To a lawyer, there's no such thing as a minor accident. Image: David Shankbone
Let’s face it – no one ever plans on getting into an accident, and most of us are over-confident in our driving ability. If you spend enough time behind the wheel, sooner or later the odds just don’t play in your favor. It’s like the opposite of a trip to Vegas, with the jackpot replaced by a roadside call to the police that none of us ever want to make. Accidents are stressful enough, but these days it’s rarely over after the police report is written. If you’re at fault, plan on being sued, which will cost your insurance company (and, potentially, you) serious money to fight in court. If the court finds in favor of the plaintiff (the guy suing you), expect to lose a substantial part of your income, possibly for a long, long time.
If you get the feeling that accidents are best avoided entirely, you’re correct. There’s no way to guarantee that you’ll never be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the five tips below should help raise the odds in your favor.
Don’t Drive Distracted
I know that we’ve flogged this particular horse to death, but people still aren’t getting the message. If you text, surf the web, eat, shave, read, apply makeup or even talk on a hand-held cell phone, sooner or later you will have an accident. If you’re lucky, it will be a minor one with no serious repercussions. If you’re not lucky, you’ll be looking at garnished wages or jail time, so ask yourself this: is replying to a “whassup” text worth three years of jailhouse marriage to a guy named Bubba?
Make Sure Your Car Is Mechanically Sound
Many states have done away with vehicle inspection programs, which seems to give drivers free reign to ignore car repair and upkeep. In Florida, it rains almost every single afternoon in the summer, yet 60 percent of the cars I see in parking lots are riding on worn-out tires. Their owners have money for dinner out, cruise vacations, new clothes or the latest electronic gadgets, but they can’t buy new tires or brakes because they’re too expensive. You know what can be exponentially more expensive than new tires? Causing an accident on worn-out tires.
Look Far Enough Ahead
Most drivers fixate on the car in front of them in traffic. If he has to stop short, guess what? Chances are good that you’re driving right into his rear bumper. In traffic, always try to look 2 or 3 car lengths ahead of you, which buys you more time to take evasive action if necessary. If you can’t see around the car or truck in front of you, change lanes until you have a clear view of traffic.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
When traffic is coming to a stop on the highway, I immediate activate my hazard lights and lightly tap my brakes a few times to flash the brake lights. Why? Because I want to let the ADD-addled driver behind me know that traffic isn’t moving at 75 miles per hour any more. I always watch my rearview mirror at a traffic light for the same reason, and I often flash my brake lights if another driver is closing on me too quickly. The more you can advise cars around you that there’s stopped traffic ahead, the less likely you are to be the guy that gets hit from behind.
Always Have An Escape Route
Few things freak me out as much as being “boxed in” in traffic, and I’ll do nearly anything I can to avoid it. Why is it so bad? Because suddenly, your safety is dependent upon the driving skill of the motorists around you, and those aren’t odds I’m willing to take. Always look for a way out of traffic situations, either on the shoulder or an adjacent lane. Never let someone drive in your blind spot for this very reason; speed up or slow down to get away from the inattentive lemming in the car alongside you, and never be the idiot who drives in someone else’s blind spot.
A lot of safe driving comes down to common sense, but that’s in short supply these days. Never trust another driver (unless you know them) and always anticipate the most bone-headed move possible from drivers around you; sooner or later, you won’t be disappointed.