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10 Driving Tips

Today, we drive safer cars on safer roads. As a result, recorded accidents have been on the decline in the U.S. However, the actual number of auto accidents and fatalities nationwide is still quite staggering. What's more, automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 3 and 34 in this country.

Improvements in technology will continue to help bring those numbers down, but the bottom line remains that most car accidents are the result of human error. Human error ... That means you, as a driver, has to do a better job at manning your vehicle to reduce the risk of being involved in an accident. And one way is to practice safe driving behaviors. Whether you're just learning to drive, or you've been behind the wheel for decades, it's a good idea to review some basic rules for safe driving. The professionals at Nicolet Service Center, with you in mind, have put together 10 driving tips that will help bring you and your passengers home unharmed.

1. Alcohol...More than 30 percent of all auto accident fatalities in the United States involve drivers impaired by alcohol. Most of those deaths could've been avoided if the drivers involved simply hadn't gotten behind the wheel while inparied.

Even at lower levels, intoxication reduces reaction time and coordination and lowers inhibitions, which can cause drivers to make foolish choices. At higher levels, alcohol causes blurred or double vision, and even loss of consciousness. Drunk driving isn't just a terrible idea -- it's a crime. In the U.S, getting caught behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher will probably earn you a trip to jail.

It's easy to avoid driving drunk. If you've been drinking, ask a sober friend for a ride or call a cab. If you're planning to drink, make sure you have a designated driver. The small inconvenience of taking a cab home, or asking a friend for a lift is nothing compared to what awaits you if you decide to drive drunk.

2. Speeding... Remember the old public service campaign that warned: "Speed kills." Research has shown that for every mile per hour you drive, the likelihood of your being in an accident increases.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains the consequences of fast driving quite simply: "Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. The economic cost to society of speeding-related crashes is estimated by NHTSA to be in the billions every year.

And the payout isn't worth it. According to the studies, for your average drive across town, driving even 10 mph (16.1 kph) faster is only going to save you a few minutes -- at the same time increasing your crash risk by as much as 50 percent. Even on long trips, the time you'll save is inconsequential compared to the risks associated with speeding. Take your time and obey posted speed limits. If you really need to get there as fast as possible, there's one fool-proof solution: Leave earlier.

3. Driver Distraction ... Already many states in the U.S. have passed laws banning texting or wireless phones or requiring hands-free use of wireless phones while driving. Studies have shown that text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2010 driver distraction was the cause of 18 percent of all fatal crashes -- with 3,092 people killed -- and crashes resulting in an injury -- with 416,000 people wounded.

If you think that talking and texting while driving isn't a big deal, consider this: One researcher compared the reaction time of a 20-year-old driver talking on a cell phone to that of a 70-year-old driver. What's more, working a cell phone behind the wheel can delay reaction times by as much as 20 percent.

It isn't just cell phones and texting that cause distractions, however. Eating, applying makeup, fiddling with electronic devices or interacting with passengers also diverts a driver's attention in potentially deadly ways. Perhaps the best advice on driving distractions came from rocker Jim Morrison: "Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel."

4. Driving While Tired ... A study conducted by researchers at Virginia Tech reported that 20 percent of all accidents have sleepiness as a contributing factor. If a driver is tired enough to actually fall asleep while driving, the results are predictable. Eventually you will drift off the road. Besides the obvious, other cars on the road, trees, utility poles, ravines and bridge abutments can turn this into a deadly scenario as well.

A huge misconception is that a few yawns are nothing to worry about. But just being a little drowsy is enough to increase your risk of getting in an accident. At highway speeds, one or two seconds of inattention can lead to disaster.

The solution is simple: If you're driving and feel the least bit groggy, take action immediately. Don't think you'll get any kind of warning before you fall asleep, or that you can fight it off. Rolling down the window or turning up the radio won't help. People can move from drowsy to sound asleep without warning. If this happens to you, either have a friend take over the driving, or find a place to pull over like a rest stop or auto center where you can catch a few hours of sleep.

5. Seat Belts...Seat belts save lives. Worn properly, they prevent you from being thrown around the inside of a crashing vehicle, or worse, thrown through the windshield and flung completely out of the vehicle. Statistics reveal that more than half of all accident fatalities were people who weren't using seat belts. The numbers are much scarier for young drivers and passengers: A staggering 70 percent of fatal crash victims between the ages of 13 and 15 weren't wearing seat belts. Fact is, you have a greater chance of surviving if you're wearing a seat belt.

Even a low-speed crash can send an unbelted person careening into the dashboard or side window, resulting in severe head injuries or broken bones so buckle up.

6. Bad Weather (Winter Driving) ... If you're driving through fog, heavy rain, a snow storm, or on icy roads, be extra cautious. Be especially careful on roads prone to freezing, like bridges, overpasses, and roads that aren't high traffic. Drive slower. Increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you and be especially careful around curves. Drive with lights on low beam. High beams will only be reflected back off the fog and actually impair visibility even more. Reduce your speed -- and watch your speedometer. Fog creates a visual illusion of slow motion when you may actually be speeding. Use the right edge of the road or painted road markings as a guide. Be patient. Do not pass lines of traffic. Concentrate on your driving ... don't fiddle with electronics or music while driving, and don't be afraid to tell passengers to keep noise down in bad weather conditions. If the weather worsens, just find a safe place to wait out the storm. And remember, don't use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface, whether it's icy or just wet.

And if you end up off the side of the road (intentionally or otherwise), turn off your lights. Although you may think it's safer to have your lights on so other drivers can see you, if they're having difficults seeing the road they might be will be looking for other cars to follow along the highway. When they see your lights, they'll drive toward you and may not realize you're not moving in time to avoid a collision. Using your flashers is a much better option.

7.Safe Distance Between Cars...Safe driving guidelines advise drivers to keep a safe distance between themselves and the car ahead. Drivers need enough time to react if that car makes a sudden turn or stop. It can be too difficult to estimate the recommended distances while driving and the exact distance would have to be adjusted for speed, so most experts recommend a "three-second rule."

The three-second rule is simple. Find a stationary object on the side of the road. When the car ahead of you passes it, start counting seconds. At least three seconds should pass before your car passes the same object. At night or in inclement weather, double the recommended time to six seconds. And don't think that because you're an experienced driver that you shouldn't use this rule. Better to be safe than sorry.

8.Drive Defensively...Sometimes, it doesn't matter how safely you drive. Other drivers may not be as safe a driver as you are. So as a safe driver you have to be prepared for unpredictable lane changes, sudden stops, unsignaled turns, swerving, tailgating and every other bad driving behavior imaginable from your fellow drivers. Check your mirrors and keep an eye on side streets so you'll know which other cars are around you and how they're driving.

It's impossible to list all the possible things another driver might do, but there are a few common examples. If you're pulling out of a driveway into traffic and an oncoming car has its turn signal on, don't assume it's actually turning. If you're approaching an intersection where you have the right of way, and another approaching car has the stop sign, don't assume it will actually stop. As you approach, take your foot off the gas and be prepared to brake.

9.Maintain Your Vehicle...It isn't just an important way to extent your car's life -- it's a major safety issue. If your car is unsafe, the car owners need to be aware of any potential safety issues and get them repaired before they lead to an accident. And they can be any number of unsafe issues. Improper tire pressure is a major problem. Uneven tire pressure, or pressure that is too high or low, can impact performance or lead to a blowout -- especially in high-performance cars or heavy vehicles like SUVs. You can buy an expensive pressure gauge at any auto parts store in town and check the pressure against the recommendation in your owner's manual yourself. Or take it to your local service center.

Make sure windshield wipers are in good shape so you don't have to deal with poor visibility while driving in snow or sleet or other types of bad weather.

And it goes without saying that you can't stop your vehicle isn't a good thing. Be aware of your car's brakes. If you notice some "softness" in the brake pedal, or feel a vibration when the brakes are applied, get them checked out by a professional mechanic. The brakes could be wearing out or you could have a problem with the car's hydraulic system.

10. Rural Driving...Even though there is less traffic in rural areas, danger lurks around every corner that a driver must be prepared for. Wild life is a huge safety problem, especially in the northwoods. Deer, bear and other larger animals can pop up at any time. Watching the ditch line is a wise idea. Also, while drving the rual areas a driver should remember there are some potential hazards like unmarked field and farm driveways and entrances, livestock crossing areas and farm vehicles, rough road conditions. And don't get hypnotized by the similar landscape surrounding your drive in the country.

Contributing Sources: National Weather Service, Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Pedestrians & Bicyclists | Oh, Deer | Teen Driving| Car Care | Buckle Up America
10 Safe Driving Tips | Driving Your Way Through A Wisconsin Winter

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