Advice for new drivers
Safety is in your hands.
Congratulations. You've passed your driver's test. Now, slide into the seat of honor—behind the steering wheel. Do you hear the metallic click that tells you the safety belt is secure? Are you ready? Are you set? Are you raring to go? Just remember one thing: You are about to take the controls of a big, deadly bullet —a rolling weapon wrapped in paint and chrome.
Safe driving requires a no-nonsense attitude and a fine-tuned sense of responsibility. The average weight of a passenger car is about 3,300 pounds. It's easy to see that every trip can be a trip to the morgue—for you the driver, or for others—if you are not alert at all times.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers advice for new drivers. The organization notes that each year some two million Americans are injured in traffic accidents. Nearly 50,000 of them are killed. According to the NHTSA, most highway deaths and injuries are a result of these factors:
• Non-use of safety belts
• Aggressive driving
• Alcohol or drug impairment
• Driving while drowsy
• Excessive speed
• Lack of driving experience
Most advice for new drivers stems from common sense. Always check your car's readiness before departing on a trip. Are the tires properly inflated? Is the gas tank sufficiently filled? Check on the condition of your spare tire. In the nerve-wracking moments after a blowout, it's frustrating to find out the spare is missing—or flat.
More hair pulling occurs when one discovers there is a spare tire, but no jack—the device used to jack up the bumper far enough to enable removal of the flat tire. Make sure, too, that the breaker bar is present; it's the tool needed to break loose and unscrew the lug nuts that secure a wheel to the axle.
Be prepared for any emergency. Do you carry with you the phone numbers of relatives or friends who can come to your aid if a problem occurs? If you have a cell phone, is the battery fully charged? Do you carry in the car an up-to-date map? Most maps highlight points of interest such as hospitals and medical centers.
Keeping your vehicle—and your instincts—in tip-top shape is important. Nevertheless, there are occasions when a long wait in stopped traffic is inevitable. Blizzards, floods and police activity at crash scenes farther up the road may bring your forward motion to a complete stop—for hours. Might you need a dose of insulin or prescription medicine? Always take along some extra in a small tote that contains a copy of your prescription as proof that your medicine was legally prescribed.
It might make sense in some circumstances—such as during any massive traffic stop—to turn off the car's engine in order to avoid running out of gas. See what other drivers are doing and follow their lead. A blanket is handy to have at those times; it will keep you warm when the motor is stilled and the car's heater is turned off. Consider carrying snacks, bottled water, and a battery-operated radio; you can stay informed and entertained without draining your car battery.
Growing with Experience
Experience remains the best teacher when it comes to safe driving. It takes a long time to become comfortable with the endless variety of road conditions, weather conditions and traffic conditions faced by today's drivers. Show some courtesy to other drivers, whether they're behind the controls of a car, truck, motorcycle, or a slow-moving farm tractor pulling a top-heavy load of golden yellow hay.
Driving can be many things, ranging from a joy to a nightmare. Driving is a convenience that brings the world within reach. Legions of drivers successfully undertake the activity every day. So, stay calm. Stay cool. Drive with care to go anywhere. And always remember: you're in charge. You are in control of a big, deadly bullet—a lethal weapon wrapped in paint and chrome that can take you away. Or, bring you safely back home.