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Nearly 400 people are estimated to die on the roads this holiday weekend. Drive defensively: yield to aggressive drivers, follow laws, expect the unexpected. Get plenty of sleep to avoid drowsy driving. Don't drive distracted. This includes your navigation system, phone, food, radio, etc. The National Safety Council estimates 398 people may be killed during the 2019 Labor Day holiday weekend. Don't be one of them. There are many ways we can all be safer on the roads this weekend and every time we turn on our vehicles. With the average American logging 13,476 miles on the road each year (Federal Highway Administration), road safety is no joke. Take the following steps to reduce your risk and have a safe and happy holiday weekend!


Before you leave:

1. Check for recalls. All you need is your vehicle's identification number and you can easily check online with the National Highway Safety Council. You can also see if car seats, tires, and equipment have recalls out. 


2. Have a check-up for your car, especially if you're planning a long road trip or you have an older vehicle.


3. Get plenty of sleep. You need seven hours of sleep before heading out on the road. You should also check your medications and make sure none of them could make you drowsy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports drowsy driving claimed 795 lives in 2017. If you have gone more than 20 hours without sleep and you're driving, this is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% (the legal limit).

If you're drowsy:

  • your reaction time is slowed
  • your ability to make smart decisions is lower
  • you are less able to pay attention

You're especially at risk for drowsy driving if you are a commercial driver, if you work the night shift, if you work over 60 hours a week, and if you're a teenager! Parents, talk to your teens about the risks. Teenagers need at least eight hours of sleep a night!


4. Designate a sober driver. Impaired driving isn't limited to alcohol. Driving while using drugs, including marijuana, is very dangerous and also counts as impaired driving. Marijuana is the drug most often found in the blood of drivers involved in crashes, including fatal crashes (see here).


5. Check your car's emergency kit. No one ever thinks they will need their emergency kit, but someone always does. You may hit a deer where you have no cell phone service. Or, you may need to wait hours before help arrives (this is especially likely on holidays). Having an emergency kit can make the difference between being stranded for days or being rescued. 


While on the road

Myth 1: Drivers can multitask. Reality: the human brain cannot do two things at the same time. Myth 2: Talking on the phone is just like speaking to a passenger. Reality: Adult passengers help the driver and alert the driver to problems. Myth 3: Speaking hands-free is safe to use while driving. Reality: Drivers talking on phones can miss up to 50% of their driving environments. Myth 4: I only use my phone at stop lights so it's ok. Reality: People are distracted up o 27 seconds after they finish sending a voice text. Myth 5: Voice-to-text is safe to do while driving. Reality: It is actually still very distracting both mentally and visually if you're looking for autocorrect errors. 1. Drive defensively.

Follow the three second rule: While driving, find a stationary object such as a mailbox, road sign, or even a tree. When the back of the vehicle in front of you passes the object, start counting. You should reach at least three Mississippi before the front of your car passes the stationary object. Ideally, you want four seconds. Remember this rule only works for ideal road conditions, so when the roads are wet you need to extend the time.

  • Follow the laws
  • Scan further down the road rather than focusing only on what is in front of you
  • Avoid aggressive drivers and yield to them
  • Check your mirrors regularly 
  • Have an escape route
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Get the big picture, meaning don't fixate on one thing. Know where every vehicle is, look for hazards, scan your mirrors, look ahead, and have that escape route ready.

2. Don't drive drowsy. While caffeine can help, it only provides temporary relief. If you notice yourself drifting into other lanes, pull over.

3. Don't drive distracted. This goes beyond texting. Using your car's navigation system, eating while driving, doing your makeup, fiddling with the radio station, andanything else that takes your hands off the wheel and your mind off the road is distracted driving. Our brains cannot do two things at the same time. Instead, our brain switches between the two tasks, and that switching takes time. Whether it's your phone or the car's navigation system, you simply aren't paying attention to the road and your surroundings when you're busy doing something else.

Don't rely on your car's technology to compensate for your lack of driving. Most drivers overestimate what this new technology can actually do. For example, forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking do not do the same thing! New technology in cars can actually distract drivers rather than keep us safe and these new technologies are tricking drivers into a false sense of security. Learn more here and here.

Consider cell phone blocking technology, which prevents drivers from answering calls or making them and from texting. 911 is still allowed though!


 4. Look for motorcycles, pedestrians, and cyclists. Most of us are used to scanning the road for other vehicles, but this means it's easy for our brain to overlook motorcycles, pedestrians, and so forth. Make it a habit to consciously look for motorcycles and etc. If you're not a biker, see our tips for safe driving with motorcycles on the road. When you do see them, give them plenty of space. Safely pass pedestrians and cyclists (see here). Can't move into another lane to pass a pedestrian or a cyclist? Slow down and or stop until you can pass at a safe distance!


For more information and great resources about driving safely this Labor Day Weekend from the National Safety Council, see here.

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