6 ways to avoid a car accident

Simple steps to stay out of trouble

Published: April 04, 2015 09:00 AM
Photo: NHTSA

Cars are amazing machines. They provide freedom and comfortable transport, capable of moving a family hundreds of miles with just a tank of gasoline. But, they are also massive metal projectiles, essentially Weapons of Mobile Destruction (WMDs) filled with flammable liquid and often your loved ones. Keeping them safe and the ride enjoyable should be paramount for all drivers.

The risks are real. For 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recorded 5,687,000 police-reported crashes, with 2,313,000 injuries and 32,719 fatalities. Allstate insurance has put a different perspective on the numbers, finding that drivers average about one accident per decade.

There are simple steps that can be taken to reduce your risks, as outlined below. The key points are to obey the traffic laws, be predictable, avoid distractions, drive rested, and steer clear of alcohol and drugs. Do this, and you’ll help make the roads safer for all.

Visit our guide to car safety.

Buzzed driving

The sobering reality of drunk driving is that it is obviously a dangerous behavior, yet too often drivers get behind the wheel with alcohol in their bloodstream, impairing judgment and slowing reaction time. Sadly, drunk driving claimed more than 10,000 lives in 2012, and alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes cost more than an estimated $37 billion a year, according to NHTSA. If you’re out having a good time, designate a driver. Or simply don’t drink till you’re home.

Distracted driving

Commute in any populated area and you’re bound to see people driving too slowly, occasionally weaving while talking on the phone. NHTSA reports that 3,154 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2013, but it is easy to see that the near-misses were likely a multiple of that. As the slogan says, hang up and drive. And whatever you do, don’t text. In many states, it is now illegal to drive and operate a hand-held phone, but in all states, it is a bad idea.


A speed limit exists for a reason, and it isn’t just to be a broken. Exceeding a posted speed limit means you have elected to drive faster than was intended for that road, putting others at risk, all while consuming more fuel. The faster you go, the less reaction time you have and the more skills are necessary to avoid an accident. As the speed climbs, so do braking distances and all other force measures that can lead to catastrophic collisions and rollovers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that in 2013, speeding was a factor in 29 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths. This figure has been around 30 percent for the past decade. Further, 32 percent of those crash deaths occurred between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., with a significant portion being after dark. One clear finding from our testing is that if you speed, you will be out-driving your headlights—meaning, you won’t have time to appropriately react to the unexpected when it appears in your field of vision. Follow the speed limit and be especially attentive after dark.

Parking lots

It's important to be on alert when you're driving in the parking lot. Most people behind the wheel are so focused on finding a parking spot that they aren't watching what else is going on. Children can be very difficult to see in a busy parking lot, especially at night. An excited child can dart out from between cars and in front of you in an instant. A car with a backup camera will give you a look at the space behind the car that would otherwise be unseen. Better yet, rear cross-traffic alert can sense if there is a car approach down the aisle as you begin to back out of a parking space.

Drive the right car

In addition to being conscientious with your driving behavior, choosing a good-performing car with excellent safety marks and proven reliability can further reduce your risks. Among the many tests Consumer Reports performs, we look at accident avoidance (through a simulated maneuver) and both wet and dry braking. As we evaluate cars, we rate handling, ease of use for controls, and visibility—all factors that can help avoid trouble. Our road tests are supplemented with insurance industry and government crash test data, showing how cars perform in their various crash tests. Any poor crash scores costs a car a CR recommendation. Reliability can be a safety concern, as well. In extreme cases, a car can breakdown on the road, putting you in harm’s way.

Advanced safety systems

Standard on new cars since 2012, electronic stability control has been shown to lower the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by about half and the risk of a fatal rollover by as much as 80 percent, according to IIHS. The latest cars can benefit from advanced safety features, such as front-collision mitigation, that can actively help avoid an accident, or at least reduce its severity. Other technologies such as lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert aid the driver by watching around the car for potential trouble and signaling danger. Data shows these systems are effective in preventing crashes, and we recommend them to car shoppers. Fortunately, they are becoming widespread, especially as we look to the 2016 model year.

Jeff Bartlett

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