone use much safer.
- Drive the speed limit. Speeding is a factor in about one-third of all fatal crashes. With high-speed crashes, the forces are so severe, it's hard to maintain survival space in the vehicle and the body can be traumatized from the deceleration and impact, even without hitting vehicle structure. In addition, when you crash at high speeds, air bags and safety belts cannot protect occupants to their maximum benefit because of the force, so injury levels become severe.
- Always buckle up. New research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that nationwide seat belt use is at 86 percent, an all-time high. However, many people are still killed because they simply failed to buckle up. Seat belts save over 12,000 lives a year by protecting passengers from hitting hard vehicle surfaces or being ejected from the vehicle in a crash. Make it a habit to buckle each and every time--even for short drives--and don't start driving until you know passengers are buckled, as well.
- Yield to pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrians make up 13 percent of all motor vehicle-related deaths each year and bicyclists less than 2 percent. Drivers need to be especially diligent around crosswalks and remember to look both ways for bikes even on one-way streets. Likewise, pedestrians need to be aware of their surroundings, not walk distracted, and wear bright and/or reflective clothing.
- Always use a proper car seat. Children under age 8 should be secured in a proper car seat and all children under 12 should be in the back seat. (See our car seat advice for the ages and weights of the various types of car seats available.)
- Wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. Studies show that the use of motorcycle helmets is 42-percent effective at preventing deaths and 69-percent effective at reducing head injuries.
- Protect teen drivers. If you're the parent of a teen driver, make sure they follow all the graduated licensing rules in your state. If they are not strict enough, enforce your own rules such as always wearing a seat belt, no texting, limit teen passengers, and prohibit late-night driving. (See 10 tips for teen drivers and their parents.)
- Be more fuel efficient. Driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle will not only impact your wallet, but it can contribute toward national petroleum independence. If you're not in the market for a new car, you can be more fuel efficient in your existing car by not idling, combining trips, keeping your tires properly inflated, and obeying the speed limit.
- Maintain your vehicle and tires. Performing regular tire checks and routine maintenance will help to ensure your vehicle will stay in optimal condition. This will aid performance, fuel economy, and tire wear.
We wish you safe travels in 2013.
Learn more about car safety.
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2013 New Car Preview
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Complete Ratings for 200 cars and trucks
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