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Auto Safety Tips for the New Driver

Getting behind the wheel of a car and earning a license to drive is a major step on the road to being an adult. The ability to drive is an important part of what it means to become independent and self-sufficient and is considered by society to be an essential rite of passage. However, with new rights and privileges come new responsibilities, and driving is an activity that brings with it significant risks. Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 12 and 19 years of age. These deaths and injuries are almost entirely preventable by learning and following safe driving rules and strategies.

Minimize Distractions

There are three kinds of distractions that occur while a person is driving, and they are called cognitive, visual, and manual distractions. A cognitive distraction, such as daydreaming or talking, is one that takes a person's mind off of driving. Looking at a passenger is an example of a visual distraction, as it takes the driver's eyes off of the road. Activities such as putting on makeup or combing one's hair are examples of manual distractions, as they involve taking one or both hands off of the steering wheel. Some activities cause multiple simultaneous distractions, although any one of them can result in an auto accident. For instance, adjusting the radio may require taking one's eyes off of the road, concentrating on playing with the radio controls, and taking a hand off of the steering wheel, which makes it a cognitive, manual, and visual distraction. It's important that drivers never engage in any activity that takes their mind or eyes off of the task of driving or their hands off of the steering wheel. As new drivers, it is important to avoid driving with friends or other passengers due to the fact that they can represent a dangerous cognitive or even visual distraction.

Don't Text/Call When Driving

The use of a cell phone while driving is another example of distracted driving. Texting and making calls is a manual, cognitive, and visual distraction all in one. This fact makes cell phone use as dangerous as drunk driving, and it is a major cause of accidents for teenagers. It is important to never use a cell phone while driving, and in many states, it is illegal for young drivers to use a phone at the wheel even if it's a hands-free one. If using a cell phone is for any reason necessary, pull over in a safe place first.

Practice Defensive Driving

Sometimes, observing laws related to safe driving is not enough to avoid an auto accident due to the fact that others on the road may be impaired or acting recklessly. Defensive tactics are necessary in order to avoid being a victim of someone else's hazardous behavior. For example, it is important to keep a safe distance, at least three seconds' worth, behind the car ahead of you. In rainy weather, fog, or other inclement weather conditions, the distance between cars should be increased. Watch out for other hazards, such as drivers who are acting aggressively as well as pedestrians and bicyclists who might come out into the street. Always drive in a way that gives you a means of changing lanes, slowing down, or otherwise taking evasive action if the threat of an auto accident suddenly emerges.

Obey the Speed Limit

While driving faster than the posted speed limit is against the law, it is also dangerous. The faster a car is moving, the more time it will take to slow down or avoid sudden hazards. In addition, higher speeds mean that the severity of a collision will be worse due to the fact that the force of impact increases along with the car's velocity. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speeding is a factor in up to a third of fatal car crashes that involve teenagers. Also, be sure to reduce your speed below the speed limit in situations such as rain and icy roads, where it will take longer to slow down, or low-visibility situations such as fog.

Wear Your Seat Belt

Seat belts protect the lives of drivers and passengers by reducing the risk of a crash-related injury, including the risk of being thrown from the vehicle. All drivers are required by law to wear their seat belts while behind the wheel, although it is something that teen drivers often fail to follow. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 20 percent of teenagers did not wear their seat belts while driving as of 2008. More than half of teenagers who die behind the wheel were not wearing their seat belts when the accident occurred.

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