Motor vehicle deaths rose eight percent in 2015, the largest increase in half a century, according to the National Safety Council. An astounding 38,300 people were killed and 4.4 million were seriously injured, making 2015 the deadliest year since 2008. Car insurance industry estimates indicate that the average American will be in an accident about once every 18 years.
Don’t Drive Distracted or Drunk
About 94 percent of traffic accidents are caused by factors related to the driver, and 41 percent of driver-caused accidents involve driver inattention, internal or external distraction, or inadequate surveillance, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Cellphone-related crashes increased for the third year in a row in 2015 and now account for 27 percent of all accidents, the National Safety Council estimates. Talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones accounts for 21 percent of crashes, while texting accounts for six percent.
Meanwhile, alcohol-impaired driving contributes to one-third of all traffic-related fatalities, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Avoiding driving while distracted or drunk will greatly reduce your odds of getting in an accident. It’s best to avoid talking on the phone at all while driving, but if you feel you can’t avoid using the phone, it’s better to use hands-free calling technology than to use your hands. You can also use apps that send your calls to speakerphone or that block incoming calls and texts while you’re driving.
Maintain Your Vehicle
After driver-caused accidents, vehicle-related accidents are the next most common category of crashes, the NHTSA data shows. Tire and wheel problems are the biggest contributor to crashes in this category, accounting for 35 percent of vehicle-related accidents. Cars driving on tires that are under-inflated more than 25 percent are three times more likely to be in an accident.
Brakes are the next biggest culprit, accounting for 22 percent of vehicle-related crashes. Stay safe by making sure your tires are properly inflated, checking your tread depth regularly, keeping your brakes maintained and following other maintenance tips in your owner’s manual.
Drive at Safe Speeds
Speeding was a contributing factor to 28 percent of motor vehicle deaths in 2014, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Speeding at night is particularly dangerous, raising the risk of outrunning your headlights so that you don’t see danger before it’s too late to react, as well as raising the risk of other drivers not seeing you in time.
If you live in an area where deer cross the road, speeding further increases your risk of a dangerous and expensive accident. Follow the speed limit, and slow down in rain or snow.
Wear Seat Belts
Fifty-one percent of drivers who are killed in cars aren’t wearing seat belts, according to the NHTSA. This number rises to 58 percent for SUV drivers and 64 percent for pickup truck drivers. In contrast, wearing seat belts reduces the risk of fatality by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent for front-seat passenger car occupants, while reducing fatalities 60 percent and injuries 65 percent for light-truck occupants. Wearing your seat belt is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of being killed or seriously injured.
Choose Cars with Advanced Safety Systems
Today, many cars come with advanced safety features such as back-up cameras, blind spot monitors, lane departure warnings, anti-lock braking systems, automatic emergency braking and tire pressure monitoring systems. Knowing what systems your car has and how to use them effectively can increase your safety. MyCarDoesWhat.org provides an orientation to these types of advanced safety features.
However, AAA cautions that these advanced safety features sometimes still have bugs that are being worked out, so for instance, having a blind spot monitor should not become a substitute for maintaining a good habit of visually checking your blind spot.
If You Are in an Accident
If despite these precautionary measures you do find yourself in an accident, there are a few safety steps you should take. Move to a safe area such as the shoulder of the road, if you are able. If not, turn your hazard lights on to alert other drivers. Assuming you are able, stop your car, turn off the engine and shift into park or put on your hand brake, and get out. Check on others involved, and call for help if needed. Call the police if appropriate. Gather information about the other vehicle, eyewitnesses and attending police officers, and document the scene with your smartphone camera. File your insurance claim as soon as possible if applicable.
Author information: Roy Rasmussen, coauthor of Publishing for Publicity, is a freelance copywriter who helps small businesses get more customers and make more sales. His specialty is helping experts reach their target market with a focused sales message. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, business coaching, social media marketing, and career planning.