Americans are driving more than ever. Every year, the average driver spends more than 17,600 minutes driving, with over 87% of people over the age of 16 having driven in the past year.

Unfortunately, car accidents are also on the rise. The National Safety Council estimates they were responsible for 40,000 deaths in 2016, the highest number since 2007. With the number of drivers and time spent behind the wheel steadily increasing, it’s important to practice safe driving techniques and follow the laws of the road to ensure the safety of yourself, your passengers, and others on the road.

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Common Car Safety Issues

Collisions with another vehicle, a pedestrian, an animal, or an object on or near the road (like a tree or pole) can be deadly. Some of the most common causes of collisions include:

Driving Safety Concerns

  • Speeding
  • Disobeying traffic laws
  • Impairment from alcohol or drugs, including some prescription medications
  • Driving while distracted (texting / eating)
  • Debris or obstructions on the road
  • Poor weather conditions, like rain or snow
  • Tailgating (driving too close to other cars)
  • Driving at night, or while drowsy
  • Falling asleep at the wheel
  • Animals crossing the road
  • Pedestrians on the road

Driving while drunk or distracted and disobeying traffic laws are the most common causes of vehicle accidents. Following the laws of the road and staying focused can help prevent dangerous crashes and save lives.

Safety Tips for Drivers

Some accidents can’t be prevented, but there are many ways that drivers can reduce their risk of having one. Safe driving protects both you and your passengers, and helps keep the road safe for other drivers and pedestrians.

Never drive without a license: It is illegal to drive without a valid driver’s license in the U.S. Licensing laws vary by state, but most states allow you to start driving at age 16. To get your license, you first have to get a learner’s permit, before taking classes and passing both a written and practical driving test. Your license must be renewed every few years, and you should never drive if your license has expired.

Perform car maintenance checks before driving: Before getting into your car, always do a quick check to make sure everything’s in working order. Check your tire pressure, since tires without enough air can lead to many issues on the road. Make sure that all lights are working, as driving with dead headlights or taillights is not only dangerous, but illegal. Finally, walk around your car to look for any suspicious leaks, which may indicate internal engine issues.

Most cars have maintenance lights that will alert you of any issues when driving. Pay attention to your dashboard lights, and take your car in for repairs immediately if you spot an issue.

Make sure to get your car inspected: Getting your car inspected regularly is the best way to catch any issues early before they become more dangerous or expensive to repair. States regulations for inspections vary, but many require your car to be inspected every one or two years to ensure its safety.

Always wear your seat belt: Always buckle your seatbelt while inside your vehicle. Over half of all people who die in car accidents are not wearing their seat belts. Seat belts save lives and reduce the likelihood of serious injury if an accident occurs.

Obey traffic laws and pay attention to other vehicles: Many accidents are the result of a driver not paying attention to other vehicles or deliberately violating traffic laws. Speeding, running a red light or stop sign, changing lanes without looking for other vehicles, and driving too close to a vehicle in front are some of the most common causes of accidents, and can be deadly. Even if you are in a rush, never drive recklessly, and be careful around other reckless drivers on the road.

Never drive under the influence: Driving under the influence accounts for over one third of all fatal car accidents. Drugs and alcohol impair your judgment and reflexes, making you more likely to make a mistake. Across the U.S., it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level over .08%.Both illegal and recreational drugs and some prescription medications can increase your risk of having an accident on the road. If you are taking any medications, check with your doctor that you are safe to drive.

Stay focused and don’t get distracted: In almost every state, the use of texting while driving is illegal, and about half ban drivers from making hand-held cell phone calls. Eating, looking at passengers, and listening to loud music can also cause you to lose focus, increasing your risk of being in an accident.

Watch out for obstacles and inclement weather: Some road hazards are beyond your control, like poor weather or debris in the road. Look out for obstacles in your path like fallen branches or oil spills, and try to avoid swerving into other cars or braking suddenly, as this may cause another vehicle to crash into you from behind. Check the weather forecast before a trip, and if you don’t feel comfortable driving in poor conditions, leave the car at home. Snow can be especially hazardous, so use snow tires and be sure that your windshield wipers are working before you head out.

Safety Tips for Passengers

While drivers have the most control over the vehicle, passengers can take some steps to protect themselves and others on the road.

  • Never get into a car if the driver doesn’t have a valid license
  • Never drive with an intoxicated driver
  • Avoid distracting the driver
  • Always wear your seat belt
  • Never share a seat belt
  • Don’t let the driver use their phone while driving
  • Don’t make hand gestures or do anything to aggravate other drivers on the road

If you’re driving with kids in the car, make sure that they know the rules and follow them. It’s especially important that they stay calm and don’t distract the drivers. Children under the age of 12 should never sit in the front passenger seat, and young children should use car seats and boosters if they need them. Check your state legislation to find out local age requirements for using car seats.

Types of Safety Features in Cars

Car safety features have vastly improved over the years. This has led to a significant decrease in fatal crashes over the past few decades.Some of the leading safety aspects of modern cars include:

  • Air bags
  • Seat belts
  • Antilock brakes
  • Traction control
  • Emergency braking

Some newer cars have further features designed to prevent accidents and improve driving safety. These include:

  • Blind spot warning
  • Cruise control
  • Lane-departure warning
  • Backup camera
  • Parking assist systems
  • Telematics
  • Tire pressure monitors
  • Pedestrian detection

If you’re looking to buy a new car, find out what safety features are available.

What to Do if You Have an Accident

Being safe on your road reduces your risk of being in an accident, but some are unpreventable. If you are involved in a crash, try to stay calm and call 911 as soon as possible.

If you are not incapacitated, move to the side of the road and away from traffic. Turn on your vehicle’s hazard lights so other cars know to go around it. If you spot any gasoline leaks, move yourself and your passengers away from the vehicles immediately.

Always report accidents to the authorities, even if they are minor. Make sure to tell them of any crash debris that could obstruct other cars. If anyone is injured, be careful not to move them, as this can make their injuries worse. Since some injuries are internal and not always noticeable at first, it’s important to get yourself checked out by a medical professional after having an accident.

Car Safety Statistics

Of accident survivors Had been wearing a safety belt.NHTSA, 2015

Driving a car is a highly convenient mode of transportation for many Americans and often necessary for a person’s job. But before buying a car, always consider the safety risks and take steps to prevent accidents.In 2015, about 2.5 million people were injured and 40,000 killed in car accidents in the U.S. Of those who survived a crash, 86% were wearing a seatbelt, while almost half of those killed were not.

Texting while driving is one of the most dangerous things to do while driving, leading to an estimated 1.6 million accidents every year, and over 330,000 injuries. 25% of all car crashes involve a cell phone.