Reducing Driving Risks
Reducing Driving Risks

Reducing Driving Risks: Taking Control of Your Safety Behind The Wheel

Updated Dec. 15, 2020

Every time you slip into the driver’s seat you are essentially strapping yourself into a powerful, dangerous and potentially lethal machine. Making safe and sensible driving decisions is crucial, as you are subjecting yourself to considerable risk, simply by choosing to drive in the first place.

Traffic accidents and collisions, for the most part, are not random, unavoidable events. Most car crashes are at least partially the result of choices made by one or more of the drivers involved. As such, they are largely preventable.

Every day, you make decisions in life that will either increase or decrease the danger you are exposed to. Never are those decisions more important than when you’re behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. You would not walk down the center of a busy street blindfolded, swim with your hands tied or climb into a cage with a hungry tiger and you should not take similarly stupid risks while driving. Unfortunately, many drivers do!

Most people believe they are safe and competent drivers, though few truly are. At any point while driving, a foolish decision could leave you without a vehicle, injured or lumbered with enormous traffic fine. It could even end up being the last foolish decision you ever make.

Recognizing the risks of driving

Following this introduction, our “reducing driving risks” section will talk you through everything you need to know to stay safe and minimize the chances of being involved in a motor vehicle crash. Absolutely every decision you make about driving has an impact on your safety, from the way you look after your vehicle to choosing when and how to maneuver. To understand why our driving decisions matter, we must first recognize the risks of driving.

Every risk you encounter (while driving and otherwise) can be sorted into one of two categories:

  1. Immediate risk: Situations that pose a threat to your safety and demand action of some kind. Such as, a deer running out across the roadway in front of your vehicle.
  2. Potential risk:  Situations that may develop to produce immediate risk. For instance, driving through a semi-rural area where deer warning signs are posted.

Defensive drivers maximize their safety by identifying which potential risks are likely to come to fruition and pre-emptively acting to avoid the danger those risks would pose. In the above example, a defensive driver would recognize the potential risk of encountering a deer in the roadway, reduce their speed and drive with additional caution. That way, if a deer does appear, they are far less likely to collide with it or crash.

Responsible driving attitude

To reduce risk, you must develop a realistic and responsible driving attitude. As this second module discusses, most crashes and collisions that occur on our roadways could have been avoided or made less severe if the drivers involved had made better decisions. If we take human error out of the equation, traffic accidents would be a rare occurrence. As it stands, they claim hundreds of lives around the United States every day.

Whether you make a bad call behind the wheel as a result of ignorance or deliberate recklessness, the consequences are similarly negative, and you are just as responsible. It is your duty as a driver to make sure you have the necessary skills to control your vehicle, understand road rules and abide by the law without exception.

The most dangerous driving practices

Here we look at the most dangerous driving behaviors that will always increase the risk a motorist is exposed to in any driving situation. If you engage in risk-taking behavior in an already risky environment (for instance, during a snowstorm or while driving on a congested road), the likelihood of being involved in a car crash is even greater again.

Speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, distracted driving and reckless driving are four of the most common (and dangerous) risk-taking practices. Every year around the United States, these totally avoidable behaviors result in hundreds of thousands of collisions and thousands of preventable deaths. You must make a personal commitment to avoid these dangerous driving practices and learn what to do if you encounter other drivers engaging in them.

Optimizing traffic flow, maximizing safety

When driving in heavy traffic, risk will always be lessened by any action you can take to improve or maintain traffic flow. When all vehicles on a roadway are evenly-spaced and moving smoothly at the same speed, individual drivers are forced to make fewer reactionary decisions which could lead to collisions.

Disrupting traffic flow can have a profoundly negative effect on safety. If you turn improperly, change lanes unsafely, follow too closely or drive in the wrong direction you will dramatically increase risk. This section deals with these traffic flow-disrupting actions, teaching you how and why they must be avoided at all costs.

Increased risk and young drivers

Unfortunately, driving experience only increases with time and practice. Younger adult drivers and teenagers are more at risk of being involved in an accident or collision, primarily because their inexperience stands against them. In addition, teen drivers face increased danger behind the wheel, as they are less able to recognize the danger and more inclined toward risk-taking behavior.

The combined effect of these risk-enhancing factors has a huge impact on safety. Motor vehicle crashes and collisions are the leading cause of death for young Americans aged 15 to 20 years old. Here we explore the reasons behind this shocking statistic and discuss tactics you can employ to avoid engaging in risky behavior while driving.

Dangerous novice driver errors

Failure to yield right-of-way, entering a curve at too high a speed, following too closely and driving while distracted are among the most common mistakes made by teenagers and other novice drivers. Most novice driver mistakes are accidental, made by a driver who believes they are taking a safe action – until it becomes clear that things have gone wrong.

Unintentional mistakes are common enough without adding deliberate, risk-taking behavior into the mix. Unfortunately, many teen drivers are guilty of this none-the-less. As a young driver, you are substantially more likely to drive while under the influence of alcohol, engage in reckless behavior to “show off” among friends, get involved in street racing and neglect to wear a seat belt.

You may be reading this and thinking that you would never entertain these risks, but it is surprising what the right amount of social pressure can achieve. Many ordinary teenagers do engage in these activities and most of them end up regretting it.

Risk-reducing strategies

Now that we understand the risks involved in driving, what can we do to reduce them? The first and most obvious tactic is to think critically about every driving decision, before acting. Obvious though it may be, most drivers do not critically evaluate their driving decisions. With the information in this section, you can get ahead in the risk-reduction game.

Before making any maneuver that involves potential risk, you must decide how likely it is that a negative outcome will occur and what the severity of that outcome may be. If the chances are high that something negative will happen, the possible consequences are particularly severe (i.e. injury or death) or both, do not take the risk.

Learn how to weigh-up driving risks effectively in this section. You’ll also find some useful risk-reduction techniques to improve safety in all driving situations!

The consequences of risky behavior

Risky driving behavior always has negative consequences. If you are very lucky, it may be that the only negative outcome is the false confidence you feel having pulled off a dangerous maneuver. When you “get away” with driving dangerously, you are more likely to behave similarly in the future and next time around you may not be so fortunate.

The consequences of risky driving behavior include:

  • Vehicle damage
  • Financial loss
  • Injury or death
  • Loss of your vehicle
  • Loss of your license
  • Fines and penalties
  • Terms of imprisonment

If your risky driving behavior results in a serious collision or crash, you may have to deal with all these negative consequences at the same time. What inexperienced drivers do not understand is that each of these individual negative consequences can negatively affect your happiness, health and general quality of life in countless different ways. In this final section, we discuss why driving risks are never worth taking.

Taking control of your safety

Despite there being various driving factors that you cannot control, you are never at the mercy of chance while driving. The actions you take to worsen or mitigate risk have a greater effect on your safety than any outside influences such as the weather or other motorists. The dangers will always be there but whether they lead to a crash or collision is largely up to you. Let’s get started by learning how to identify driving risks.

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Recognizing the Risks of Driving

The first step to creating the safest possible driving environment is understanding what you are up against. When you know the risks you face, it is possible to forge safe driving habits that will lessen the chances of a collision occurring. No matter how dangerous the situation, there is always something you can do to reduce risk and improve your safety.

A Responsible Driving Attitude
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A Responsible Driving Attitude

To develop a responsible and safe attitude towards driving, you must first understand the power of your actions. While driving, a single action can set off a chain of events which leads to a crash or collision. Each driver acting or reacting within that sequence of events has the power to worsen the situation or move it toward a more positive outcome.

Dangerous Driving Behaviors
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Dangerous Driving Behaviors

Certain irresponsible driving behaviors pose a more serious threat to road user safety than others, as they are frequently committed and typically associated with serious consequences. To be a safe and responsible driver you must adopt a “zero tolerance policy” towards engaging in dangerous driving practices yourself. Allowing yourself to drive irresponsibly even once can have terrible consequences.

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The Causes of Fatigue

Being fatigued does not necessarily mean feeling sleepy, though it can lead to that. The term “fatigue” describes a mental and physical state which can occur following a challenging or prolonged activity. A person who is fatigued has a lower-than-normal capacity for work and concentration, while being less capable of completing any task efficiently.

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Fatigue Risk Factors

Understanding the risk factors that increase your chances of becoming drowsy will help you to make sensible driving decisions. If you know you are at risk, you are more likely to be tuned in to your physical and mental state while driving. When you notice the symptoms of fatigue taking hold, you can take steps to maintain your safety.

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The Consequences of Drowsy Driving

When fatigued, a person cannot perform as well as they would usually during any task. When the task in question is maneuvering a large, heavy metal object that is hurtling along a roadway at speed, persevering despite the effects of fatigue invites death and destruction.

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Drowsy Driving Myths

Driving while drowsy or fatigued is every bit as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Most drivers are aware of the effect that alcohol may have on their driving ability and would be hesitant to get behind the wheel if they have had a drink, even if they believe they are within the legal BAC limit.

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Preventing Drowsy Driving

Rest is the only cure for fatigue. When you are tired or feeling mentally or physically drained, the only sure way to stay safe is to rest before driving, or not to drive at all. After a hard day at school or a tiring shift at work, people often force themselves to drive, thinking they will rest when they get home.

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Highway Hypnosis and Velocitation

Highway hypnosis is a dangerous trance-like state, during which a driver may travel a short distance – or many miles – without having any recollection of the experience. Velocitation is a psychological phenomenon brought on by monotonous, extended periods of high-speed driving. When velocitation occurs, a driver loses touch with how fast they are traveling and often believes they are moving slower than they truly are.