Top 10 Editors' Tips to Prevent a Car Accident
As automotive journalists, we at Edmunds.com tend to be a little more practiced on the road than the average driver. Not only is driving cars our job but we're required to go to high-performance driving school every year "for insurance purposes." So take it from us when we say we know a thing or two about how to avoid a car accident. We're not talking about obvious tips your mom told you, like, "Look both ways before you enter an intersection" or "Don't tailgate." Rather, tips we've picked up in the field, interacting with L.A. drivers in particular, driving cross-country, and testing cars on the track.
1. Avoid the "fast lane."
By using the center or right lane on multilane roads, you have more "escape routes" should a problem suddenly arise that requires you to quickly change lanes or pull onto the shoulder. Most highway accidents occur in the left lane. Furthermore, you are more conspicuous to highway patrol if you are in the "fast lane."
2. Keep your eyes scanning the area ahead.
Don't just eyeball the car in front of you but watch the traffic in front of that car as well. This increases your chance of seeing a problem while still having enough time to react to it, and decreases your chance of rear-ending the vehicle in front of you should they make a sudden stop.
3. Beware of blind spots.
Yes, adjust your side mirrors and rearview mirror to provide you with one near seamless panoramic scene of the view behind you, but don't rely solely on them. Actually turn to look directly into the lanes beside you to avoid missing something left undetected by your mirrors. Also consider the blind spots for other drivers around you, especially truckers, and try to minimize the amount of time you spend in them.
4. Drive with your hands in the 9 and 3 o'clock position.
Instead of the lazy, typical way people drive with one hand at 12 o'clock or both hands resting at the bottom of the steering wheel, this recommended position facilitates maximum vehicle control when you're forced into quick maneuvering to avoid a potential car accident.
5. Get racecar driver control of the wheel.
Another trick to maintain control of the wheel is to move your seat close enough to the steering wheel so that your wrist can rest on the top of the wheel with your arm outstretched and your back against the seat. This not only ensures your arms won't easily fatigue but they'll be in the optimum position for some last-minute evasive maneuvers.
6. Judge a driver by his/her car's condition.
If a car's condition indicates an inattentive owner because of body damage or dirty windows, it could easily suggest an inattentive driver, too. Also, drifting in the lane often identifies a tired, drunk or cell phone-preoccupied driver — so you should get away from that person.
7. Know your car's limits.
After getting behind the wheel of everything from minivans to exotic sport cars, our editors know the performance limits of the cars they drive. Pay attention to how your particular vehicle reacts in certain situations — if the vehicle leans a lot when you're rounding corners, this means that wrenching the wheel at high speeds to avoid an accident will be a scary proposition. It's also key to be familiar with the limits of your car's brakes and tires. How long does it take to stop when you apply maximum pressure? How much grip do your tires have? If you replaced your car's stock tires with a cheap set, chances are you've reduced its braking and handling capability.
8. Keep your car in good shape.
At Edmunds, we stick to the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule for our long-term cars. This ensures that they'll accelerate, stop and steer when we need them to. Reconsider the wisdom of "getting another 1,000 miles out of old tires" — if you encounter an unexpectedly slick road, you may find yourself rubbing up against the guard rail.
9. The nighttime is not the right time.
Some people like to travel at night to avoid traffic, but with it comes certain hazards. In addition to your own increased fatigue and decreased field of vision, you need to be aware of joyriding teens and drivers who may be tired or drunk. Drive extra defensively around the witching hour, after midnight when some people are leaving bars, parties or sports arenas. And for goodness' sake, don't drive down a dark road with burned-out headlights or taillights.
10. Learn how to drive a racecar.
It may sound like a frivolous expense, but going to a high-performance driving school is one of the best ways to improve your skill as a driver. Here you'll learn what it feels like to drive a car "at the limits" and have an opportunity to practice accident avoidance maneuvers and skid recovery in a safe, controlled environment. Understanding how to make your car do what you want it to do in emergency situations could save your life.
None of these are surefire ways to prevent a car accident. You can only control what you do behind the wheel, not what your fellow drivers do. But take responsibility when you drive and focus on the task at hand. It's not a time to return phone calls or shave or log onto your e-mail. Take it from our editors: Driving isn't a mindless activity, it's an exercise in self-restraint, self-defense and self-preservation.