You have probably heard that it’s safer to travel by plane than by car. But while one statistical model seems to validate this supposition, reality is more complicated. (Isn't it always?)
According to the Transportation Research Board, there are a few other considerations. Airline rates consider fatalities per passenger mile while road numbers count all deaths—and when cars compete with planes they're on interstates, not the “average” residential street or country road. So the comparison is more apples to oranges than people usually think.
No matter which mode is truly safer, most of us have to drive much more often than we fly. That makes it a good idea to make your drive as safe as you can. One way to improve your odds is to learn the most common road hazards and how to deal with them. There are lots of different lists on the internet if you want. Here I’m covering the hazards that I encounter most when I’m driving.
- Driver inattention or distraction is the top cause of auto accidents.
The best way to minimize the risk is by preparing in advance for your drive. First, keep your attention focused on what’s happening on the road around you. Second, admit that it’s time to pull off the road when you have a distraction that requires your attention. You'll find other tips on avoiding distracted driving in this post.
- Heavy traffic or congestion is another major cause of accidents. When all the cars, trucks, and other vehicles are forced close together there’s less space to react and fewer options to avoid others. Add to that the frustration of being forced to go slow when we want to get along to our destination and it’s no wonder that accidents happen, and when they do it makes the traffic even worse.
The best advice is also the hardest to take in this instance. Pick a lane and stick to it. Everyone on the road is going to get to the end of the traffic at about the same time. There have been studies on this and jumping lanes rarely helps. According to Autoblog.com and ABC News, it will even hurt your progress. Plus jumping lanes back and forth adds stress, wear, and tear to both you and your car.
Take some deep breaths, put on some good music or your current podcast, and try to go with the flow.
- Reckless drivers (and it’s always the other guy, right?) are another common hazard on the road, especially in heavy traffic.
So first, reread the advice in number 2 so you don’t become the problem. Second, stay aware of how others are driving near you, if you see someone driving like a fool keep some distance, even if it means they pass you (it’s not a race, really). The best place to have a reckless driver is far away from you.
- Intersections and traffic lights can be dangerous areas. Places where traffic comes together add complications and many intersections add pedestrians, bicycles, and more to the environment.
This is where you need to pay extra attention to what you’re doing AND keep an eye open in case someone else isn’t doing their fair share of the paying attention thing. When I was teaching my kid to drive I always said when traffic comes together have your head on a swivel. Intersections are also a place where you need to avoid distraction and focus on all your surroundings.
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- Maybe I shouldn’t call this a ‘hazard’ but it fits the point of the article. Pedestrians, bicycles, and motorcycles are smaller, harder to see, and often move in unpredictable ways compared to cars and trucks. They have less protection too so it’s just common kindness to watch for them with a bit more care.
So remember that they exist, don’t just watch out for the other cars.
- Bad weather brings all kinds of changes to the driving environment. Rain, snow, ice, blowing sand, and all kinds of things can obscure your vision and affect your traction when the weather gets bad. On top of that, it causes very different reactions depending on where you are. An inch of snow on the road in upstate New York doesn’t cause problems because the people are used to it and adjust how they drive automatically, that same inch of snow in the south can bring traffic to a standstill because they don’t have the experience and the resources to adjust.
In general, if the weather is bad slow down and keep a greater distance between you and the vehicle in front of you so you have more time to react.
- Distance is an oft-overlooked hazard. Specifically keeping enough distance between you and other vehicles. I hear people say to keep one car length for every 10 mph of speed. I find that hard to judge so I use the 2-second rule. If you don’t know that rule here is how it works - pick a stationary marker on the road ahead, it could be a signpost, mile marker, or line in the pavement.
When the car in front of you passes the marker start counting (like one one-thousand, two one-thousand, or maybe you prefer one Mississippi, two Mississippi). At a minimum, you should finish the second (two) count before your car passes the same marker. If the weather is bad or you are driving something heavy increase to a 3 count, or more.
This should give you enough distance to react when the vehicle in front of you slams on the brakes for something you cannot see.
- Potholes and road debris are what many people think of when they hear road hazards. Drivers trying to avoid these hazards can be just as dangerous as the hazard itself.
The best advice when you encounter poorly maintained roads, potholes, and debris is to slow down, keep a firm grip on the wheel so you stay in control, and change lanes if you can do so safely.
There are other hazards on the road so please stay alert and avoid distractions while you’re going from point a to point b. It’s always better if everyone gets there alive.
Stay safe and enjoy the drive!
For even more hazards and advice jump over to the SmartMotorist.