Driving on city streets tests drivers’ concentration, road awareness and reactions because they face constant hazards. These are presented by busy and oftentimes narrow streets, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and impaired visibility, along with endless traffic signals and signs, speed zones and all types of street work and repair.
Intersections are particularly dangerous spots. Nearly 50 percent of all city driving collisions occur at intersec-tions, usually because a driver failed to yield the right of way.
A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that some 800 people are killed and 200,000 injured every year as a result of crashes involving drivers running red lights. Red-light-related accidents are estimated to cost around $7 billion a year in medical costs, property damage and insurance hikes. And accident statistics show that red-light-running crashes are increasing.
To keep safe in intersections, traffic and safety professionals offer drivers these suggestions:
- When approaching a “stale green light” (not sure when the green traffic light signal may change), be prepared to stop.
- When a red light turns green, check to see that traffic has stopped on the intersecting streets before proceeding.
- Where legal, turn right on a right red only after your vehicle has come to a complete stop and you have checked to make sure traffic is clear and there are no pedestrians crossing.
- When encountering a yellow light, always stop if it is safe to do so. The exclusive function of a yellow light is to warn traffic of an impending change in the right-of-way assignment and allow a driver time to clear an inter-section. There are a number of additional measures drivers can take to make their city driving safer, say traffic and safety professionals. Among them, drivers should:
- Know their routes. It is not safe to be reading a map or looking at a navigation aid while driving.
- Minimize unnecessary distractions while driving. Drivers ought to turn down radios and get off the phone. Being able to hear what is going on around them can be a big asset to driving safely. Drivers also should not be eating or drinking while behind the wheel.
I recall what one fleet safety manager said during a semi-annual driver meeting: “How would you like to be on a plane that’s coming in for a landing with the pilot eating a sandwich in one hand while cradling a cell phone on his shoulder as he talks with his wife about what the plumber said it would cost to fix that leaking pipe in the kitchen? Clearly you wouldn’t.
“It is critical to avoid distractions behind the wheel,” he continued. “Don’t let your attention be drawn away from the important task of driving safely. The fewer the distractions, the better you can concentrate on safely maneuvering your vehicle.”
- Keep the windshield, windows and mirrors clean for good visibility.
- Stay alert and get in the practice of scanning the roadway about a block or two ahead, being on the lookout for potential traffic problems such as children playing, cyclists and vehicles pulling in and out of driveways, alleyways, parking lots, etc. Be prepared to react. Keep your eyes constantly moving up and down the road and to the sides, and check mirrors frequently. Keeping track of what is happening in traffic well ahead gives a driver some advance warning.
- Be aware that blind spots are everywhere. If a driver can’t see beyond an object, he should slow down or change lanes to improve his vision.
- Try to anticipate the actions of others, but never presume to know what another driver or pedestrian will do. And do not rely on traffic directions from others.
- Give other drivers warning of your movements by appropriately using turn signals and flashers. These attract the attention of other drivers and lessen the chance of accidents. Driving with the headlights on also helps make sure other drivers see your vehicle.
- Maintain a safe following distance. Driving too close to the vehicle in front (tailgating) is a common cause of accidents in the city. Drivers should leave enough distance to safely stop under normal weather conditions, and give themselves an even greater distance at night or in wet, icy or foggy conditions.
There are two main causes of rear-end collisions, note traffic and safety professionals. One is drivers failing to detect slowed or stopped traffic.
The other is drivers not leaving sufficient distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front to stop in time to prevent a collision. This occurs most often at intersections, grade crossings, passenger stops and slowing in preparation for turns.
- Leave an out by having a “space cushion” — a place where you can head in order to avoid a collision. For instance, having an “escape route” if the vehicle that is passing on the left suddenly moves into one’s lane.
- Drive slowly and more carefully around schools, being extra vigilant and alert for children. Children may be walking to school or playing near the street, not minding traffic, and may dart out into the street from between parked cars or shrubbery without looking for traffic.
- Obey all traffic laws and speed limits, and always stop for a school crossing guard in the roadway. Be aware of the flashing signal light system that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of their pending actions.
- Be courteous and treat others the way you would like to be treated. Courteous driving encourages other drivers to be courteous. Aggressive driving influences others to drive aggressively.
- Use the horn only when necessary, as it might startle other drivers, causing them to make a sudden or unsafe move. The horn is not to be used to “yell” at motorists or pedestrians, but rather to signal others of your presence to avoid accidents.
Sharing these recommendations with drivers during a safety meeting or in driver communications can help them make their city driving safer. Accident prevention provides a number of benefits, including reduced insurance premiums and lower costs resulting from accidents, litigation and legal settlement expenses. BI