You’ve got your driver’s license, congratulations!
Your parents are proud as they watch you pull out, but worried about your safety. After all, you’re an inexperienced driver, new to the road, and there are so many dangers out there. Accidents happen without warning, and other drivers are aggressive or distracted, with incidents of road rage often targeted at slower drivers.
There are things you — and all of us, for that matter — can do to be safer on the road. This includes taking classes, learning new skills and even getting your folks a little coaching help.
That’s why we have put together some important tips and recommendations below from driving instructors, insurance companies and other driving-related resources. Here is our safety guide for new drivers (and anyone else behind the wheel).
First, a Look at the Numbers
While teens drive less than most other drivers, their accidents — including fatal accidents — are disproportionately high. Even a slight difference in age results in some pretty worrisome numbers. “The fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16-19 year-olds is nearly 3 times the rate for drivers ages 20 and over, [and] risk is highest at ages 16-17,” writes the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The IIHS goes on to note that the riskiest time for teens is the first few months after getting their licenses. The best strategy to keep young drivers safe during this early time is graduated licensing, which introduces more complex skills through minimum age requirements, night driving limitations and restrictions on the number of passengers in the car. Unfortunately, while graduated licensing is applicable in all states, not every program includes all the steps.
In other words, it’s up to the young driver and her parents to stay safe and accident-free.
Take (Another) Defensive Driving Class
Even if your high school driver’s education or private driver’s training class included some instruction on defensive techniques, you should take a defensive driving class. After you’ve been driving for a while, you’ll have experienced many of the situations covered, giving you a better grasp on the topics and deeper understanding.
For example, in the online classes offered by DefensiveDriving.com, they explain why you should drive more slowly in the rain: “You need to brake earlier and more gradually. This is a good safe driving technique regardless, but in the rain it is crucial. Braking late can cause skidding, hydroplaning and potential accidents.”
You should note that hydroplaning can occur at speeds as low as 30 mph [PDF], according to TopDriver, so slowing down when it’s wet out is smart on a couple of levels.
If you are involved in a skid, watch this video by DefensiveDriving to see how to pull out of it safely.
Don’t forget to let your insurance company know that you’ve taken a course (and have the certificate of completion to prove it). Many companies will reward you by lowering your premiums. And when you’re talking to them, remember to point out your good grade point average if you haven’t already. According to NetQuote, that can lower rates by as much as 20 percent.
Brush Up On Your Parking
Parking can be difficult with the tight fits, congested lots, and shifting between reverse and drive (and making sure you get those right). Even a fairly simple maneuver, such as pulling straight into a spot right in front of a store, can be trouble when you don’t yet have a natural feel for spacing or the muscle memory to automatically know the difference between gas and brake.
That sounds basic, sure, but drivers every day momentarily confuse their gas and brake pedals, and that’s all it takes to send a vehicle over the curb and right into a store front. The “How to Park” guide for teen drivers put out by The International Parking Institute explains how to develop muscle memory [PDF] to help avoid situations like this:
“Lightly place your right foot over each pedal, one at a time (don’t press on the gas — just tap it so you can feel the contact between your foot and the pedal). Do this with the engine off, the emergency brake engaged, and the automatic transmission gearshift in park (or neutral if it’s a manual transmission).”
Of course, you should be wearing shoes with flat soles, not flips-flops or heels, which can interfere with safe pedal operation.
If you find parallel parking a little tricky and you’re not driving a car with parking technology, there’s a guide at Road & Track magazine that might help. For the mathematically inclined, the diagram (and accompanying equation) can serve two purposes: Brush up on your parallel parking skills and impress your math teacher.
Check Your Mirrors
Eliminating blind spots caused by improper mirror settings is easy to do, and can make lane changes and merging into traffic much safer. Drive-Safely.net shows you the proper settings for the driver’s side mirror, the passenger’s side mirror and the rearview mirror.
“As you begin driving with this new mirror setting,” Drive-Safely writes, “you’ll notice something very cool. Let’s say you’re in the right lane, and a car is passing you on the left (driver’s side). What you’ll notice is that the passing vehicle is visible in your rearview mirror, and just as it’s exiting the field of vision for that mirror, the passing car will magically appear in your driver’s side mirror. As soon as the vehicle leaves the vision field of your side mirror, that passing vehicle will be next to your driver’s side window and easily seen. This same scenario will ring true if somebody is passing on your right.”
You may live in an area where modern roundabouts aren’t common, but these circular intersections (which are not the same as rotaries or older traffic circles) are gaining in popularity. According to the Federal Highway Administration, roundabouts are considered safer and more efficient than traditional signaled and stop-controlled intersections.
In a roundabout, you need to yield instead of stop, both upon your entry and exit, to other cars as well as pedestrians. As Varsity Driving Academy writes, “Roundabouts are there to decrease the chances of head-on collisions, keep the flow of traffic moving and to help pedestrians.” At a roundabout, they note, the yield sign is just as important as a stop sign is at a four-way intersection.
What To Do If You Are In An Accident
Accidents happen for many reasons, including weather, speeding, distracted driving and simply not having refined your reaction times. If you happen to be involved in an accident, as a driver or passenger, the Colorado Driving Institute has a general what-to-do list that includes these points:
- stop the car,
- call 911,
- remain at the scene,
- and exchange information between those involved.
Know Your Brakes
If you’re driving an older car, it may have a traditional braking system rather than ABS (antilock brakes). While this difference doesn’t matter in normal driving conditions, it comes into play in emergency stopping situations.
As Bridgestone Winter Driving school writes, “The beauty of ABS is that pressing the brake pedal as hard as possible and holding it there allows the computer to pump the brakes while still maintaining some steering effectiveness.”
“With non-ABS brakes,” they continue, “the cadence, or pumping technique, is most effective in an emergency, but you must lift off of the brake if steering is required to avoid an obstacle.”
There’s an article at Teens Health on defensive driving that makes for some good reading. One aspect addressed is anticipation, or knowing what’s going on ahead of you so you’re reacting to an event before it even happens.
“Driving isn’t just reactionary,” the site’s authors point out. “A lot of it is recognizing and anticipating potential hazards before they develop. That’s why you want to keep your eyes moving, scanning 20 to 30 seconds ahead. If someone three cars ahead of you brakes, know that you’ll probably also have to stop and start slowing down. Don’t simply wait for the driver in front of you to slam on the brakes — that car’s brake lights might be out!”
Send Your Parents Back To School
Keeping teen drivers safe means parents must set good driving examples themselves, and this includes learning how to be better driving coaches. Drive It Home is a free resource for parents and new drivers alike. It helps parents build coaching skills and emphasizes specific aspects of defensive driving. The teen and his parents can commit to the program together by signing the New Driver Deal and as a Digital Driving Coach.
If you incorporate some of this advice into good habits already established — never driving drunk or high, turning off your phone while driving, always wearing your seatbelt, and driving at or below the speed limit — you will be more likely to avoid accidents and save money on traffic tickets, bodywork and insurance premiums.