I recently received an email from a high school student doing a research project on whether we should increase the driving age or not. As we went back and forth in our email discussion, he sent me the following:
“After looking at a lot of articles and finding out that around 6,000 teenagers die in accidents annually. I am kind of worried for when i get my drivers license. Besides going to a good driving school, is there anything you suggest to help me be a safer driver?”
What a phenomenal question! I wish every new driver cared enough about to ask questions like this. Below is my reply.
The only change I made is the inclusion of the titles for easier reading…
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Advice On How To Drive Safe
For starters, it’s actually a good thing that you’re worried about driving. Guess what? So am I and I’ve driven professionally! I drove a truck through all of the lower 48 states and was even responsible for teaching new truck drivers while I sat in the passenger seat. Talk about being nervous!
Yes, Driving Is Dangerous!
Fact is, driving is extremely dangerous. Whether you’re riding in a car with your parents, a friend, or driving yourself, there’s simply no escaping it. Being in a car is the most dangerous thing you do in your life. Traffic crashes are the #1 cause of death in nearly every age group and is easily the #1 cause of death for non-health related issues in all age groups. So in a sense, you’re right. Driving is extremely dangerous, especially in your first 2 years of driving. Those who are 16 years old are 3 times as likely to die in a car accident than those who are 18. The fact that you’re worried about all of this is completely understandable and perfectly normal. Those who AREN’T worried about that are the people you really need to watch out for.
Your Safety Is In Your Own Hands (mostly)
Now, there is some good news. Let’s look at the top 5 causes of fatal traffic crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, here are the top 5 reasons for traffic related fatalities:
- Driving under the influence of drugs / alcohol
- Following too close
- Disregarding traffic control signals
- In-car distractions
Notice how all of these are driver error and things that are completely under your control? If you drive sober, don’t speed, keep a safe following distance, pay attention to traffic lights, and keep distractions to a minimum (cell phone, radio, people in the car with you, etc), you dramatically increase the likelihood that you will never be involved in a major accident, let alone lowering your chances of traffic tickets!
Seat Belts Really Do Save Lives
Over 60% of those killed in a car accident were not wearing their seat belt! How foolish is that!? Your age group is the most likely age group to not wear seat belts and your age group also makes up a very large percentage of those killed while under the influence of drugs / alcohol. If you never drive or ride with someone who is intoxicated and you always wear your seat belt, you’ve just increased your safety by an immeasurable amount. If you back that up by driving safely and following the laws that were put into place such as following the posted speed limit, the chances of you ever being involved in a fatal car accident are actually relatively low.
Driving Has Never Been Safer
And finally, cars are safer today than ever before. There has never been a safer time to drive a car than right now. With the way technology is going, traffic fatalities are going to be falling at a very dramatic rate for the next couple of decades until we finally get to a point where traffic crashes are almost non-existent. Cars already have the technology to drive themselves without hitting each other. The problem isn’t technology, the problem is the cost of implementing that technology on a mass scale. Well, the technology is coming, and sooner than you might think. Just check out this awesome video of the Google self driving car:
Why are Teen Drivers More at Risk of Driving Deaths & Injuries?
I’m sure you’ve wondered about this so many times. I did, too.
But if you compare the likelihood of teen drivers being involved in accidents vs adults, you’ll find that drinking and driving, which is one of the top causes of death when it comes to teenage drivers, is a major determining factor.
I’ve mentioned already that drunk driving is one of the 5 causes of fatal traffic crashes. But to elaborate on that, the NHTSA also concluded out of the 10,142 deaths from drunk-driving crashes in 2019, 2,042 involved a 15 to an 18-year-old teen driver, which is around 20% of the total number. Comparing it to the 24% back in 2011, this is considered a great improvement.
Aside from drunk driving, several other factors put teen drivers much more at risk of driving deaths and injuries. For example, another big risk contributing factor is that teenagers are more likely to speed. They are also more prone to allowing shorter headways when driving.
This factor is more commonly observed in male drivers that are 15 to 20 years old. According to the Safety Association (GHSA), there are 19,447 teens involved in speeding-related crashes between 2000-2011.
Lastly, experience also plays a big factor. Youngsters often leave less room for error on the road and they are more likely to ignore potential pitfalls while traveling.
Why? Because they haven’t been out there for long. Most often than not, they are facing dangerous driving situations for the first time without the proper knowledge to assess just how dangerous their situation is.
This last factor only presses on the importance of taking driver’s education seriously, but even so, some may argue that experience is still the best teacher.
Additional Safe Driving Tips
So my advice for you to be a safer driver is unfortunately all the boring stuff you’ve probably already heard.
Follow the rules, drive sober, and wear your seat belt.
If you simply do those 3 things every single time you drive, your chances of getting hurt or killed in an accident are very slim.
As a truck driver and driving instructor, I do have a couple of other tips though…
Speed and following distance are the two most important factors to your safety. I’d rank the following distance as more important than speed. It doesn’t matter if you’re going 200mph – if you have enough space around you, you’re not going to hit anything and if you have enough space ahead of you, you’ll always be able to stop in time. Maintain 3 seconds of spacing from the vehicle in front of you (during dry conditions) and you’ll pretty much always be able to stop in time.
Look as far ahead as you can! Humans were never designed to go much faster than 10mph. Anything over that and our bodies aren’t sure what to do, more specifically, our vision.
People tend to fixate on the vehicle in front of them or look at the roadway right in front of their car – especially during curves and turns. It’s a natural human instinct to do this. It can also be deadly. You need to consciously force yourself to keep your eyes moving and scan as far ahead as you can.
Try to predict what traffic lights will do, see merge points before anyone else, check your mirrors often so you know what’s going on behind you.
Do not fixate! So many of my trucking students had this problem and it’s a tough one to kick. So start the good habit right away of scanning far ahead and “getting the big picture” by checking mirrors, looking at all vehicles around you, and looking way ahead so you can predict what will happen. If you’re one step ahead of all the drivers around you, then you’re the safest driver on the road.
Driving is Awesome!
I’ll close this email with one last note. Driving is one of the best things you will ever do in your life. Not only is it fun, but your whole life is about to change. You’re about to experience freedoms in your life that you’ve never experienced before and that freedom will last you the rest of your life.
Yes, driving is a dangerous activity and even if you do everything right, there is always the possibility that some other driver on the roadway will hit you and cause a terrible situation. This is a risk that almost every American is willing to take because driving adds so much pleasure and freedom to our lives. Every bit of that risk is worth it.
The real key is, limiting our risk as much as possible. That lies almost entirely on you and who you choose to ride with.
Good luck and be safe! But also have fun. Driving is awesome!!