January is Teen Driving Awareness Month, which is an excellent motivator for student drivers to brush up on some safety precautions. Statistics say that teen drivers face higher risks behind the wheel, given their lack of experience and impressionable age.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. At DriverEd Safety, our priority is to minimize danger in safe driving practices, so let’s run through some simple (yet effective) steps teen drivers can take to prevent as many negative outcomes on the road as possible.
ADJUST YOUR SEAT AND MIRRORS
Before you hit the road, position your rearview mirror so you can see out the back window without moving your head, and adjust the side mirrors to see what’s to your left and right. When it comes to your side mirrors, you want to position them so you can barely see the rear corner of your car. Adjust your seat so you’re sitting straight up and can easily reach both pedals with a slight bend of the knee, as well as the steering wheel.
PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY
The CDC reported that 39 percent of teens have admitted to texting while driving (yikes). Instead, set up your GPS app, decide on a good playlist, and answer your important texts before you put the car in motion. If you tend to get distracted easily by your phone notifications, consider silencing your phone or putting it on “do not disturb.” Apple also offers a safety feature called “Driving Focus” for your phone, which turns on automatically when you’re in a moving car.
It’s important to note that Indiana is a hands-free state, meaning that Indiana law prohibits drivers from holding mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, while driving to reduce distracted driving and improve safety on Hoosier roadways. So if you absolutely need to pick up your phone, pull over safely and put the car in park beforehand.
If you are driving a newer vehicle, there may be options available that allow you to use your phone hands-free, like Apple CarPlay or Andriod Auto. This allows you to answer calls with a button on your steering wheel or respond to texts with voice recognition commands. If you feel an urgent need to answer a text or call while you’re driving, the recommended option is to find a parking lot and pick up your phone only once you are safely stopped. In short, when you’re behind the wheel, driving should be your one and only task.
CHECK THE WEATHER
The saying “the only constant is change” directly applies to Indiana’s weather. Rain, snow, ice, wind, and every other weather condition you could think of can affect how (or if) you should drive. Always pay attention to conditions and be prepared for anything!
If you do get caught in the rain, snow, or ice, it’s encouraged to drive under the speed limit to minimize the risk of sliding or hydroplaning. Additionally, you should pay attention to not only the car in front of you but the other vehicles in front of it. It is best to increase the following distance between your car and the car ahead of you in case traffic comes to a halt and you have to suddenly hit the brakes. This is especially important in inclement weather.
LEAVE FOLLOWING DISTANCE BETWEEN YOUR CAR AND OTHERS
Tailgating is dangerous—and can even trigger angry drivers. Leaving enough space between you and the driver ahead of you, both when in motion and when stopped, is a must to avoid collisions (especially a “chain reaction” crash) and wear and tear on your car from sudden braking. Increasing your following distance also provides you with more time to react to whatever may happen in the traffic ahead of you.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR HEADLIGHTS
Headlights are extremely important for your safety, so make sure to test that they are working correctly before driving off. While some newer cars may have automatic headlights that are triggered once it gets dark, not all cars have that option. A quick rule of thumb is that as it gets dark, double-check that your headlights are on.
Once you reach your destination, ensure the car is completely turned off before leaving it. There’s no better way to ruin your day than accidentally leaving your headlights on and returning to a dead car battery. Most newer cars automatically turn the headlights off once parked and locked, but it never hurts to check!
LEARN TO READ TRAFFIC
Learning to read traffic is especially useful for slow or stopped traffic. The first rule of thumb is to always pay attention to the car in front of you and the vehicles in front of it. This will give you cues into what traffic is like up ahead and will prepare you for any sudden braking, merging, etc.
You can also look to taller vehicles in the distance (like semi trucks) as guides because these trucks sit higher than other cars, meaning they have better visibility down the road. Paying attention to their maneuvers can help you safely switch lanes and more easily pass construction and accident sites up ahead. With that being said, many drivers don’t like driving directly behind large vehicles because it obstructs their view of what’s ahead. Try to avoid driving right behind these big vehicles, but if you get sandwiched between them, increase your following distance so you can broaden your view of what’s ahead.
SOBER DRIVING IS THE ONLY WAY TO DRIVE
This should be a no-brainer, especially considering the legal drinking age and the popularity of ride apps like Uber and Lyft. Remember: driving and alcohol don’t mix, and the results could forever alter your life (and others) in a negative way.
Even when you are not the one driving, do not get into a car with an adult who has had too much to drink. Use your best judgment when someone offers you a ride. If you have any doubts about their ability to drive, it’s best to decline the offer and find another way home.
LEARN TO DRIVE WITH DRIVER ED SAFETY
These tips just scratch the surface of all there is to learn as a new driver. The CIESC Driver Education Program offers courses online and behind the wheel to develop effective defensive driving techniques and create responsible, knowledgeable, licensed drivers.