A friend of mine had his brand new Mazdaspeed3 totaled on Friday night. He hadn’t been drinking, he wasn’t racing and it had nothing to do with conditions. Turning left at a four-way intersection, he had the misfortune of being the first car in line. An oncoming Volkswagen Tiguan, driven by a 23 year old unfamiliar with the vehicle, ran the red light and broadsided my friend’s car somewhere north of 40 miles per hour. Thanks to the design and construction of the Mazdaspeed3, he walked away from the crash with a sore ankle. I don’t have all the details yet, but I’ll assume that there was driver distraction involved.
My friend and his wife are now left to fight the battle for a new car with the insurance company, and they’ll soon begin receiving an endless stream of calls from lawyers (since their name is a matter of public record) urging them to sue the other driver involved. In short, it’s going to be a while before their life gets back to normal, and that got me thinking about how to avoid being in their shoes. There are no guarantees, since sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but below are five tips to keep you safe behind the wheel.
On a green arrow, always look for oncoming traffic
In the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.” It doesn’t matter if you have the right-of-way when a cell-phone addled driver runs the red light and t-bones your car. It happened to my friend last week and it nearly happened to me a few years back when a middle-aged woman in a minivan, cell phone glued to her ear and chatting away happily, ran a light long after it had changed to red. Always proceed with caution through an intersection and never trust that another driver will yield the right of way.
Keep your wheels straight when turning across traffic
You’re on a two lane road, making a left turn onto a side street. Waiting for traffic to clear, you cut your wheels to the left and wait to hit the gas. A car coming up behind you doesn’t see that you’re stopped; when they hit you, you’re driven into oncoming traffic. Don’t be that driver; instead, keep your wheels straight until oncoming traffic clears. If you are hit from behind, you’ll be traveling in the direction you had been, and not into oncoming traffic.
At a stop sign or stop light, always check your mirrors
I almost got hit from behind by a carload of drunk teens when I was on a motorcycle. I saw them coming, saw that no traffic was approaching and ran the red light. So did they, which meant that I would have been a hood ornament if I hadn’t been paying attention. In fact, I’ve been rear-ended at stop signs or stop lights about a half-dozen times over the years. Keeping an eye on your mirror at least gives you a fighting cahnce to get out of trouble.
Never drive in someone else’s blind spot
This is something you learn in the very first day of driver’s ed, but most drivers seem to forget it rather quickly. Do you really think that the guy on the cell phone is going to give more than a passing glance in his mirror before he pulls his Hummer H3 into your lane? How about the soccer mom with a car full of kids? Speed up or slow down; whatever you do, don’t stay in another driver’s blind spot. Ever.
Communicate with other drivers
When I’m on the highway and traffic is slowing to a stop ahead of me, I flash my brake lights repeatedly. I’ll usually turn on my hazard lights as well, to warn other drivers that there’s a change in traffic flow ahead. Never assume that drivers around you are paying attention, so the more you can do to wake them up, the safer you’re going to be.
Cars may be getting safer, but it seems like there are more bad drivers on the road every single year. Staying safe behind the wheel requires constant vigilance (approaching paranoia), and even then there are no guarantees that you won’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time.