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Winter Driving

19 Safe Driving Tips for a Hassle-Free Ride

Nancy Dunham

Pop quiz: Do you know more about driving than Indy race car driver Johnny Unser of the Unser Racing Family?

It’s a safe bet that most drivers don’t have Unser’s knowledge or skill but still drive in ways he wouldn’t consider.

“One of the biggest problems people have is how to control their cars and how to manage their distractions,” says Unser, who is now a technical advisor for Cooper Tire and race director for Pro Mazda. “Obviously the more focused you are, the better your driving. When you’re driving, you have no idea what the other guy is going to do.”

When Unser climbed behind the wheel of his race car, his entire focus became the car and his driving. He takes the same stance in personal vehicles.

Even if you’re an experienced driver, consider these safe driving tips from Unser and other driving professionals.

1. Make Sure Your Car Is Road-Ready

Many drivers don’t regularly check their cars’ fluid levels, windshield wipers, lights and other elements. Yes, a professional should regularly service your car, especially before a long trip. You need to spot check it, too, though.

“I’m extra careful about checking the fluids, the windshield wipers, the washer fluid and the tire pressure,” says Unser. “A lot of people also forget to check their tires’ pressure.”

Incorrect tire pressure can cause a blow out or flat. It also reduces fuel efficiency and causes uneven wear of the tires.

Some drivers don’t realize the tire pressure increases in heat and decreases in cold. Drivers should check the stickers on the door jams of the drivers’ side doors to determine the correct pressure.

Check Tire Pressure

2. Familiarize Yourself With the Vehicle

Do you know everything about your car? Your relative’s car? Or the rental vehicles you drive on vacations?

It’s vital to familiarize yourself with the car before you drive.

You never know if you’ll need to decipher a signal or locate a switch – think of the hazard lights – that you don’t regularly use.

If there is not an owner’s manual in the car, request one or look online.

“Make sure it’s set up properly before you leave,” says Unser. “You need to sit there until you’re totally comfortable in the car. We don’t drive a car onto the track until we’re completely comfortable. It should be the same in a personal car.”

3. Check Your Car Insurance

Review your car insurance before your trip. You need to know what coverage you have if a mishap occurs. Having towing insurance, for example, could be extremely helpful if you’re in an accident. It also helps to know ahead of time whether your insurance will cover a rental car. If it doesn’t, you can make adjustments to your policy before your trip, just in case the unexpected occurs.

4. Rest Before and During Your Trip

Some people push themselves to drive long distances. After all, they drive all the time, right? Former police officer Jeff Westover, an owner and instructor at 911 Driving Schools in Tacoma and Lakewood, Washington, noted most people regularly drive very short distances such as from home to work. Road trips are different.

“How many times do you hear about someone getting up at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. and driving all night?” he says. “I was a cop for 18 years, and I’m now a driving instructor. I would never do that.”

When you’re tired, your reaction time slows so you’re in more danger. And those with less-than-perfect eyesight may also have difficulty seeing well in the dark.

It’s also essential to add time for plenty of breaks from driving into your trip. And if you grow tired while driving you should switch drivers or find lodging.

“You see so many people driving for 12 straight hours just so they can lay by a pool for a few days,” says Westover. “Don’t be in such a rush.”

5. Watch for Those Driving Under the Influence

When drivers see another car weave in traffic, they often think the driver is talking or texting on a cell phone. Many times, though, the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, says Westover.

“Most DUIs happen between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., but they can happen at anytime,” he says. “Never drive next to those who may be impaired. Also, don’t try to drive around them. Stay behind them and put as much distance as possible between your car and theirs.”

6. Don’t Drive While Impaired

Even if you don’t drink alcohol or use narcotics, you might still be an impaired driver. Those that are tired or not fully concentrating on the drive are guilty of cognitive impaired driving, says Westover.

“Sometimes you look at a driver in the next car, and they have their hands at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock,” says Westover of the recommended stance to keep control of the car and keep them out of the way of a deployed airbag. “You think ‘Boy, they are really concentrating.’ But sometimes those people are thinking of everything else except driving.”

Practice Unser’s advice and pay strict attention to your driving and your car.

7. Give Yourself Room to Escape

You know you shouldn’t tailgate or stop too close to the car in front of you.

Westover recommends the four-second rule – watch the car in front of you, look at a fixed object (such as a street light or mile marker sign) and then count. If you pass the object in less than four seconds, you’re too close.

When you stop your car in traffic, check that you can see the rear tires in the car in front of you.

Those habits can prevent an accident or even a chain reaction if the car in front of you stops or slows suddenly.

8. Rethink How You Drive on Country Roads

When you drive on deserted, rural roads, consider driving more toward the center of those roads, says driving expert Wyatt Knox, special projects director for Team O’Neil Rally School in Dalton, New Hampshire. That way, if a moose, deer or other danger does appear, you’ll have an opportunity to quickly pull to either side of the road to avoid a crash.

Safe Driving Tips for Country Roads

9. Prepare for All Weather Conditions

The different climates in the U.S. mean drivers can quickly go from snow to dust storms to 80-degree weather in a short time. Check the weather forecast before you leave and make sure you have packed appropriate gear. If ice and snow are in your future include a snow brush, a snow shovel and sand or kitty litter (to improve traction on ice), suggests safety and security expert Alyse Ainsworth of ASecureLife.com of Salt Lake City. Regardless of whether you are driving in wintry conditions, or sporadic summer weather, make sure to have these essential supplies on hand:

  • A blanket
  • Bottled water
  • An extra cell phone charger
  • Flares
  • A jack that you can actually operate

“We know from auto crash statistics that summer is actually the most dangerous time to drive, yet a May 2017 Michelin survey found that two-thirds of Americans felt safer on summer roads citing better road conditions and warmer weather,” says Ron Margadonna, Senior Technical Marketing Manager, Michelin. “But the truth is that foul weather, in this case rain and wet roads, can originate quickly, be abundant and can be over a prolonged time period.

10. Understand Emergency Driving Techniques

Everyone who spoke for this article underscored the importance of proper tires. But drivers also need to know how to react when they can’t control a car that slides on wet pavement, known as hydroplaning.

“There is a common misconception that the best thing to do when hydroplaning is to take your foot completely off the gas pedal and let the car coast until you regain traction,” Margadonna says. “But during a hydroplaning situation, rapid deceleration, acceleration or steering can apply additional forces to the tire that could further reduce grip and possible loss of control. The proper response is to keep light pressure on the accelerator pedal and steer straight forward until tires regain traction.”

11. Pack Supplies

Pack water and snacks, no matter the season, says Burrese. And if you travel with a pet, make sure you can care for them.

“Look at people that get stuck, whether it’s a traffic jam or an accident. You might have to wait for hours before the road gets cleared,” he says. “You want to make sure that you have some liquids and have something to eat to help keep everybody in the vehicle hydrated and health. That’s especially important on a super hot summer day.”

12. Print Out Vital Numbers

If you belong to a roadside assistance service, make sure you have your membership card and the contact number with you when you travel, suggests Kriston. You can save the details on your phone, but you should also write them down on a piece of paper that you keep in your glove box, just in case your phone runs low on battery power. You don’t want to waste your phone’s energy searching for information when you need to make the call for help.

13. Carry a Paper Map and Directions

It’s easy to rely on your GPS, but it’s not infallible. What if you haven’t updated it recently? What if it can’t find a signal? Or, what if it simply breaks down? Pack maps and written directions, advises Kriston.

14. Store Valuables in the Trunk

Many drivers leave luggage, cameras, purses and other valuables in plain view when they go into a restroom or store for “just a minute.” You may feel carefree on vacation, but thieves are still working. Store your luggage and valuables in the trunk, even if your drive isn’t long, says Kriston.

Winter holidays may be a time for good will towards men, but that doesn’t mean would-be thieves aren’t still on the prowl. Store your presents in your trunk, even if your drive isn’t particularly long. Don’t let yourself become the victim of a holiday Grinch.

15. Don’t Overload Your Vehicle

If you pack your vehicle to the brink, you are asking for trouble, says RV industry expert Mark Koep, founder of CampgroundViews.com. Look at the vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine how much weight you can carry safely. Overloading your car can cause many safety issues including tire ruptures, he says. Furthermore, carrying an extra 100 pounds in your car reduces fuel economy by one percent.

16. Check the Tires of Your Trailer

It’s common to see cars towing boats and trailers or recreational equipment pulled to the side of the road. Many times, that’s because the driver didn’t check the tires of the trailer or pack a spare, says Westover. Check that the tires are in good condition and properly inflated. And don’t forget the spare!

17. Insist Everyone Buckle Up

Yes, that means everyone—including the family pet. Not only are pets distracting, but in an accident, unrestrained animals can seriously injure or even kill other auto occupants and can easily themselves be injured or killed. A report by AAA and Kurgo Pet Safety notes: “An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of force, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of force.”

Spend the extra time and energy to properly secure your dog, cat, gerbil or other animals in the back seat of your car. Your car’s Lower Anchor and Tether for Children (LATCH) system, secures infant and child car seats, can be used for pet carriers as well. If you are not familiar with the system, check the car’s owner’s manual for where to find and how to use them.

18. Take Extra Care Around Tractor Trailer Trucks

Professional truck driver Billy Manas of New Paltz, New York, says many drivers of cars or RVs pass tractor trailers and then quickly cut in front of them.

“A semi needs 500 feet to stop at highway speeds,” he says. “If, God forbid, you blow a tire or a deer jets out from the brush or just about anything happens where a car driver needs to make a sudden stop, they will never survive with a truck so close to them. Give trucks space.”

And don’t pull out in front of trucks unless you have plenty of space. Again, trucks can’t stop quickly, and when they do, it is perilous.

Safe Driving Near Semi Trucks

19. Keep an Eye on Your Temperature Gauge

IYour gauge should always be somewhere between “C” and “H” when your car is running, says Josh Hostetler, Course Content Supervisor, Aceable.

“If you notice that your gauge is completely to the right on ‘H,’ pull over and let your car cool down,” he says. “If it’s not safe to pull over right away, turn off your air conditioner and turn your heat on full blast instead. This action will pull hot air off the engine and push it into the car, helping to cool the engine until you’re able to pull over.

It’s easy for everyone, especially long-time drivers, to assume they know how to drive safely in any situation. But everyone’s skills change and knowledge fades. Drivers that refresh and update their driving and vehicle know-how boost the odds of staying accident- and incident-free.

We hope you found these safe driving tips helpful. Is there anything else you’d add? Let our readers know in the comments.

49 Responses to "19 Safe Driving Tips for a Hassle-Free Ride"
    • Becky Jackson | November 17, 2017 at 1:02 pm

      Thank you for these safety tips! Very helpful. Please advertise on radio stations also as the holidays are playing their course. 🙂

      • Laura Benware | November 17, 2017 at 1:19 pm

        Hi Becky. We’re glad you’re finding these tips helpful. Enjoy your holidays.

      • Bob Tobolski | December 18, 2020 at 1:09 pm

        I found these tips to be very helpful and really made since. Its surprising the safe tips that a pro can give you. Some things you never think about. Thanks!

    • Frank | November 17, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Remember, if you have cataracts, night driving is more difficult!

    • Alice Brzycki | November 17, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      It’s not a bad idea to carry a sealed container of sand or cat litter too, just in case your wheels start spinning.

    • PAMELA MASTRIANNI | December 15, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      We do almost all the tips but I had not heard of number 20 and turning the heater on full blast till you are able to pull over. I am going to also tell my friends and family about that. Thank you! We live in Arizona,

      • Extra Mile Staff | December 17, 2018 at 12:52 pm

        Pamela, we are glad you found these tips helpful. Drive safely during this holiday season!

    • John Thompson | December 15, 2018 at 3:44 pm

      I’m an elder person and I do believe that I apply all of these tips or rules while driving over the years of my life so I do these things consistently Also this will help you become a more courteous, safer and defensive driver as well

    • Albert. Thomas | December 15, 2018 at 5:32 pm

      Very Important information thanks

    • Lynda Itson | December 19, 2018 at 1:18 pm

      I have roadside assistance on my policy but never received a card for my glove compartment with a number on it. Who do I call if I should need it.

    • Carl R Ewan | January 3, 2019 at 2:22 pm

      The most important thing was left out. Take your time, slow down, I am an owner operator of a semi truck and the one thing that could save your life is remembering your not Al Unser and your not in the Indianapolis 500. Automobiles of today are incredibly comfortable and easy to drive which makes them more dangerous then ever. At 80mph the average drive has no chance if anything out of the ordinary happens. It’s not how the car is equipped but a person’s reaction time that matters. Ever see the blood spot on the road where a deer had been hit and the black skid marks 20 feet beyond. Take your time!

      • Extra Mile Staff | January 3, 2019 at 4:05 pm

        Thank you for sharing this great and important advice Carl.

      • Tom | December 19, 2020 at 10:59 am

        I would like to add that it is important to move past the Semi as fast as possible because if they blow a tire that is a retread or loose the tread for any reason it could be disastrous to the car beside the truck.

    • Rosemary H Miller | January 10, 2019 at 11:35 pm

      We can’t be reminded of all those safety tips too often; I believe you covered all of them.

      • Extra Mile Staff | January 11, 2019 at 11:11 pm

        Thank you, Rosemary!

    • Sally Scott | December 17, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      These are excellent tips and a lot of common sense is applied to them. I would like to add that although we always try to leave the recommended braking distance between ourselves and the vehicle in front, somebody ALWAYS cuts into that space! The driving standards and road courtesy in Florida leave a lot to be desired.

    • Paul Desjardins | December 17, 2020 at 12:58 pm

      Also, it is unsafe to pass a tractor trailer on theright.

    • John Hammond | December 17, 2020 at 7:00 pm

      I have an old cell phone that I keep off and charged in the glove box. You can only call 911 but in an emergency that’s all you need. Check the battery every 6-9 months.

      • Extra Mile Staff | December 17, 2020 at 8:11 pm

        Great idea!

    • Bill Roberson | December 18, 2020 at 10:49 am

      Front Tire Blowout: Natural reaction to a blowout is normally to take your foot of the accelerator and apply brakes. However, experts I have read strongly advise doing just the opposite. Accelerate until you have control of the car/bus/truck/RV then slow down pull off the road and stop. This is because the blowout causes the vehicle to lunge to the side of the blowout. Applying brakes will cause the vehicle to further lunge to the side of the blowout. Accelerating causes the vehicle to move forward not sideways. Since I don’t trust myself to remember all this should a blowout occur I always drive with the cruse control on.

    • ken greff | December 18, 2020 at 12:37 pm

      ALWAYS,ALWAYS Signal Turns..We can,t read your mind!!!!!

    • Nina Lilienthal - Murphy | December 18, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      I found the 20 Tips while driving, very helpful. There were a few things I was not concerned with before, like the temperature gauge, living in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the idea to turn the heat on if your engine is hot, is a great idea till I can pull over. Also, the importance of giving trucks enough room, is something I need to improve on.
      Excellent tips, I recommend everyone to read these important driving tips, Thank you,

    • Dwaine Jackson | December 19, 2020 at 10:29 am

      Always be sure to double check a driver in the right hand lane before crossing back into the right hand lane. There are many drivers riding in the “blind” zone of we drivers. Do not accept a courtesy left turn in front of a driver in the inside lane of a 4 lane road. You cannot predict what the other lane outside lane driver will do. Do not assume that the Caution lights will get all drivers to come to a stop in front of you. Many drivers are running Caution lights and sometimes Red lights. Always be careful to observe pedestrian walkways in shopping areas.

    • Sue Paul | December 19, 2020 at 10:37 am

      It’s always a good reminder to check tires & know how to drive if hydroplaning. Thanks!

    • evans winter | December 19, 2020 at 10:42 am

      When someone passes me I check the side mirror to see what’s behind, so if #1 moves back into my lane and slows quickly to my speed (which many do) I can swap lanes in order to keep distance. DISTANCE,DISTANCE,DISTANCE— When approaching construction (or other stop) zone , stop early, check mirror behind you, and be prepared to exit to shoulder.

    • evans winter | December 19, 2020 at 10:45 am

      Keep adding !!!

    • Ken Boone | December 19, 2020 at 11:08 am

      Thanks for caring . . . None other of my insurance carrier of the past ever provided such tips. The reminder about other drivers being under the influence, is a good tip . . . It reminds us to ‘Drive defensively’.

    • Carolyn Shively | December 19, 2020 at 11:10 am

      Your advice is spot on. I would only add to please “look out for the other guy”while driving. Some people seem to drive more aggressively since COVID 19.

    • Carol | December 19, 2020 at 11:17 am

      Love this info. I will make a copy for my grand daughter who will be driving in a year or so. Also, I am a female, and one time I had a male passenger with me at night on the highway and he kept telling me to pass the 2 trucks in front of me when they flashed their lights but I didn’t feel safe because I couldn’t see clearly. Even though it may have been safe I told him to shut up and I slowed down for a while. I suppose the truck drivers weren’t too happy either.

    • Paul Popson | December 19, 2020 at 11:28 am

      Great advise. Especially about large Trucks.
      I would add “stay to the right except to pass”.
      Too many drives believe because they are going the speed limit they have the “right” to drive there. They don’t call it the “fast lane” for nothing!
      It’s the law on FL’s Turnpike.
      Also, need to mention be alert to traffic conditions and vehicles pulled off the road and on the roadside a good distance ahead. You need to move to the middle lane or left to allow safe passage by that potential problem area.

    • Judy Callahan | December 19, 2020 at 11:57 am

      I have always been afraid to drive on snow roads.Can you give me some advice?

    • jo-ann | December 19, 2020 at 12:09 pm

      Another item to have: a solar powered phone charger or small portable phone charger unit. I carry one in my purse at all times. It can give 2 full chargers to the phone.

    • Chuck Middlekauff | December 19, 2020 at 2:33 pm

      Great information. And if the temperature outside is lower than 60 degrees (maybe even 65), don’t forget to take your jacket along in the car. If you’re stranded somewhere for awhile, you’re gonna need it, especially if the sun isn’t out.

    • Marybacker | December 19, 2020 at 3:28 pm

      I found this information very helpful. Some was a refresher some new especially the hydroplaning.
      Thank you.

    • William Morrow | December 19, 2020 at 3:38 pm

      Turn on your headlights.so you can be seen. At Dawn and Dusk and in the rain, this is very important.

    • James A. Ostrander | December 20, 2020 at 6:22 am

      I’m always ready for safety tips.

    • John H. Loretan | December 20, 2020 at 9:59 am

      As much as we love them, keep the children in the rear seats😊🙏🏿

    • Nancy A Prescott | December 20, 2020 at 2:18 pm

      Excellent information for everyone. However, I have an added comment for number 8, driving on country or rural roads. You suggested driving toward the center of the road. I’m adding that when coming to a hill or where the view of oncoming traffic is altered, drive on your own side. Too many accidents happen on rural roads because both drivers were driving in the middle.

    • Mary Hagen | December 20, 2020 at 2:34 pm

      Thank you. It is good to review driving safety tips. I have a dog and do not strap him in. After reading your safety tips, I will.

    • Dwaine Jackson | December 21, 2020 at 7:10 am

      Tip no. 1 : Always carry a good working flashlight and at least a light jacket in your car.

      Tip no. 2: Always have a document in your glove compartment to identify you as the driver and and name and address / phone number information. You should also identify 2 or 3 contact names and phone numbers in the immediate area in case of an emergency.

      Tip no 3: Make sure your head lights and tail lights are in working order.

      Tip no 4: Anytime your car breaks down, always be in the outer roadside area of the car, and not on the side closest to the driving traffic.

    • Mary Kay Hansen | December 22, 2020 at 10:06 am

      I can’t believe how MOST people ignore the posted speed limit and follow too close! I believe this is the number one reason for wrecks and pile-ups. It helps to walk on an overpass and stand still to see just how fast the cars are coming; imagining how much time would it take for you to stop if the car in front of you crashed? I’ve heard that you should have one car length of distance in front of you per every 10 mph you drive; that’s an easy way to figure it. But, PLEASE GO THE SPEED LIMIT. It blows my mind every time I drive from Cincinnati to Lexington and back. It seems like I am the only one that pays attention to the posted speed limit. Some semi-truck drivers drive like they are in a little sports car; buzzing around cars and following too close. Also, I find that people won’t let people over; selfishly making the other driver cringe. This also causes wrecks because the driver trying to get over is slowing down to beg for someone to let them over. I found some excellent following distance information here: https://www.cfins.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/RE-ALT01-2016-Following-Distance.pdf

    • diana | December 23, 2020 at 12:16 pm

      Hardly anyone uses turn signals here. sometimes it is just as they are turning. I think they are very important And don’t get me started about roundabouts. Lots of people here actually stop instead of yielding. Many roundabouts here! those two drives me nuts!

    • Gerardo Garcia | December 23, 2020 at 9:09 pm

      Excellent tips and reminders for us skilled but distracted drivers! Thank you and Merry Christmas.

    • Harold Dwaine Jackson, Jr. | January 4, 2021 at 9:22 am

      On mornings after a rain or cold (freezing) night, always be sure to clear both front windows, and the back glass. It is also important to make sure your side mirrors are clean of rain drops or any ice. I keep a bottle of de-icer and a small towel in my trunk to resolve any such problems.

    • Sherman Jones | January 21, 2021 at 5:49 pm

      Always, always allow pedestrians the right of way even if they’re crossing against the light. A pedestrian could be under the influence or otherwise mentally impaired. Always, always use those turn signals. Pedestrians need to know your intentions as well as other drivers. Make using your turn signals a habit every single time you turn. When backing out in a parking lot or just your driveway. Using your turn signals is safety communication. Cars have changed however the drivers still have the same reaction time.

    • Harold Jackson | January 22, 2021 at 5:40 pm

      Place a written or typed note inside of your glove box of your car with these critical bits of information:
      1. Your name and address
      2. Your phone number
      3. The name or names of contact person(s) in the event of an emergency. You might also include their address, city and state.

      4. Always carry a flashlight in good working order in the front of your vehicle. It is a good idea to carry a first aid kit, if not in the vehicle, at least have one in the trunk.
      5. It is a good idea to carry at least one light blanket in your vehicle trunk.
      6. Use glare guards over your visors to shield against the sun and ice reflections.

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