According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there have been an average of 41,000 highway fatalities in the United States per year since 1993. Sadly, a great many of these deaths could have easily been avoided.
Here are some do's and don'ts that can help minimize your chances of becoming a statistic.
Do check your vehicle regularly: Driving a car isn't as simple as just starting the engine and going. A car is a complex piece of machinery that requires regular maintenance. The best time to check your mirrors, tires, brakes, lights, and windshield washer fluid is at the gas station. Think about it -- you're there about once a week, and what else are you going to do while filling up?
Do leave yourself an out: An out is a safe move that you can make should the worst happen. In practical terms, that means making sure that you have as much space as possible to maneuver your car if you need to do so quickly. For the most part, this consists of keeping people out of your blind spot and steering clear of the wall. This obviously isn't an option in heavy traffic, but then again, there isn't as much risk in heavy traffic because of the slow speed.
Do scan far ahead: Looking only at the car ahead of you won't sufficiently prepare you for dangers further down the road. By scanning as far ahead as possible, you'll give yourself the maximum amount of time to react. The key is to always keep your eyes moving. When you fix your eyes on one spot, you court danger.
Do use your hazards: Sometimes you'll encounter a sudden obstruction on the highway. Once you've slowed down, put your flashers on. This is a great way to alert drivers behind you when they see you slowing down.
Do beware of precipitation: At the first drop of rain or snow, water gets in contact with oil residue on the road and forms a slippery surface. Watch your speed. If it hasn't rained or snowed in a long time, there will be all the more oil on the road to contend with. The oil/water reaction aside, high-speed driving is never safe in wet conditions because of hydroplaning.
Do print easy-to-read directions: Familiarize yourself with your route beforehand not while you're in the middle of driving it. If you need to consult a map or follow specific directions, print them in a large font and place them somewhere that's easily accessible. Pull over if you need to look at it more carefully. Always be aware of your position on the map.
Do use a hands-free headset: Whether you're driving a manual or an automatic, you need both of your hands. You may be tempted to talk on the phone, but you need to be careful. Using a hands-free device will allow you to keep your attention where it belongs. Even if you are still a little distracted while using such a device, you can at least use both hands to drive. Nevertheless, keep phone calls brief -- there's still the danger of getting lost in a conversation. Pull over if you need to talk longer.
Do make proper lane changes: Always pass cars on the left and check your blind spots. It's tempting to drive like a NASCAR driver out there, but remember, it's not a game. If you follow the rules, you decrease your chances of being in an accident.
Do use your flashers: As trivial as it seems, a good amount of accidents could have been avoided had drivers simply indicated their turns. Flashers alert other drivers to your intention, and people do respond.
Do be alert in parking lots: You may not be going fast enough to get hurt, but an accident in a parking lot can still ruin your day -- and hurt your insurance rating. Parking lots leave you particularly vulnerable to risk because of the competition for spots and the limited vision. The best advice is to drive slowly. Remember that getting a prime spot isn't worth smashing your ride up.
Do be decisive: Driving is a time to focus on driving, not where you're going to eat, shop or what route you'll take. Plan those things ahead of time and avoid accidents caused by indecision. If you try to plan while on the road, your driving will be affected and you'll impede traffic. This, in turn, could cause an accident.
Don't eat or drink while driving: There are two problems with eating. First, it keeps you from using both hands. Second, you lose your ability to focus -- if you need to drop those fries to avoid a collision, will you have time to? The best advice is to forget about eating your hamburger and drinking your coffee. If you really need to ingest something, stick to easy-to-eat foods like snack bars and bottled water.
Don't smoke: Like eating and using your cell phone, smoking limits your movement and thus your ability to operate a vehicle. But cigarettes carry another risk as well: Imagine what would happen if you dropped your smoke. Driving is hard enough without having to put out fires simultaneously.
Don't keep loose objects in your car: A messy car can make for a messy accident. Golf clubs, for example, could be a hazard if you have to brake quickly. Other objects could slide or roll under your brake pedal. At best, you'll have to keep an eye on things as they slide about your car, which means you won't be able to give your full attention to the road. At worst, one of those same things could cause you to lose control of the car.
Don't tailgate: Always stay at least one car length behind the vehicle in front of you. While driving, you should be able to see the back tires of the car in front of you. If you're traveling at a higher speed, maintain a further distance, enough so that you can see its side mirrors. The general rule is, the more you can spare, the better.
If you're the one being tailgated, don't slam on the brakes to try to teach the guy a lesson. Why run the risk of him hitting you? The best policy is to signal to him to go around; the further away you are from him, the better. He'll eventually get the message.
Don't remain in someone's blind spot: Most drivers can't see in the area between their side mirror and their rear view mirror, which is why you're supposed to swivel your head before changing lanes. Sitting in that blind spot is the equivalent of begging for an accident. Instead, remember to keep consistent spacing between you and other vehicles.
Don't assume that trucks drive like cars: It's never a good idea to cut in front of any vehicle, but when it's a truck, you're running a serious risk. As trucks are so much bigger, they need much more room to stop than your typical car. You're not likely to survive a collision with a truck, so keep your distance and respect their power.
Don't play loud music: Driving requires the use of your ears as well as your eyes. You should be able to hear the other cars and the traffic, especially sirens. With loud music on, you deprive yourself of a critical tool.
Don't fool around: You've seen it in movies a thousand times, and you may have even tried it with your own lady once or twice. But fooling around while driving is just plain stupid. You want the blood circulating in your other head so you can react quickly.
Don't drive when you're tired: If you're dead tired but really need to drive, take a quick nap beforehand. Drive with your window open. Have an energy drink or coffee (as many as you need). Driving when you're tired is like driving under the influence -- you're not in total control of your abilities. Avoid it.
Don't commit intersection errors: A modern intersection can be a dangerous place. Cars can move in eight different directions, counting the turn arrows. You'll want to proceed with an abundance of caution. Make a complete stop, look in all directions and give the proper right of way. Also, don't rush to get off at the green light; there may be another car running to beat the red light in the other direction.
If you know about a stop sign that people frequently run, factor that information into your driving habits. Proceed with more caution at those intersections close to home, where you know people have a tendency to be cavalier.
Don't give in to road rage: Don't drive when you're angry or emotional. The road can be a stressful place and road rage is a real problem -- plus, you never know how the other guy will react. You may be mad, but you don't want to spend your day talking to the cops.
It's easy to forget that driving is serious business. Too often we think of our car as just a toy. It's more than that. A car is a dangerous object that must be used appropriately and with caution at all times.
By remembering that driving is a job and a responsibility, you'll keep yourself from falling victim to the bad habits that cause most accidents.