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Apr 22, 2009

How to Be a Better Driver

Good drivers are both common and uncommon. It is possible you might encounter rash teenagers to truck drivers to overly-cautious senior citizens-- yet all contribute to how we can learn to be better drivers.

FOCUS! Paying attention to the traffic around you, frequently surveying your mirrors, and anticipating what other drivers are going to do is the most important step to becoming a courteous and safe driver.Allow someone to pass, if you happen to see them going beyond the speed limit. This is no 1950's drag race. Proving your need for speed leads to dangerous circumstances between your car and other cars. Use your turn signals, and use them at the right time. Notify other drivers of your intent to turn or to change lanes early enough that they are able to take appropriate action. Sitting at a red light is NOT the right time to turn on your blinker; if you had done so earlier, the person behind you would have been able to change lanes and avoid sitting behind you when the light turns green. Never switch lanes when in the middle of an intersection. Also, time your entry into an intersection so that you don't get caught blocking it once the light turns red (i.e. "don't block the box"). NEVER try to "beat the light." If the light turns yellow and you have enough space to stop safely, then stop. Cyclists, pedestrians, and even other drivers expect you to be completely stopped by the time the light turns red. You endanger yourself and others by running yellow lights--only to save a minute or two--it simply isn't worth it.

Keep in mind that it is courteous to allow a vehicle to turn into traffic if the driver is waiting for a break. Do not, however, suddenly slam the brakes in moving traffic in order to let a driver enter. This will most likely lead to a fender bender or worse--a collision from the unsuspecting driver behind you. This occurred at least once, killing the driver who drove behind the car that had suddenly braked in constantly moving traffic. Drivers in moving traffic never expect a sudden brake. Be extremely careful. Remember: maintaining a decently comfortable distance between you and the driver ahead of you is an excellent rule of thumb. You should keep at least 2 seconds distance between you and the person in front of you. You can use the signs or the paint dashes to judge this distance. Perhaps if the vehicle in front suddenly stalls or stops, you as a driver have enough room to stop safely, or turn into the next lane without causing a backup in traffic. Other weather-related conditions, such as snow and rain, also make it wise to prevent collisions by keeping a safe distance behind for slippery, sliding and swerving cars. Note that residential areas are common grounds for children to run spontaneously into the streets without looking for oncoming cars. Their minds focus on retrieving their ball in the street or catching up to friends by suddenly crossing roads on bikes, for instance. When driving through residential streets, be wary of unpredictable objects and people in the streets.

Remember that trucks often give their drivers difficulty stopping, turning, or backing up--we, as drivers, have all witnessed this. When passing a semi-truck, keep in mind that the truck driver has more difficulty braking. It is best to wait until you can see the truck in your rear-view mirror before completing a pass. Also avoid remaining beside a truck when in multi-lane traffic--if you cannot see the truck driver through his/her mirror, then he/she cannot see you. Be courteous of the senior citizens, as well. Senior citizens need to drive just like everyone else. This is especially the case when they have no other means to obtain essentials. Most senior citizens, however, tend to prefer driving during early afternoons when there is less traffic and more daylight. When driving behind a senior citizen, always keep a safe distance and watch for unexpected moves, such as lane changes. Some seniors may change lanes without prior signaling. Understand that the majority of drivers just aim to get to their destination, just like everyone else does. Accidents happen, but you can take a few steps to prevent many of them from occurring, either to yourself or others. By understanding the way various drivers react, you will have a better grasp of how to be a better driver. The best drivers learn to anticipate possible changes in traffic, and prepare for them in advance by adjusting their speed, their lane/direction, or where their attention is directed.

If you are in the fast lane, do not drive slower than the other cars in the same lane. Likewise, do not expect to be the fastest car on the road when driving in the slow lane--wait for your chance, then pass safely. When you see, hear or smell a possible malfunction with your vehicle, immediately move to the right-most (or left if you drive on the left in your country) lane. This gives your car easier access to the shoulder in case your car breaks down. Residential areas include kids. Children are unpredictable, especially on the roads. Be watchful, and drive slower than usual.Think with your brain, not your brake pedal. Watch for dangerous situations and be prepared to take evasive action, but resist the temptation to tap the brakes unless you really need to slow down. Swerving, or just continuing on your way, is often a better option than slowing down anyway.Keep an empty gasoline can in your car. If you run out of gas, you can walk to the nearest gas station or call for help. Your empty gasoline can will come in handy.

If you do not have a cell phone to call for help if you are stranded on roadside, keep the hood of your car propped up to signal to police that you need help. Whenever possible, move a broken-down car OUT of traffic--frequently able-bodied fellow drivers will gladly help out. Likewise, without a phone, be prepared in various seasons for the possibility of inoperable cars. In summer, keep lots of water with you, a large "help" sign and have a red triangular flag to tie to your antenna to indicate an emergency situation. In winter, store blankets in your trunk, snack foods and water, and keep your blinkers on until help arrives.Do not tailgate, no matter how badly the driver angered you. It is better to be mad for a short while than to pay thousands in monetary damages (or worse, suffer pain of injury) for an accident that could have been prevented. If you are tailgated, immediately move into the next lane. If you are approached by anyone, including police, open your window just low enough to allow them to hear you speak and show you their badge before proceeding.