The thought of a car accident is very disturbing, but being prepared and taking precautions will help you avoid them. In this section of TeenDriving.com, we go over some simple best practices for being on the road, making turns, how to handle driving in rough weather, passing, driving on your school campus, and the dreaded merging. We also talk about how to avoid an accident—and what to do if you’re in one.
General Driving Tips
Something as quick and simple as putting on your seat belt or getting your windshield cleaned can mean the difference between life and death. Being aware of yourself and other drivers and practicing good road etiquette is equally important. Below are some tips to keep you mindful and safe.
Simple but Crucial
- Obey the speed limits. Going too fast gives you less time to stop or react. Excess speed is one of the main causes of teenage accidents.
- Always wear your seat belt – and make sure all passengers buckle up, too. Don’t try to fit more people in the car than you have seat belts for them to use.
- Adjust your car’s head rest to a height behind your head – not your neck – to minimize whiplash in case you’re in an accident.
- Make sure your windshield is clean. At sunrise and sunset, light reflecting off your dirty windshield can momentarily blind you from seeing what’s going on.
- Experts now recommend that you hold the steering wheel at either 3 and 9 o’clock on the wheel, or even lower at 4 and 8 o’clock. If you’re in an accident and the airbags go off, you’ll be safer with your hands not flying into your face from the impact of the airbags.
Consider Other Drivers
- Don’t drive like you own the road. Drive like you own the car.
- Don’t make assumptions about what other drivers are going to do. The only thing you can assume about another driver with a turn signal on is that they have a turn signal on. He/she might not be turning at all, and just forgot to turn it off.
- Watch out for aggressive drivers, and try to stay out of their way. They are the cause of a lot of accidents – especially on freeways.
- Never pull out in front of anyone or swerve into someone else’s lane.
- Make sure your car always has gas in it – don’t ride around with the gauge on empty.
- If you’re in the country, watch out for deer and other animals. If you see an animal approaching, slow down and flash your lights repeatedly. Dusk and dawn are particularly bad times for running into animals, so be on the lookout for them.
- When light turns green, make sure intersection clears before you go.
Driving Around School
If you’re lucky enough to have your own car, that’s awesome! But it’s important to be mindful when driving around your school’s campus, or even just when parking there. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Always stop for school buses with flashing lights. The flashing lights mean that students are either getting on or off the bus, and may be crossing the street. Their safety depends on cars obeying this law.
- Don’t park in fire lanes around the school. Not only will you probably get a ticket, but you could be blocking the area where a fire truck might need to par
- Try to get to school five to ten minutes early, and leave five minutes late to avoid the mad dash into and out of the parking lot. Lots of accidents happen when people are rushing around.
- Always watch for kids getting on and off school buses.
- If your school lot has perpendicular spaces (not angled parking), park in a space you can pull straight out of instead of having to back out. Backing out in crowded lots is always tricky.
- Don’t leave valuables like wallets, shoes, laptops, jackets, phones, or sports equipment in your car where they can be seen easily.
Merging / Turning / Passing
Merging, turning, and passing require you to be extremely alert and aware of the other drivers around you. Many accidents happen because of drivers being oblivious and inconsiderate when doing one of these three things. Here are some tips.
- Avoid making left-hand turns across busy intersections that don’t have turn signals. It takes awhile to learn how to gauge the oncoming traffic. It’s better to go down a block or two until you come to a light, or plan a route that doesn’t need this turn.
- When there’s an obstruction in your lane, wait for oncoming traffic to clear before you pull around. Just because someone’s blocking your lane doesn’t mean you have the right of way in the next or oncoming lane.
- Use turn signals to indicate your intention to turn or to change lanes. Make sure to give the cars behind you enough time to react before you take the action. Then make sure to turn your signal off.
Never Pass …
- If you don’t know if there’s enough space or time.
- Because you’re playing “passing games” with a friend.
- If the car you’re trying to pass is going the maximum speed limit.
- When there is another car passing you.
- When passing one car doesn’t make a difference.
- Over a solid yellow line on your side (you need a dotted line to pass).
- In dangerous weather conditions.
- When there’s a blind spot in front of you, like a hill or a curve.
- When there is oncoming traffic in the other lane.
- If there is road work or construction going on.
- Through tunnels, on narrow roads, or on bridges.
- On two lane roads, never pass trucks or other vehicles you can’t see around.
How to Pass with Caution
- Pass at least ten miles per hour faster than the car you’re going around, but do not exceed the speed limit.
- Be sure you’ve completely cleared the passed car with enough space before pulling back into your lane.
Driving in Bad Weather
Driving in bad weather can be scary and very dangerous. It’s best to avoid it altogether, but if you happen to find yourself in a storm or a heavy snowfall, these tips will help.
- If you need your windshield wipers on, you also need your headlights on – in rain, fog, sleet, freezing rain, or snow. It will help your visibility and also help other drivers to see you.
- Double or triple the space you normally leave between you and the next car in wet whether. You’ll need even more space to stop on slick roads.
- If it’s raining too hard for you to see, try to find a safe place to pull over until the worst of the rain has gone.
- Don’t use cruise control in wet or slippery conditions. The cruise control may apply more throttle if the drive wheels start to slip.
- If you see a tornado coming your way, find shelter as fast as you can. If that’s not possible, get out of the car and find a ditch to take cover in, protecting your head and neck.
- Brake gently, and when driving on slippery surfaces like ice or snow, use light pressure on the accelerator pedal when starting. If your wheels start to spin, let up on the accelerator until traction returns.
- If you’ve had to dig your car out of snow or ice, or if you’ve backed into snow, make sure your exhaust tailpipe is clear. If your tailpipe is blocked, you may be breathing carbon monoxide.
- If driving a white car during snow fall or after the snow has fallen, your car may be camouflaged by the snow, so turn on your headlights and make it easier for other drivers to see you.
- When starting out in bad weather, test your brakes to see how far it takes you to stop.
- If you’re stuck in ice or snow, try putting your floor mats under the edge of the tires to give them traction.
Ice and Sleet
- In winter, keep an ice scraper with a brush in your glove box in case it snows or sleets. Also check that you have wiper fluid/de-icer in your car.
- Remember that bridges and overpasses can freeze before the roads do.
- Ensure that your windshield washer works. You may need it in snow and sleet.
New drivers have to face the reality that every time they get behind the wheel, risk of an accident is lurking. Car crashes can result from many things, including speeding, drugs and alcohol, calling or texting, fatigue, or not paying attention. You could even find yourself in an accident caused completely by someone else.
Texting While Driving
In a recent online poll of 16-19 year olds, over 50% admitted that they text while driving. The numbers already show that even talking on a cell phone will increase the chances of getting into an accident, and that’s when your eyes are actually on the road! When you text, your eyes aren’t fully watching the road. Those few precious seconds back and forth can be the difference between life and death.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to resist answering or checking your phone while driving, a good rule of thumb is to put it somewhere in the car where you absolutely can’t get to it while you’re driving, like the very back. Yes, your friends may have to wait a few extra minutes to get a reply from you, but at least you won’t be causing accidents or getting hurt.
More and more states are banning the use of cell phones while driving. To see what the laws are in your state, check out the GHSA website. Also visit distraction.gov for details about each state’s laws.
Driving Under the Influence
Completely not worth it. Don’t drink and drive, and don’t ride with anyone who has been drinking. It doesn’t matter if you think you can pull it off—chances are, you can’t and you’ll get into a crash. Call parents or other, non-drunk friends to take you home if you need a ride. Similarly, don’t drive or ride with anyone who has been doing drugs. This can include over-the-counter drugs, depending on how drowsy they can make you.
Putting on your makeup, changing the radio station, friends wrestling in the back seat. All these things can lead to you losing focus and taking your eyes off the road. Avoiding accidents often require a split-second decision to brake or swerve, so eliminating distractions is vital to increase your odds. For new drivers, it is recommended to limit passengers to Parents or Instructors for the first year.
Drowsiness can totally sneak up on you when you’re driving. For teens, driving late at night between 11pm-2am is a particularly dangerous time for falling asleep at the wheel. Here are some signs to watch for and do something about before you run into a tree or another car.
- You yawn a lot.
- You have trouble keeping your eyes open.
- You don’t remember the last few minutes or seconds.
- You drive over the rumble strips more than once.
- Your head or body jerks from the brink of falling asleep.
- You can’t concentrate.
- The car wanders from the road, or into another lane.
What to Do if You’re Falling Asleep
- Immediately slow down and pull off the road into a safe parking space. Lock your doors and take a nap, at least 20-45 minutes.
- Make a pit stop. Use the bathroom and get a Coke or coffee to drink.
- Sit up straight.
- If you have a passenger, talk to them.
- Play some music loudly. Try singing along.
- Roll your window all the way down, or turn your vent on cold full blast in your face.
What to Do If You’re in an Accident
Accidents happen to nearly every driver. Although accidents are a frightening and emotional situation, try and remember the steps below.
- Immediately call 911 if anyone is injured. If everyone’s okay, assess the scene.
- If possible, do not move any cars until photos have been taken.
- Call the police before calling anyone else. Sometimes other drivers will try to stop you from doing this, but in many states, it’s required that you report the accident.
- Call your parents if you need to.
- Get information from the other driver(s), including their name, address, phone number, license plate, and their insurance carrier.
- Take photos with your phone or your passenger’s phone. Be sure to get pictures of the position of the cars, the damage, and anything else that’s relevant. This can later help to prove how the crash happened. Keeping a disposable camera in your glove box will help with this if you don’t have a camera phone.
- Get the names and numbers of any witnesses to the accident.
- Write down a note for yourself, or make a voice memo for yourself while the details of the accident are fresh in your mind. This can help with questioning later.
- Call your insurance agent, and process any claims in an appropriate amount of time.
Crash risk is particularly high during the first months after a teens gets a license. (CDC)