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Driving Defensively: Rules of the Road

More than 36,000 Americans lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2012 and medically consulted motor vehicle injuries were estimated at nearly 4 million, according to the latest report from the National Safety Council (NSC).

Driving defensively means being a safe driver yourself and keeping an eye on other drivers—because no matter how good a driver you are, high speeds or impaired or careless driving by others can place you in danger.

The NSC suggests the following guidelines to help reduce your risk on the road:

  • Make sure you and all the passengers in your car are securely fastened in seat belts before you start the engine. Pay special attention to children riding in child and booster seats.

  • If you plan to drink or use drugs, designate a sober driver. Drugs and alcohol slow your reaction time, blur and distort your vision, and impair your judgment of distance and speed.

  • Ask your doctor if any of the medications you take could affect your driving. Many prescription and nonprescription drugs, such as antihistamines, can make you sleepy and/or less aware of your surroundings.

  • Be cautious, respectful, and responsible while driving. Don’t contest the right of way or try to race another car during a merge.

  • Don't use cell phones or other mobile electronic devices while driving. The NSC specifically recommends that you do not talk on the phone, read email, text, access the internet or adjust GPS settings while operating a motor vehicle.

  • Be alert to vehicles around you. If you notice a nearby car weaving, straddling the center line, making wide turns, stopping abruptly, or responding slowly to traffic signals, realize the driver may be impaired. Call 911.

  • Maintain the posted speed limit unless you’re slowing down because of weather, traffic, or limited visibility.

  • Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Maintain a safe distance between you and the car ahead.

  • Take extra care at intersections. These precautions can reduce your risk for an accident: When approaching a green light, be prepared for it to turn yellow; it may have been green for a long time. When stopped at a red light and it turns green, proceed slowly; look left and right before you drive through the intersection. Proceed with caution when driving through a yellow light.

  • Watch for road hazards. Be aware of cars that suddenly swerve from their lanes to avoid potholes, construction barriers, or stalled vehicles.

  • When driving on a highway, always be prepared for drivers to change lanes suddenly in order to exit.

Finally, don’t drive when you’re tired or emotional. Pull off the road and don’t resume until you’re rested and in control.

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