How to Become a Safer Driver

Too many distractions can put your family in danger. Here's how to make car travel safer when your kids are in tow.

Becoming a Safer Driver

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Think about reckless driving and what image pops into your head? An 18-year-old kid barreling around in a Hummer? Britney driving with her baby on her lap? Obvious targets, yes. But take a minute. Can you honestly say that you -- a parent of young children -- are above reproach? "Most parents would stand in front of a bus if it meant protecting their child from harm. They'll childproof their home. They'll spend money on the safest family car they can find. And yet they'll get behind the wheel of a 2-ton vehicle and put those they love at unimaginable risk," says Paul Burris, president and founder of the Partners for Highway Safety (trafficsafety.net), in Tallahassee, Florida.

According to a 2004 survey funded by Volvo Cars of North America, more than half of parents admit to talking on the cell phone while driving with their children. Nearly 70 percent have never had a trained professional check their child safety seat. And a 2002 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study reports that more than 6 in 10 of us say we take attention off the road in order to contend with children in the backseat.

Why do we take chances? "Crashes aren't an everyday occurrence, and the longer you go without one, the more you believe such a terrible thing can't really happen to you," says John Ulczycki, director of transportation safety for the National Safety Council. Also dulling our sense of risk is the very comfort and safety of the cars we're driving. "You have these nice soft seats, the ride is smooth and quiet, you have your CD or DVD player. It feels like you're traveling around in a living room, when in fact you're hurtling down the highway at 60 miles per hour," Ulczycki says.

How to Avoid Crashes

In an ideal world, everyone would be able to take a safe-driving class like the one offered at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, outside Phoenix. Even if you can't make it to Arizona, heeding these simple crash-avoidance strategies may save your life:

  • Raise your gaze while driving. "Chances are, if the car in front of you hits the brakes, it's because something is happening in front of him. By keeping your eyes on the car about five vehicles ahead of you, you are buying reaction time and can start slowing down even before the car in front of you does," says Bondurant spokeswoman Alice Collins.
  • Don't slam on the brakes. Suddenly braking may throw the car into a spin. Instead, lift your foot off the gas, steer out of harm's way, then gently put your foot back on the gas.
  • Avoid target fixation. "People tend to stare at the very thing they don't want to drive into. And it's instinctive that your hands will steer you in the direction you are looking," says Collins. Instead, find a safe opening for your car -- the shoulder of the road, a different lane -- and look at that. Your hands will steer you to safety.

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