For some, driving in traffic is a regular occurrence. For others, driving in cities or during rush hour is a nerve-wracking and unusual event. Regardless of your level of familiarity with city driving, there are several things you need to keep in mind to reduce the likelihood of a car accident. Driving in heavy traffic requires vigilance and patience. There are mental and physical challenges that can quickly lead even a good driver into serious trouble. The following tips can help you stay safe in any driving scenario.
Don’t tailgate. It sounds simple, but busy roads can make this a challenge. The rule of thumb for safe driving is a three second gap between you and the car in front of you. In traffic, that tends to lead to a string of drivers cutting in front of you. This brings up the second safety tip: stay calm. Defensive driving is safe driving. You cannot control the behavior of the drivers on the road with you. Getting angry and impatient will not get you to your destination any faster. It may, however, cause you to take unsafe risks or distract you at a key moment.
Pay particular attention at intersections. Chicago is home to substantial pedestrian and bicycle traffic. A hurried decision or a rolling stop can be disastrous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 40 percent of all traffic collisions happen at an intersection. A study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that people running red lights cause roughly 170,000 injuries per year. Roughly 20 percent of all fatal traffic accidents happen in intersections. It is worth it to take a few moments to come to a complete stop, yield the right of way appropriately, and look both directions before proceeding through an intersection. Even a green light does not indicate that it is safe to barrel through the intersection with your eyes on your cell phone.
That brings up a serious, and growing, problem impacting safe driving: distracted drivers. There is no shortage of competition for a driver’s attention these days. Whether you are trying to find the right radio station, programming your GPS device, checking your email or grabbing a bite to eat, distractions mean you aren’t putting your full attention on driving. A distracted driver is always a danger. In heavy traffic or urban areas, the danger is compounded by the proximity of so many other moving objects. You should always be focused on operating your motor vehicle when behind the wheel.
Source: Bloomberg, “Labor Day Travel to Rise to Five-Year High, AAA Says,” by Lynn Doan, 20 August 2013