When new drivers are confident that they have prepared their vehicles and themselves for the road, they can be alert to changing road conditions rather than worrying self-consciously about themselves.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the risk of motor vehicle crashes is especially high in the first few months after teens get their driver’s license. The risk of being in a car accident is higher for teens 16 to 19 than for any other age group, and drivers in that 16-19 age group are almost three times as likely to be in a fatal crash as drivers 20 and older.
To avoid becoming overwhelmed by motor vehicle safety procedures, simplify them into categories: preparing your vehicle, preparing yourself, and preparing for road conditions and other drivers.
Prepare Your Vehicle
Adjust your car’s headrest so that it is right behind your head, not your neck. This will minimize the risk of whiplash injury should you be in a crash.
To adjust the driver’s seat, sit with your bottom against the backrest and slide the seat so your knee is slightly bent when the pedals are fully depressed. Rest your shoulders on the backrest and set the backrest tilt so that the steering wheel is easy to reach with slightly bent elbows.
When your rear-view and side-view mirrors are angled correctly, a car coming from behind in the lane next to yours will appear in your rear-view mirror, then in your side-view mirror, and then in your peripheral vision. This will take place smoothly, without that vehicle ever being out of your sight in a blind spot, writes Collin Woodard for Autos CheatSheet, crediting the “Car Talk” guys for this technique.
To adjust the driver’s-side mirror, lean your head against the left side window and move the mirror so that you can just barely see your car’s left side in the right side of the mirror, AAA writes. To adjust the passenger-side mirror, sit up straight and lean about the same distance toward the passenger’s seat as you leaned against your window. Then adjust that mirror to give you the same view outside the right side of your vehicle. To test the mirrors’ positioning, watch from your parked car as a vehicle coming from behind you in the left lane transitions from mirror to mirror to your peripheral vision.
Even properly positioned mirrors may not prevent blind spots, so always look to the sides of your vehicle before driving your car to either side and always turn around and look behind you before backing up, unless you have a backup camera screen on your dashboard.
Leave your headlights on, even during the day, to stay visible to others on the road, both drivers and pedestrians.
Turn off your phone and turn the radio down. You will be a safer driver without the distractions. Colorado law prohibits drivers younger than 18 from using a phone in any way (talking or texting) while driving. If you ignore that law, you can be fined and might wind up losing your drivers license. If you don’t trust yourself to ignore your phone while driving, it is best to put the phone where you can’t reach it, like the back of your vehicle.
Studies have shown that any use of phones while driving, even hands-free, is dangerous and can result in a crash from lack of attention to driving.
Allow time to get where you’re going, to reduce the temptation to speed. There are good reasons for speed limits. When you drive over the speed limit, the chance of serious injury or death doubles for every 10 miles per hour over 50 mph.
Turning too quickly or applying the brakes too sharply when you are speeding can cause your vehicle to go out of control. And if you are speeding, it takes you longer to stop. The rule of thumb is, if you double your speed, you need to quadruple your braking distance.
Stay focused. Distracted driving caused 68 deaths in Colorado in 2015, and 15,574 crashes. Unfortunately, distracted driving crashes are increasing in Colorado, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Using a phone while driving is not the only distraction. It is distracting and dangerous to chat with passengers in your vehicle while on the move. And note that when you are a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, it is dangerous if you chat with the driver.
Other forms of distracted driving behavior to avoid include eating or drinking, choosing music from a CD or iPod, applying makeup, reading directions or a map (or using a GPS system while driving). It is also dangerous to use an infotainment system while behind the wheel.
Avoid drugs and alcohol, which negatively affect your driving ability and greatly increase your chance of crashing. If you know you will be out and drinking, line up a sober friend to be your driver, or call a cab or a ride-sharing service.
Drowsy driving is also dangerous, because when you are sleepy, you can’t focus on the road. When you feel you are getting tired while driving, slow down and pull over right away, into a safe place to park. Lock your doors and take a nap for 20-45 minutes, or for as long as necessary to feel refreshed and alert. You can also stop and get a coffee to wake you up.
Prepare for Road Conditions
Nighttime driving is more dangerous than driving in daylight, not only because the darkness makes it harder to judge distance and speed, but because there are more impaired and other unsafe drivers on the roads.
Teen drivers are at greatest risk of a crash between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Don’t drive at night until you have several months of driving experience during the day, and a lot of supervised driving practice at night. Did you know that Colorado has a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew for teens?
Rain, fog, snow and sun glare can also make it harder to see the road and other vehicles. Such conditions make driving more hazardous because they make it harder to start, stop, and turn. Even a very small amount of precipitation can make the road slippery.
To keep traction, start and stop gradually, and maintain a consistent speed. If you should find yourself in a skid, take your foot off the accelerator or brake and steer in the direction of the skid. And go easy on the brakes when the roads are slippery, meaning apply them in a gentle way.
Black ice (ice which is not visible) may be lurking in intersections, on off-ramps, and on bridges and in shady places. Thus CDOT’s motto: “Ice and Snow … Take it Slow.”
When navigating curves, choosing a steady and safe speed can help avoid any need to brake, which can be dangerous in inclement weather. On hills, gear down.
Prepare for Other Drivers
Always come to a full stop at stop signs and red lights. Stopping smoothly is safer than slamming on the brakes, which can cause the driver behind you to unintentionally ram into you. Stop far enough from the vehicle in front of you that you can see its tires.
After stopping and before resuming driving, make sure to look to the left, to the right, straight in front of you, and then left again before you proceed.
Keep a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you, because if that driver stops short and you are too close, you risk plowing into it. When there are commercial trucks near you on the road, stay 15 feet away from them in all directions, even if that means slowing down. Know that if you can’t see truck drivers in their mirrors, they can’t see you.
Judging when it is safe to turn left without a left-turn traffic signal takes a certain amount of driving experience. Consider avoiding left turns at intersections without signals, even if you have to drive a few blocks farther.
Use your turn signals, even when you are in dedicated left-turn or right-turn lanes.
Always use your turn signals when planning to change lanes, to let other drivers know your intentions. Don’t forget to turn the signal off afterward.
When there is an obstruction in your lane, wait for traffic to clear before changing lanes, rather than veering into another lane. Just because someone is blocking your lane does not mean you have the right of way in the next or oncoming lane.
When passing another vehicle, drive at least 10 miles per hour faster than it is going, but not over the speed limit. After passing, make sure you are at least two vehicle lengths in front of the slower vehicle before returning to that lane.
For further tips on staying safe on the road, read our extensive guide to defensive driving.