Driving mistakes can be very costly. A serious collision can end your life, but even a minor one can wipe out your savings unless you’re well insured.
Serious road crashes are common in the US, causing some 2.4 million disabling injuries and 44,700 deaths a year. Many of these crashes are the result of poor driving habits. These errors are hard to spot because they’re often the result of physical changes that occur gradually over many years. In some cases—visual acuity, for instance—even a slight change can create serious risks.
Even worse: When you catch yourself making one kind of mistake, you may be distracted from noticing your other driving errors. People with hearing problems, for example, may concentrate so hard on listening to road sounds that they neglect to look for hazards at intersections.
Costly driving mistakes that are easy to overlook…
• Putting up with daytime glare. As we grow older, we may have difficulty with bright light, which often causes a glare that’s a serious risk on the road.
Self-defense: If adjusting your car’s sun visor doesn’t work, try wearing lightly tinted sunglasses when you drive. And of course, talk with your eye doctor, who may recommend medical procedures, such as cataract surgery, if needed.
• Putting up with nighttime glare. Glare is more common at night. If you experience it, the best solution is simply not to drive when it’s dark. Also, people who are susceptible to daytime glare are often distracted at night by their dashboard lights.
Self-defense: When you drive at night, try dimming the dashboard lights. When oncoming traffic approaches, avoid looking directly at the bright headlights and instead glance toward the right side of the road.
• Driving after dark if your nighttime vision isn’t as good as it used to be.
Self-defense: When you visit your eye doctor, ask about your nighttime vision. If the doctor finds a problem that can’t be corrected, restrict your nighttime driving.
• Failing to compensate for loss of peripheral vision. Peripheral vision loss can result from many medical conditions, including high blood pressure and migraine headaches.
Self-defense: Have your eye doctor check your peripheral vision at least once a year.
If you’ve lost peripheral vision, ask your doctor if the amount is enough to warrant giving up driving. If you’ve lost only a small amount, you may be able to compensate by turning your head very, very slightly from time to time as you drive.
• Overlooking drug effects. Since medication is intended to make us feel better mentally or physically, it’s often difficult to anticipate problems it may cause.
In fact, prescription drugs can interact with each other and with over-the-counter (OTC) medication in ways that aren’t always predictable, causing drowsiness, disorientation and other conditions that impair your driving ability.
Warning: If you drive while impaired from a drug interaction, you can be charged with “driving under the influence” just as you would if you had been drinking alcohol. The charge can result in a hefty fine, increased insurance premiums, possible loss of your driver’s license—and even jail.
Self-defense: Give each doctor who prescribes drugs for you a list of other medications you’re taking, including OTC drugs and herbal supplements. Ask the physician to check on possible interactions, and before taking a new OTC medication, check again with your doctors.
• Turning up the radio while you drive. Many of us enjoy listening to music or keeping up with the news, but a car radio can be dangerously distracting.
Self-defense: If you have the radio on, keep the volume just high enough so you can hear it.
Smart move: Whether the radio is on or not, keep a window open just a crack so you’re more aware of outside sounds, especially horns and sirens.
• Keeping your foot on the accelerator when there’s a chance you’ll soon need to use the brakes.
Self-defense: Put your foot over the brake pedal every time you take it off the accelerator—you’ll be able to stop a fraction of a second faster, often a lifesaving margin.
Also helpful in improving reaction time: Regular physical exercise (with the approval of your physician). Also, when on the road, taking frequent breaks when on a long driving trip—at least once every couple of hours.
• Not showing caution when approaching intersections.
Self-defense: Even when there’s little traffic, drive defensively by slowing down at intersections, where a high percentage of collisions occur. Scan ahead to anticipate problems, such as a car that runs a red light from either your right or left. If there’s a particularly treacherous intersection on your route, consider taking another road.
ON TOP OF YOUR GAME
Driving well—like playing a sport well—is a skill that takes continual practice. AARP, the American Automobile Association and the National Safety Council are three nationwide organizations that offer low-cost refresher driving courses—both on-line and in the classroom.
Courses from the three groups vary from state to state but usually take six to eight hours and cost less than $65. All courses emphasize defensive driving, including techniques for judging distance and making evasive maneuvers.
Added benefit: Most insurance companies reduce premiums for liability and collision coverage—typically by 10%—for drivers who complete a refresher course. To find a course in your area, contact your state motor vehicle bureau or…
• American Automobile Association, AAA.com).
• AARP, AARP.org/families/driver_safety).
• National Safety Council, NSC.org).