7 Resolutions for a Car-Safe New Year

How To Be a Safer Driver in a Safer Car


  • Enforce a Seatbelt Rule

    Enforce a Seatbelt Rule

    Announce to your family that you'll be enforcing a seatbelt rule this year. Whether it's a journey down the highway or a mile across town, stick to it. | December 26, 2013

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A resolution to improve your safety behind the wheel may not be as glamorous as a goal to drop a clothing size or save up for a cruise. But making some changes to improve auto safety just may be your best decision of the new year. Here are seven resolutions for car safety.

"I'll Be More Focused on Driving"
Distraction occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off your primary task: driving safely, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Distraction.gov Web site. In 2012, 421,000 injuries and 3,328 fatalities were blamed on driver distractions.

Cell phones are the most common culprits, but they're not the only offender. Attention-diverting behaviors at the wheel include applying makeup, searching for a child's dropped toy or fiddling with your GPS or radio.

Start changing the habits you know you engage in regularly: Wake up five minutes earlier, rather than scrambling to fix your appearance in your rearview mirror. Keep your cell phone in the trunk, rather than by your side.

It's never too early to be a role model for any young passengers you transport. Explain to your children why you don't react to texts while you're driving, or can't retrieve their dropped items.

"I'll Keep Safety in Mind When I Shop for a Car"
People shop for lots of specific car features, from price to fuel economy to amenities. It's smart to make sure the cars you're considering also perform well in crash tests and have some of the new crash-avoidance and car safety technologies that are finding their way into even inexpensive cars. These include blind spot detection systems, rearview cameras and front collision warning systems. More advanced active safety systems also are available.

Use the ratings from the two major testing programs, the Five-Star Safety Rating program from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Top Safety Pick program from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The two programs involve different crash tests: The ideal car would be one that performed well in both sets of tests.

"I'll Make Sure Everyone Buckles Up"
Seatbelts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths among drivers and passengers by about 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Despite those statistics, many people neglect to buckle up. The CDC says common offenders are adults between the ages of 18 and 34, and that males are less likely to buckle up than females.

Announce to your family that you'll be enforcing a seatbelt rule this year. Whether it's a journey down the highway or a mile across town, stick to it.

And while most parents wouldn't dream of driving off without securing their children, one family member is often at risk: the family dog.

Dr. Jed Rogers, senior vice president of animal health services for the ASPCA, has seen lacerations, broken bones and even death among pets that were unrestrained in auto accidents. "The ASPCA strongly recommends the use of a restraint, harness or secured crate," says Rogers.

"Not only could this provide protection for both you and your dog in an accident, it also prevents the dog from becoming a distraction and causing an accident," he says. "In fact, in the U.S. alone, an estimated 30,000 car accidents are caused annually by unrestrained pets."

"I Will Purchase Auto Escape Tools for Every Car in My Household"
An auto escape tool — typically a glass-shattering hammer and a seatbelt cutter — enables you to get out of your vehicle if your normal exit becomes compromised. That could be because the car is submerged in water, has rolled over, is in flames or the electrical system has failed.

"Keeping a LifeHammer or resqme in your car is very cheap insurance," says Archie Allen, president of Tartan Innovations LLC. In 2006, Allen accidentally drove his vehicle into the Chester River in Maryland.

"I was one of the lucky ones. Five minutes after my power shut off, a rear window shorted on and went down halfway automatically. I was able to escape," he reports.

As Allen says, not everyone is that lucky. According to NHTSA research, there were 361 passenger vehicle occupant drowning fatalities annually between 2004 and 2007. The most common scenario for a drowning was in connection with a single-vehicle rollover accident.

After buying an escape tool for every driver in your family, be sure they store it where it's reachable by a seatbelt-restrained driver. And don't forget to check periodically to ensure it hasn't been moved.

"I'll Learn To Change a Tire"
The ominous sound of a tire deflating or the startling pop of a blowout is often the first time many drivers think about dealing with a flat. Being prepared can minimize stress and prevent injury.

First, it's important to know how to react if it happens while you're driving. The National Safety Council recommends that drivers in a blowout firmly hold the steering wheel with both hands and let the car gradually slow down, without slamming on the brakes. Ease your car into a breakdown lane or roadside. Don't stop in traffic. Once stopped, put on your hazard lights.

You should also make sure you're comfortable changing a tire. If there are new drivers in your family, or anyone who's rusty, spend an afternoon practicing together.

Finally, because so many cars now come with tire-inflator kits and not spare tires, it's a good idea to get familiar with how the kits work — before you have to use one of them.

"I Won't Run on Empty"
During a wind-driven rainstorm, you start your car and see the steady glow of the low-fuel indicator light. The only station along your route is a self-serve. Do you stop, pump and get soaked, or chance the ride on low gas until you get to a more convenient station?

Driving with minimal gasoline is never a good practice, but it's an even worse idea in bad weather, when road conditions or accidents can extend normal travel time.

In addition to the danger of being stranded, it's not good for your car, says Michael McHale, director of corporate communications at Subaru of America. "Any impurities that sit in the bottom of your gas tank [can be] pushed through your engine."

Keep a better watch on your gauge this year and fuel up before the needle hits the red.

"I'll Do My Part To End Drinking and Driving"
Driving requires quick reactions, clear thinking and carefully executed motor skills, all of which are compromised by drug or alcohol use.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., each day, 36 people are killed and 700 are injured in crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. Drugs are involved in about 18 percent of motor vehicle driver deaths. Most at risk include men, people between the ages of 21 and 44, motorcyclists and those with prior DUI convictions.

Deaths involving an impaired driver decreased 48.5 percent from 1982-2006. But the problem still exists.

Protect yourself and others by never driving while impaired. If you don't drink, offer to drive others to social engagements. Keep a watch on guests when you entertain. If you're a parent, make sure teens know to call you if they (or their friends) have had one too many.

Celebrate a Car-Safe New Year
By adopting safer driving habits, knowing how to deal with emergencies and putting yourself in a safe car, you'll help ensure that you and your passengers will celebrate many New Year's Days together. There are no better resolutions to keep.

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