Crashing your car on the street is never a good thing. But when your car is in the “beloved” category, it is even worse. Don’t ask me how I know.
As a lifelong police officer and trainer, I have had the unfortunate experience to handle a lot of car crashes, from parking lot dings to multiple fatalities. And by the way, we used to call them “accidents,” but the State of Florida changed it to “crash” (as in “Crash Report”) over a decade ago. The thinking there was that an “accident” is something that could not be avoided, and almost all on-street crashes are avoidable.
That said, I have five tips to help you stay out of the wrecker yard and off the insurance company radar:
- Drive in a manner that compensates for others’ mistakes. The world is full of idiots behind the wheel, and it’s getting worse. If incompetence isn’t enough, now we have “distracted driving.” And don’t get us started on all the devices and systems that drive the car for you so that you don’t have to pay attention to the road. So instead of asserting your “right of way,” drive with the mindset that the other guy is going to do something stupid, and it is up to you to stay clear. We used to have a saying in Florida from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles – “Arrive Alive.” Admirable goal, to say the least.
- Don’t speed. Okay – we all stretch the limits on interstate highways, etc., but in town, keep your speed within sane limits. Here is why: the distracted idiot that is waiting to turn onto your road in or across your path sees you, but either cannot or does not calculate your speed. This moron sees you, sees your distance away, and then decides whether there is enough room to execute this move. Remember that speed is distance divided by time (miles per hour or feet per second), and that halfway glance down the road doesn’t provide a lot of time for this mental equation. So if you are going faster than most, the potential crash victim may make the decision to pull out based on distance only. That means that when he talks to the cop about the crash, he will say, “He came out of nowhere.” You were in the crash because you were going faster than he expected. I handled a fatal crash where a sport bike was on a four-lane 60-mph divided highway and a driver pulled out across his path. The bike hit the driver side rear door and nearly split the car into two pieces. Both the rider and the car driver were killed. We estimated his speed prior to the crash at between 110 and 130. The car driver probably had no idea that the bike was going that fast, but given normal driving patterns, the bike’s distance provided enough time and room to cross his path safely. A fatal mistake.
- When you drive, just drive. Driving is a complex task that we take for granted. Without even considering our smart phones, navigation or other devices, we do things while driving that have nothing to do with driving. Consider this – making sure that you are in complete control at all times, hands on the wheel, looking around, watching for idiots is the best way to stay away from crashes. The text signs on the interstate sometimes display a message that is sooooo true – “AN ALERT DRIVER CAN AVOID A CRASH.”
- Maintain 360-degree awareness. This means using mirrors and actually rotating your head. Notice that the car coming up from behind is going really fast. Notice the guy in the minivan with the left turn signal on for miles. See that idiot weaving from lane to lane, and make a plan for when he gets to you. Watch for kids playing, and expect that they will all decide to start a soccer game in the middle of the road when you get there. Watch red light intersections for a “stale green,” meaning that the light has been green for a long time – and expect that it will be red when you get to it. Oh, and don’t push a yellow light. The 45 seconds that you spend at the red light isn’t going to make any difference. And refer to #1 above – find the morons and compensate for their ineptitude.
- Keep a reasonable following distance. Whether on the highway or in town, don’t tailgate. Tailgating reduces the amount of time that you have to respond to changes happening around you, and many, many crashes result from following too closely. Consider that crashes happen in “feet per second,” and to do this little speed calculation, multiply your speed number (MPH) by 1.5 and you have the “feet per second” number. (The actual factor is 1.47, but one and a half will work.). That means that at 30 mph, you are actually going around 45 feet per second. At 60 mph, that becomes 90 feet per second. Studies have shown that reaction time to get to the brake pedal can be between one second and one-and-a-half seconds, meaning that even in the best situation, you will travel almost three car lengths at 30 mph before your foot even gets to the brake. If you are tailgating, the possibility of tears is very high.
Our cars do not have air bags, and it hopefully goes without saying that you should have your seat belt on when the car is in motion. Since the only things keeping you from face-planting the steering wheel are your seat belts, take a good look at them. If they are worn, frayed, or won’t retract properly, replace them with NEW belts. We have used SEAT BELT PLANET in the past with great results. Cost is less than $300. NEVER take belts out of a junkyard – belts stretch when in a crash, and that stretch weakens them. If you replace, replace with new. If you are involved in a crash, insist that the insurance company include replacement of the seat belts that were in use at the time of the crash as part of the overall repair.
There are more than five tips for staying safe on the roads. Comment with your suggestions!
All excellent tips. Especially your comments on seat belts. First thing to replace on an older car is the seat belts — even before getting it rolling. We have seen seat belts break in a 15 year old car.