Shifting into New (Year’s) Driving Habits

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are historically two dates with the highest incidences of traffic accidents. The NHTSA is likely to report that the number of fatal traffic accidents rose between 2011 and 2012. So, it seems evident that driving habits present an obvious opportunity for self-improvement, one that’s, ironically, often overlooked when making New Year’s Resolutions. But 2013 is the year to change that…and we’re going to help!

What Needs to Change

To make effective New Year’s driving resolutions that are going to stick, we need to identify the driving behaviors that really need changing. We are going to assume (because we’re optimistic, not naïve) that you already habitually click your seat belt into place before ignition. So let’s move on to the stuff that will make for safer daily driving…

Knowing Your Limits

Being a safer driver first requires the awareness of when you are able to be a safe driver. That means being honest with yourself about:

  • When you’ve had too many alcoholic beverages and need a designated driver
  • How many passengers (and who) you can have in the vehicle and still be attentive to the road
  • When your fatigue is negatively affecting how quickly you think and react

Putting Away Everything That Distracts You

We would hope this is a no-brainer by now, but there’s a limit to how much we’ll assume. While most people are willing to admit that distracted driving is dangerous, many people don’t admit that they are distracted when dialing, texting, scrolling and navigating—i.e. that they are dangerous drivers. To be a safer driver, then, requires acknowledging that you do not have superhuman multitasking powers and putting all devices (and we mean that as an all-inclusive term, so we mean electronics and makeup, food, etc.) away until you are safely at your destination.

Giving Yourself Time

A rushed driver is a speeding driver, and a speeding driver is much more likely to be involved in a crash. Avoid the need to speed by giving yourself an adequate amount of time to reach your destination…and find parking, and walk to the door, and accommodate unexpected delays like screaming toddlers or long lines at the Starbucks drive-thru.

Giving Others Space

Safe driving involves leaving a cushion of air (that is NOT your air bag), so to speak, between you and the cars around you. The New Mexico Driver Manual suggests using the three second rule to provide a sufficient cushion:

  • Watch when the rear of the vehicle ahead passes a sign, pole or any other stationary point.
  • Count the seconds it takes you to reach the same spot. (“One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three.”
  • You are following too closely if you pass the mark before you finish counting.
  • If so, drop back and then count again at another spot to check the new following distance. Repeat until you are following no closer than “three seconds.”

Using time instead of estimated car lengths helps you to adjust for speed.

There are, of course, more changes you can make to your driving behaviors to improve road safety, like:

  • Consistently using your turn signals
  • Adjusting and checking your mirrors
  • Pre-planning routes (especially unfamiliar ones)

…but changing too much too soon is a recipe for failure (kind of like making the resolution to give up all cake, cookies, brownies, candy and pasta and get up at 4:00 am to hit the gym before work).

How to Make Changes that Stick

According to armchair psychology, it takes 21 days to form a habit (actual research suggests it probably takes longer). So, the key to really becoming a safer driver is to make a conscious effort and practice, practice, practice until new behaviors become automatic. Easier said than done; we know.

To make your safe driving resolutions stick:

  1. Solidify what behaviors you will change in writing rather than letting your resolutions float around in mental space.
  2. Get an accountability partner, preferably a regular passenger or someone consistently at your destination, to report your safe driving practices or bad habit relapses to.
  3. Give yourself an incentive. Your insurance company may help here, too, as many have safe driver reward programs. But if they don’t, why not get your car detailed to celebrate one full month of silencing your cell phone and stowing it in the back seat of your car before shifting out of Park?

In the event of relapse, don’t settle for being a distracted, aggressive, moody driver for the rest of the year. Take a deep breath, count to three (as you ease of the accelerator because you realize you’re following too closely), and try, try again!

Here’s to improved road safety in 2013, ABQ! Happy New Year from Quanz Advanced Auto Body!