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Posted on September 01, 2003

Safe Driving 101

by Bob (Ram) Muessig

Over the years, and miles, during my career as a professional driver, I’ve learned a great deal in regard to safe driving, all of which boils down to this:DRIVING IS A FULL-TIME JOB!The sooner one realizes this simple concept; the sooner one becomes a much safer driver.

See and be seen.Plan ahead for emergencies.Communicate by signaling your intentions.Use warning devices if you must stop on or near the roadway.Control your speed and adjust it to accommodate varying road and weather conditions.Never tailgate.Don’t “over-drive” your lights.ALL bits of good advice?Absolutely, but how many of us are truly aware of these things…ALL the time?

Let’s take ‘em one at a time…

See and Be Seen 

Most of us are probably thinking “Simple enough”, but, in reality, the opposite is true.Seeing and being seen require attentiveness on your part.Not looking and seeing properly are major causes of accidents.“Be seen” by using your lights, even during daylight hours.This will reduce the chance of your going unnoticed by other drivers and minimize part of the problem.Now, let’s examine the other part…seeing.
Being a safe driver includes knowing what is going on all around your vehicle…ALL the time.Look ahead…WAY ahead.Most good drivers look 12 to 15 seconds ahead.In other words, look ahead about as far as you will travel in 12 to 15 seconds.At low speeds in city traffic, that could be only about one city block, but at highway speeds, it may be about a quarter of a mile…or more.Keep an eye out for vehicles entering the highway, moving into your lane, or turning.Watch for brake lights on slowing vehicles.By seeing these things, you may be able to adjust your speed or move into a different lane if necessary to avoid problems.

Watch for hills, curves –anything you might have to slow down or change lanes for.Pay attention to traffic signs and signals.That green light which has been on for so long will more than likely turn red soon, so start slowing and be ready to come to a stop.Don’t just speed up in order to get through the light, for doing so is a deadly practice.

Know what’s going on behind and to the sides, as well.Check your mirrors regularly.In an emergency, you may need to change lanes and those mirrors are going to help you…if you use them.You’ll be able to spot overtaking vehicles, see open spots into which you could move, and see things which may help you avoid danger.Use those mirrors effectively (See my article on “Mirrors”) .


“Ahhhh, yes.The Great Baldini,” placing fingertips to the temples and closing the eyes, “senses that the car on the corner is going to turn.”Baldini?How ‘bout ‘Balderdash’?There’re no mind readers out there, and no driver knows exactly what the other driver is going to do unless there is some form of communication…and I don’t mean telepathy.
Use your turn signals and signal well before you turn.That way, others won’t be so inclined to pass you.Don’t cancel the signal until you have completed your turn.When you get ready to change lanes, signal, check your mirrors and, if it’s safe, change lanes slowly and smoothly.Then check your mirrors again and cancel the signal.

Warn other drivers behind you when you see that you will need to slow down.A few light taps on the brake pedal should be sufficient.If you must stop, or travel very slowly, consider using the hazard flashers.But be sure it’s legal.Some states don’t allow the use of hazard flashers in this instance, so check with the local DMV to be sure.Many folks don’t realize how slow you may have to go to complete a turn, so give them plenty of warning by braking early and slowing gradually.

Don’t direct traffic.If you try to help others by signaling when it’s safe to pass, you could cause an accident and find yourself to blame.Want an expensive lawsuit?Then, direct traffic.

Warning Devices

If you have to park on the side of the road, be sure to turn on those hazard flashers…especially at night.Other drivers have crashed into the rear of a parked vehicle because they thought it was moving normally, so don’t trust the only tail-lights to give adequate warning.

Your warning devices (triangles, lanterns, reflectors, and/or flares) must also be put in place within ten (10) minutes, so you should know how to set them up and place them properly.By the way, when setting up your warning devices, hold them between yourself and the oncoming traffic so other drivers can see you.

Speed Control 

If you double your speed, it will take about four times as much distance to stop.Your vehicle will also have about four times the destructive power if it crashes.High speeds increase the stopping distances so, by slowing down, you gain a lot in reduced braking distance.
There are four distances with which you need to be familiar…

Perception Distance:The distance you travel until your brain registers a hazard.

Reaction Distance:The distance traveled until you actually begin to brake.

Braking Distance:The distance it takes to come to a complete stop.

Total Stopping Distance:Add all three above together.

At 55 MPH, your rig takes about six seconds to stop and your vehicle will have traveled about the length of a football field.Perception distance = about 60 feet.Reaction distance, with an average reaction time of .75 of a second = another 60 feet.Braking Distance at 55 MPH can take another 170 +/- feet.The total distance covered from the time you recognize a hazard until you come to a complete stop adds up to approximately 290 feet.

Weather and road conditions can be unpredictable, so you must adjust your speed for these varying situations.You must have traction in order to steer or brake, and there are scenarios which will drastically reduce it.When driving on slippery surfaces, slow down!On a wet road, reduce your speed by about one-third; on packed snow – by one-half or more; on ice – reduce your speed to a crawl and stop driving as soon as you can safely do so.

On wet highways, be on guard against “hydroplaning”.This phenomenon may occur at speeds as low as 30 MPH, and is more likely to occur if your tire pressure is low or the tread is worn.Remember, it doesn’t take much water on the surface of the road to cause your rig to begin hydroplaning.If it happens, don’t use the brake.Reduce your speed by taking your foot off the throttle and try to keep things going in a straight line.Once you’ve regained traction, keep your speed down.

Never Tailgate 

If you’re driving a car or pick-up, the general rule-of-thumb is to allow at least two (2) seconds between you and guy ahead of you.That usually gives you adequate time to stop or slow in the event of some emergency ahead.However, if you’re driving your RV, it would be better to allow 4 seconds or more between you and that guy in front of you.The weight of your rig dictates longer stopping distances as mentioned above.Think about it.

“Overdriving Your Lights” 

This is a problem that occurs only at night – overdriving your lights.Use your high-beams except when there is a vehicle ahead within at least 500 feet, or an oncoming vehicle within 500 feet.It may take longer for you to see a hazard at night.You probably won’t see it until your lights illuminate it, and most likely it’ll be within 200 to 300 feet.55 MPH may then not be a safe speed at which to drive.40 MPH may well be more appropriate for nighttime travel.The sort of hazard that may present itself could easily be one or more deer, elk, or other animal that feeds after dark and before dawn.Who wants to drive at night anyway?I’m usually parked in some RV park or campground by about 5 PM and asleep by 10 PM.We’re RVers, remember?We’re not supposed to be in a hurry.
Well, now that all these things have been addressed, take a bit of time to get familiar with them.It can’t hurt, and may well help you become a safer driver.‘Nuff said.Happy travelin’.

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