Every time you get behind the wheel of a car, you take on a big responsibility for your own safety, the safety of your passengers and the safety of those with whom you share the road. It’s clear that there are plenty of dangerous drivers out there: they weave in and out of traffic, text while driving or, worse yet, exhibit road rage. While you can’t help what others do, you can help prevent accidents by paying attention to your own driving habits and being the best possible citizen of the streets that you can. Here are four simple ways that can help you avoid a car accident:
1. Limit distractions
Even on a rural road, there is enough you have to pay attention to—animals, slow-moving farm vehicles, poor road conditions and weather issues—without adding distractions inside your vehicle. Whether you’re on a city street, a country lane or an interstate highway, distracted driving is dangerous. Eating and putting on makeup while operating a vehicle take your attention away from driving. Give yourself an extra 10 minutes to take care of those things before getting behind the wheel. Texting and receiving or sending emails while driving is against the law in Texas, so don’t do it. In general, use of a cell phone while driving, even if hands-free, can amount to distracted driving and may be illegal in certain circumstances.
2. Observe all traffic laws
When you first took your road test to obtain a Texas drivers license, you were required to obey traffic laws. There was a reason why then and the reason doesn’t change once you’ve received a license. According to a 2016 study released by the National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while distracted driving remains the single greatest cause of vehicle accidents, speeding caused 10,111 deaths across the U.S. and showed a four percent increase in fatalities. When driving, pay attention to the posted speed limits and use your judgment regarding road and weather conditions. Don’t tailgate: use the 3-second rule to maintain a safe following distance. Use your signal when changing lanes or making turns.
3. Drive defensively
Make sure you know what’s going on around you at all times—and assume that other drivers aren’t. In addition to limiting your own distractions and obeying traffic laws, be especially careful of aggressive drivers who are constantly changing lanes, those who speed (and those who are driving too slowly for the posted limits and road conditions!), tailgaters and drivers who are on their cell phones or are otherwise not paying attention. Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you and brake early if you need to get space so you don’t have to jam on your own brakes. Awareness is the most important part of driving defensively.
4. Keep up with vehicle maintenance
While oil changes and spark plugs are critical to your car’s performance, few things are more important to safety than tires, brakes, and even windshield wiper blades. Here are the findings of one NHTSA study regarding the link between accidents and vehicle maintenance issues: “The most frequently occurring vehicle-related critical reason was tire failure or degradation/wheel failure, which was assigned in about 43 percent of the crashes, followed by brake failure/degradation that was assigned to 25 percent of the vehicles.” It’s important to check your tire pressure regularly and replace tires when they show signs of wear. Brakes don’t last forever, so make sure they are part of your regular car maintenance program. Lastly, good windshield wipers are critical to visibility and should be replaced when needed.