No one likes getting into a collision. It can be quite inconvenient, not to mention expensive. But making certain choices can help to minimize your chances of crashing. The goal with defensive driving is to be aware of your surroundings and anticipate events so you can avoid getting involved in a collision. It begins with understanding your driving choices and then making the right ones.

Road Conditions

Weather conditions can change the conditions of the roads on which you drive. But road conditions are not defined just by the weather. Drivers encounter different conditions when they drive in the city, the country, in residential areas, in a construction zone, and when they drive in congestion. The key to adjusting to road conditions is to adjust speed and drive more slowly when encountering heavy traffic, near schools and playgrounds, over narrow bridges and through tunnels, near shopping centers, parking lots and downtown areas, when road workers are present, and on poorly maintained country roads.

Wet freeway

When driving in poor weather conditions, it is best to stay on paved roadways and to follow in the path of the car ahead. There should also be extra vehicle spacing allowed between your vehicle and the one you are following. Road conditions play a major role in driving. Knowledge of road conditions and weather is valuable in determining the safest route in which to travel. The following are some weather phenomena that may affect road conditions:

A. Rain - We've already discussed the dangers of hydroplaning. In general it is important to slow down when there is a lot of water on the road. Go at least five to ten miles per hour slower. Be especially careful to slow when crossing intersections where water is flowing and when driving on the freeway where water sometimes pools in the breakdown and fast lanes. Light rain or the first rain of the season often leads to a dangerous condition in which to operate a motor vehicle. This rain lifts the oil up from the road surface, yet does not completely wash away the slippery substance. Often drivers do not slow down to a level that the first rain requires. Light rain tends to be ignored by people who continue driving as if the roads were clear and dry. What they fail to realize is that this light rain makes the road slick and simply does not provide enough water to wash away all the accumulated oil and debris. Speed should be dramatically reduced with extra stopping distance allowed and extreme caution exercised. It is important to remember that when road conditions and surfaces change, braking distance and traction change as well.

B. Snow / Ice - Driving in snow or on ice requires substantially longer stopping distances. So, there is a need to drive slower, take extra precautions on turns, and leave more room between other vehicles and curbs. There is a requirement for greater anticipation and awareness of other vehicles on the road. Removal of any snow build-up on the vehicle can help minimize the dangers of driving in snow. When driving in the snow, a driver should use headlights, windshield wipers and headlamps for maximum visibility. In packed snow, reduce your speed by half; on ice, slow to a crawl. NOTE: Traction is poorest when temperatures are at or near freezing.

C. Black Ice - In cold weather, where the air lacks the precipitation necessary to create snow, falling frozen rain often leads to a hazard called "black ice." Black ice exists on the road but is not visible to the naked eye. Vehicles traveling at normal highway speeds can suddenly lose control and experience skidding. A reduction in driving speed will help reduce the chances of skidding and related collisions due to black ice. A driver should always be alert for areas where ice collects. Be extra cautious on bridges and overpasses as these areas are the first to freeze.

D. Fog - Because visibility is reduced in fog, and, in thick fog, can be reduced to virtually a few feet in front of your vehicle, the best advice for driving in fog is to postpone your trip until the fog clears. If you must drive in fog, drive slowly, turn on your windshield wipers if water on the windshield reduces visibility at all, and use your low beam headlights, not your high beams. Light from the latter will reflect back at you off the fog and cause glare. Do not drive with just your parking or fog lights. Increase your following distance and be prepared to stop inside the space you can see ahead of you. Don't cross lanes or pass unless absolutely necessary. If the fog becomes so thick that you can barely see, pull completely off the road and do not resume driving until you can see adequately to do so. Turn your lights off and keep your foot off the brake pedal so no one sees your taillights and thinks that you are moving in a traffic lane.

Flag swinging

E. High Winds - High winds can cause a lack of control of the vehicle, with gusts possibly thrashing the vehicle off the road. Slower speeds can ease the danger of driving in high winds. High profile vehicles, such as campers, trucks, or RVs, are often more susceptible to overturning when high winds are prevalent.

F. Dust - Dust storms often make it virtually impossible to drive. General lack of visibility in a dust storm can only be resolved through slower driving. Driving in a dust storm often is similar to driving in severe fog and is unwise altogether. Pulling over to the side of the road and waiting for the storm to pass is usually the safest option.

G. Curves - Driving on curvy roads requires slowing of the vehicle prior to approaching the curve, as braking because you are going too fast may cause skidding, especially if the road is slippery. In addition, a heightened awareness is needed of road and traffic conditions because there will be difficulty seeing the road ahead.

H. Nighttime Driving - For driving at night, you should:

Night driving
  • Make sure your windows are clean.
  • Turn your headlights on in bad weather or when you cannot see 1,000 feet in front of you. If you must use your windshield wipers continuously, also turn on your headlights.
  • Turn your headlights on during darkness, which is defined as a half-hour after sunset until a half-hour before sunrise, and any other time when visibility is not sufficient for a driver to clearly see any person or vehicle on the highway at a distance of 1,000 feet.
  • Make sure your headlights are clean and working well. Have them checked from time to time for correct aim.
  • Use your high beams when there are no oncoming vehicles.
  • Do not overdrive your headlights. Your headlights only let you see about 350 feet ahead. Be sure you are driving slowly enough to stop or turn if you need to.
  • Use your low beams when you come within 500 feet (about one block) of an oncoming vehicle. Also use your low beams when following another vehicle within 300 feet.
  • To avoid being blinded by the lights of opposing vehicles, slow down and look away from the lights so you do not look directly into them.
  • Slow down when nearing a curve if you are driving the maximum posted speed limit.
  • Use the edge line as a guide. If there is no edge line, use the center line to guide you.
  • Stay awake and alert. Do not drive if you feel tired.
  • Watch carefully for highway signs - they are harder to see at night.
  • Watch carefully for people and vehicles stopped on the side of the road.

Watch the following video on adjusting for hazardous conditions.

I. Enhancing Driving with Safety Aids


In addition to taking appropriate action when there is low light, there are also some situations in which there may be too much light and glare when you are driving, such as at sunrise or sunset. In these conditions, it is important to use your sun visor to block the glare of the sun. If you prefer to wear sunglasses, these can also help to cut down on the glare. One of the most important things you can do to reduce the hazard posed by too much light or glare from the sun is to make sure that your windshield and all of your windows are clean (this will also help you see out of your windows at night). It's not just a matter of making sure your car looks good (although it couldn't hurt)! A dirty windshield can be virtually impossible to see out of at sunrise or sunset, making driving dangerous. If you are having difficulty seeing because of the sun's glare, you should also slow down and increase your following distance to three seconds or more. As we noted earlier, you can also use special water repellents designed for use on autos to help your vision when it rains.

There are other aids to safe driving including using convex or panoramic mirrors and using an audible back-up warning device. New safety-enhancing technologies, such as airbags, are regular developments in the auto industry. Many new vehicles are now equipped with cameras that show you what is behind you as you back up, removing the danger of hitting something or someone as you move in reverse. Some new cars are now equipped with collision avoidance systems that alert drivers when they come close to other moving vehicles.

J. Bad Weather - Some safety tips for driving in bad weather include:

  • Listen for traffic you cannot see.
  • Avoid crossing roads whenever possible.
  • Avoid passing a line of cars.
  • If possible, postpone driving until conditions clear.
  • Keep headlights and tail lights clean.
  • Don't forget to maintain your windshield wipers.

Traffic crashes are more common during severe weather conditions. Watch the following video to see how weather affects your driving, and think about how you can modify your driving behavior to increase your safety.



In Chapter 1, it was noted that you should always keep an emergency kit in your car and some suggestions were made about what items should comprise that kit. If winter brings snow to your area, you should be prepared to be stuck in your car for a period of time. In addition to the contents of your emergency kit, you should pack and store in your car the following items for winter survival:

  • Extra-warm clothing
  • Warm winter gloves
  • Highway flares
  • Booster cables
  • Length of rope
  • Tow cable or chain
  • Ice and snow scrapers
  • Pocket knife
  • A camping or backpacking stove can also be handy
  • Add a brightly colored cloth so that you can mark your location if you have to leave your car.

Special Note: Leave your car only if it is safe to do so. You will be much safer in your car than out in the elements or exposed to other out-of-control vehicles.

car showing safety checks

Collision Causation

Collisions are usually caused by negligent driving. Preventing collisions involves knowledge of the road, the vehicle's own position on the road, and safe driving techniques. A driver should be aware of the areas most frequently traveled, and should know which areas are more apt to have collisions or the highest volume of traffic. These risky areas should be avoided. Some of the following contribute to collisions. These factors can be negated by driving defensively:

Following to closely

A. Driving Too Closely - Maintaining proper following distance is one of the most important factors in preventing collisions. It used to be that leaving one car length for every 10 mph of speed was thought to be a good rule to follow. But this is hard to calculate and has not been used as the standard safe following distance for many years. In its place, it is now recommended that drivers use the three-second rule explained in the previous chapter. Regardless of any rule, it must be understood that increased speed requires increased stopping distance. Driving too closely can lead to rear-end crashes.

1. Stopping Distance - Kinetic energy or momentum of a vehicle can be offset by allowing an increase in stopping distance. Any regular passenger vehicle traveling at a speed of 20 mph should stop within a distance of 25 feet, once the brake is applied. At 35 mph, the distance will be approximately 106 feet. At 55 mph, it will be approximately 228 feet. An increase in speed will always result in longer stopping distances. In addition, factors including road conditions, weather conditions, and traffic density also affect the required stopping distance.

2. Space Cushion

  1. Drivers should adequately position their vehicle away from other vehicles to allow ample stopping distance in case of an emergency. As speeds increase, the distance between cars must also increase.
  2. On multi-lane streets, it is important to avoid whenever possible driving alongside or parallel with other cars. A space cushion on both sides of the car (an "escape hole") allows for an immediate lane change if another vehicle were to unexpectedly cross over into your lane.
  3. On multi-lane streets, opposing vehicles driving closely to the double yellow dividing lines can easily conflict. Therefore, it is best to stay out of the lane closest to the center line. This will allow for more space between opposing oncoming traffic.
  4. A Reminder: Use the Three-second Rule - Using the Three-Second Rule allows you to establish and maintain the space cushion between you and the car ahead of you.
  5. A Reminder: The Four-second Rule - Although the three-second rule is normally a safe following distance, some road variables (as discussed earlier) require the driver to increase the following distance to four seconds or more.

    Special note on merging onto a freeway: If you follow too closely and another driver 'cuts' in front of you, the normal reaction is to slam on your brakes and swerve out of the way. Swerving out of the way most often results in cutting someone else off or possibly driving off the roadway. It might also result in the car behind you crashing into you or other cars around you. If another driver 'cuts' in front of you, just take your foot off the gas. This will give you space between your car and the other driver without swerving into another lane.

Remember, in all of the situations covered in Chapter 1, it is a good idea to leave a bigger space cushion between all vehicles. The easiest way to stop your vehicle in a safe manner, no matter the situation, is to leave adequate room to stop. Extreme situations require the driver to use extra caution and to heighten one's level of awareness while on the road. Increasing the following distance to four seconds or more will allow the driver more room to cope with any factors adversely affecting the driving task.

Good drivers are good at managing space and time. This means they constantly make adjustments that keep them safe while driving. This video will demonstrate techniques that safe drivers use to maintain a safe space cushion and following distance.

B. Bad Drivers - A bad driver can be avoided with proper vehicle positioning and general road awareness. Motorists should never assume other drivers will complete certain maneuvers simply because it appears that way. A driver should never take the right-of-way or attempt to force into traffic. Anticipation of other drivers' actions in combination with yielding the right-of-way is important. Yielding the right-of-way to other drivers prevents collisions.

Five cars stacked

C. Improper Lane Choices - Choosing an appropriate and safe lane for travel on roadways will oftentimes help prevent collisions. The less congested lane with less traffic flow is typically safer, as chances for a crash are diminished. The slow lane is often the most congested because motorists are entering and exiting driveways, entering and exiting their vehicles, or unloading cargo or picking up passengers. Assessing the safest lane to travel in will substantially reduce the risk of a traffic mishap. The safest position in traffic for driving is where there are the fewest conflicting objects.

D. Improper Vehicle Positioning - Proper vehicle positioning is also important for safe driving. This includes:

  • Awareness of other drivers' blind spots -- other cars may not see you and can change lanes into you.
  • Avoidance of side-by-side driving without escape options. Keep a space cushion to the side of your car so vehicles will not try to change lanes and pull into your car or crowd into your lane.
  • Keeping up with the flow of traffic (at a legal speed) and leaving room for cars to enter on the freeway.
  • Avoiding unsafe or dangerous situations altogether.

E. Blind Spots

Car blind spot

You need to also check your blind spots and avoid lingering in those of other drivers while scanning the road. These are located to the rear at the sides of your vehicle, as represented in the shaded areas in the illustration below.

Regardless of the size of other vehicles, you can completely overlook them if they are in your blind spots. Motorcycles are particularly easy to overlook. That is true whether you are an experienced driver or a novice.

But your vehicle has some tools to help you with that: the rearview and side mirrors. Check these mirrors about every 2-5 seconds and when you plan to change lanes or turn. Traffic conditions change constantly on the road, making this an important habit to acquire. However, they only offer you a limited view, so you need to turn your head over your shoulder for lane changes and turns. Periodically checking your mirrors and glancing over your shoulder as you scan the road ahead should keep you well aware of what occurs around you.

Rearview mirror

Your mirrors need to be positioned correctly if you are to check them. When they are correctly positioned, a vehicle's mirrors will enable you to account for most of your blind spots. Your mirrors must be set from your normal position on the driver's seat. There should be some overlap to account for any obstacles in the rear of your vehicle. For example, taller passengers seated in the rear will block some of your view, as will rear seat head restraints in some vehicles. Larger vehicles have correspondingly larger blind spots to the rear, making the positioning of your outside mirrors that much more critical. Again, your mirrors can never account for all of your blind spots, so look over your shoulder whenever you need to change lanes, turn or back up.

Defensive Driving and Collision Prevention

Collision prevention involves many factors. Some of the more important rules to follow include:

A. Dangerous driving locations and situations - Be extra cautious in dangerous driving locations and situations (for example, intersections, broken traffic signals, bottleneck and narrow roads). Always slow down and be aware of your surroundings in these areas. Some of the more dangerous areas include:


1. Intersections - More than half of all traffic fatalities occur at intersections. Red light runners are a problem, but another major problem is that many drivers fail to observe right-of-way rules. When you approach an intersection, slow down and watch out for pedestrians who may be crossing the street, as well as drivers who run red lights.

2. Railroad Crossings - In 2015, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, an estimated 2,060 collisions occurred at railroad crossings across the nation resulting in 237 deaths and 990 injuries. In California 148 highway-rail incidents occurred, which was the second highest rate in the country after Texas with 224.1 Always be aware when near a railroad crossing, and watch for warning signs. When you see a train approaching, you should stop and wait until it passes. Trains cannot stop quickly; at 55 mph, it can take at least a mile, or 18 football fields, for a train to stop. Make sure you don't get trapped on the tracks. If your vehicle stalls while you are on a crossing, immediately get everyone out and far away from the tracks, and notify the police right away. If a train is approaching, have everyone run in the direction it is coming from so that you don't get hit by debris. You must stop at least 15 feet from a railroad grade crossing under the following circumstances:

Train crossing
  • A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device or a human flagman gives warning of the approach or passage of a train;
  • An approaching train is clearly visible or is emitting an audible signal and is dangerously close to the crossing.

When the gates are lowered, it is illegal to attempt to cross the tracks or drive around the gates even if you don't see a train; it's illegal, and it may just kill you! Slow down and look both ways when approaching railroad crossings, and stop when the gates are lowered or you see a train approaching. Proceed only after it has passed and it is safe to do so.

3. Bottlenecks - These are areas where traffic jams occur. Some areas regularly see gridlock; this occurs when there are more vehicles on a road than it can handle. Bottlenecks can also occur from the actions of drivers, car crashes, vehicle breakdowns, and broken traffic lights.

4. Narrow Roads - On narrow roads and lanes, drive as far to the right as reasonably possible. If the road is not straight and you can't see at least 200 feet ahead, honk your horn to alert other drivers to your presence when you approach curves. Use turn-outs to allow vehicles behind you to pass.

B. Avoid Head-on Collisions - If a collision is imminent, avoid head-on collisions and multiple vehicle collisions, and even sideswipe if possible. If a collision is unavoidable, you can try to lessen the severity with certain actions. Properly worn seatbelts can increase the chance of survival in a collision by 30% to 45%. If there is adequate warning, you can try to brace yourself against the steering wheel, as this can help you from being thrown around within the vehicle. Releasing the brake during rear-end collisions can lessen the chance of severe back or neck injury as the vehicle rolls forward. A depressed brake will focus the entire collision force within the vehicle without any "give." To help absorb the force of the collision, it is important to have the steering wheel turned in the direction you intend to travel in this situation. Turning the wheels into oncoming traffic may have tragic results if the vehicle is pushed forward. During a head-on collision, it is vital to protect the face, and the driver should make any move possible to lessen the chances of injury in an unavoidable crash.

C. Avoiding A rear-end collision - Even though you may practice good driving skills, others may not. Hopefully, you will be a more informed driver after these defensive driving tips.

  1. Three-second and Four-second Rule - Leave more space between yourself and the car ahead.
  2. Give notice - Let other drivers know what your plan is by signaling to turn or tapping your brake lights to stop.
  3. Brakes - Use your brakes smoothly by applying gradual pressure. If you ride your brakes, other drivers behind you will also slow down and eventually may not pay attention to your actual intent. It is similar to the concept of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." When you really do stop, you may be rear-ended.
  4. Keep pace - Keep up with the pace of traffic around you.
  5. Check your rear-view mirror - Check behind you constantly. Be aware of the proximity of the vehicle behind you.
  6. Changing lanes - Before changing lanes, make sure the lane into which you are moving is clear. Also, make sure your speed is sufficient so that pulling in front of another car does not cause that vehicle to brake to avoid hitting you.
  7. Keep foot on brake pedal - After stopping, continue to keep your foot pressed on the brake pedal to alert others that you are stopped.
  8. Keep rear lights clean and in working order - Maintain the working order of your brake lights and keep them clean.
  9. Adjust headrests prior to driving to reduce the chance of whiplash in a rear-end collision.
Car with pedestrians in front

D. Focus your eyes ahead - Focus the eyes one to two blocks ahead (1/4 mile) to see upcoming hazards and traffic conditions.

E. Recognize trouble - Immediately recognize potential trouble signs as they appear, be aware of hazards, and take actions to avoid trouble in ample time.

F. Signal - A signal should be given if a vehicle's maneuver is going to affect any other vehicle, and it should be given continuously during the last 100 feet traveled before a turn or action.

G. Scan the road - Always scan the road and keep rapid eye movement, never focusing on just one point. Scanning the road ahead, particularly during freeway driving, will keep the driver aware and prepared for oncoming road hazards.

H. Plan an escape route - As you scan the road, watch for any hazards or indications of them such as brake lights, cars slowing down, lane blockages, and vehicles going significantly faster or slower. Many of these may occur at the same time, so you'll need to be able to predict what may happen. If you spot potential hazards, adjust your speed and lane position to avoid them. Plan possible escape routes by anticipating gaps into which you can move safely to avoid dangerous situations.

Woman driving in reverse

I. Backing Up - The law states that you may not back a vehicle unless it can be done with reasonable safety. It is unwise and unsafe to back up around corners or curves in the road. Before you get into your vehicle, you should first look around your vehicle, especially the rear. Check for any children or animals that may be sitting or playing around or behind the space where you have parked your vehicle. Also check for small objects such as rocks, glass, bottles, nails, or any objects that may cause a flat tire or blowout. When backing up, it is important to remember the following:

  • Be aware of children and objects on the road.
  • Use side mirrors as much as necessary.
  • Use the audio back-up warning device, if installed.
  • Keep backing speed at a slow and controlled level.
  • Avoid sharp turns, and be aware of odd angles that may result from backing up.
  • Use passengers to lend assistance.
  • Avoid backing up altogether if possible.
  • Try to locate parking spaces that do not require backing up.
  • Make sure your head and body are in the proper position, alert and facing the direction in which you are moving.
  • When backing out of a parking space, turn your head and look over your right shoulder so you can see the rear while backing up.
  • Only release the brake pedal when you are prepared to back up and your view is to the rear.

J. Changing Lanes - Changing lanes includes:

  • Moving from one lane to another.
  • Entering the freeway from an on-ramp.
  • Entering the road from a curb or the shoulder.
  • Before changing lanes, signal, look in all your mirrors, and:
  • Check traffic behind and beside you.
  • Glance over your left or right shoulder to make sure the lane you want is clear.
  • Look for all vehicles, motorcyclists, and bicycle traffic in your blind spot.
  • Be sure there is enough room for your vehicle in the next lane.

K. Covering the Brake - Drivers should be able to determine situations when the brake needs to be covered in preparation for use. Covering the brake means having the foot hovering over the brake for quicker response time. Situations where covering the brake may be necessary include:

  • when driving next to parked cars.
  • when approaching intersections.
  • when approaching signals.
  • when driving in a school zone.
  • when seeing brake lights of other cars.

Riding the brake (keeping your foot pressed down on the brake slightly) not only adds much wear and tear on your vehicle, but it also gives other drivers the false impression that a stop is imminent. While covering the brake is often prudent and a safe driving practice, riding the brake is not.

L. Proper Driving Posture - The way you drive is affected by how you sit and hold the steering wheel. Proper posture can help you keep full control of your vehicle and stay alert while driving. Keep the following four things in mind when getting behind the wheel:

  • Sit with your back straight and relaxed against the seat.
  • Sit close enough so you can easily reach the pedals, but far enough away that your elbows are in front of you when you hold the steering wheel.
  • Keep both feet within reach of the gas, brake, and clutch.
  • Keep both hands on the steering wheel.

M. Proper Steering Techniques - Both hands should be placed on opposite sides of the steering wheel. Look at the wheel as if you were looking at a clock; your hands should be placed at either 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock or slightly lower, at 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock. These positions are comfortable and allow you to make a turn without taking your hands off the steering wheel. Further, holding the steering wheel with your hands in a lower position helps to reduce the chance of injury to hands, wrists, and forearms from a deploying airbag. When turning corners, turn the wheel using the hand-over-hand method. Using one hand to turn your vehicle could cause you to lose control of the car. Also do not let the steering wheel slip through your hands. Complete the turn by straightening out the steering wheel by hand.

Scanning Technique

Your vision is your most important driving tool. Scanning the road ahead helps keep you aware and prepared for any oncoming road hazards. Earlier we talked about the importance of scanning in avoiding collisions. We now want to discuss one specific scanning technique. You can use this technique, called "SIPDE," to help you scan for danger effectively so you can avoid them using the techniques discussed above and in this course; the sections below explain each of the steps involved:

Scan (or Search) - First, scan the road for possible hazards and traffic conditions. As noted, to scan effectively, you need to check as much of the road as possible by looking ahead at least 10 to 15 seconds, not just right in front of you. In the city, 10-15 seconds is about one block. On the highway, it's about a quarter of a mile. Keep your eyes moving so you may see a dangerous situation before it can affect you. This technique is also very helpful on rural roads and at intersections where unexpected hazards often occur.

Identify - The next step in this process is to identify what those hazards are. Is it a deer about to cross the road in front of you? Is it a large branch breaking off a nearby tree and falling onto the roadway? Is it a crash scene blocking a lane on your side of the road? If you know what the hazard is, you can respond to it appropriately.

Predict - Now that you have identified the hazard, you need to predict the possible outcomes that affect your safety. If it is a deer crossing the road, it may either linger on the pavement or be followed by other deer and block your path. If it is a falling tree branch, you may have to move to another lane, pull over to the shoulder, or stop altogether. If it is a crash scene, you will have to slow down or move over to a safer lane. If you can identify the hazard, you need to be able to predict all possible consequences.

Decide - Next, you must decide on a prudent course of action to avoid the hazard with time to spare. Look for escape routes if you think you may have to change your position on the road. If that is not possible, you must be prepared to slow down or stop. If it involves another person or vehicle, you may have to signal or use the horn.

Execute - Choose a course of action from among your options and act on it. The course of action you choose should be the one that is the safest. For example, you decided that changing lanes would be the best course of action to avoid a particular hazard. Your next step is to simply do what you decided on so you can actually prevent an incident.

car driving winding hill

Note that to utilize SIPDE effectively, you must be an active defensive driver who can anticipate outcomes and make quick decisions. This means you must be attentive to your surroundings in order to see any hazards before you reach them. If you allow yourself to be distracted, you are at risk because you will not be able to scan the road effectively.

Check out the following interactive flash video for more on how the SIPDE method works:

Watch the following video for more information on scanning effectively.

More Damage Reduction Ideas...

Special attention must be paid to potential trouble spots on the road. This can be the difference between an accident and a close call. These situations include:

  • construction areas
  • crosswalks
  • entrances to parking lots
  • controlled and uncontrolled intersections
  • freeway on- and off-ramps
  • school zones
  • icy streets
  • detours
Single lane ahead sign

Work Zones - Detours are common due to construction or maintenance work on the roads. At any time, there are more than 500 highway construction and maintenance projects being worked on in the state of California. Follow signs as indicated and observe reduced speed limit signs. Be aware that traffic fines are doubled in these areas and delays often occur. Be patient! If you take out your frustrations on highway construction or maintenance workers, you will face increased penalties. A driver who commits assault or battery on a highway worker engaged in the performance of his or her duties will face a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to one year in county jail. A highway worker may be any one of the following:

  • An employee of the California Department of Transportation (DOT).
  • An employee of a city and/or county performing specified activities related to local streets and roads.
  • A contractor or employee of a contractor working under contract with the DOT, a city, county, or city and county.
  • A volunteer with a public agency or nonprofit organization performing similar duties.

Tips for driving in work zones:

  • Follow the instructions on the roadwork zone warning signs and directions given by flaggers!
  • Watch the traffic around you and be prepared to react to what it is doing. Check the taillights/brake lights of vehicles ahead of you for indications of what they are doing.
  • Be prepared to slow down or stop.
  • Merge into the proper lane well before you reach the work zone.
  • Follow other vehicles at a safe distance.
  • Avoid roadwork zones altogether by using alternative routes when you can. If you know you can't avoid them, there are a few things to make your travels through the work zones safer:
    1. Allow extra time for your trip.
    2. Travel during non-peak traffic hours.
    3. Share a ride or car pool to reduce congestion in the work zones.

Additionally, when driving on an open highway, more potential hazards include:

  • Unmarked farm and field driveways - Unmarked farm and field driveways are a hazard because rural drivers are notorious for entering the roadway suddenly at slow speeds. You should scan a wider area ahead to identify other potential road users before they reach the highway. When your line of sight is limited or obstructed, reduce your speed in keeping with how far ahead you can see.
  • Livestock crossing areas - Advance crossing signs should warn or alert you as a driver to the possibility of unexpected entries onto the roadway. You should scan for these hazards and warning signs and be prepared to stop.
  • Unmarked shoulders - Unmarked shoulders, soft shoulders, and places where there is no shoulder whatsoever vary in their availability to be used as an "escape" or "out." Be sure to reduce your speed in these potentially dangerous areas.
  • Rough or unpaved roads - It is vital to always scan the road surface conditions ahead of you. It may be covered in sand, gravel, or dry earth, or crisscrossed with cracks and potholes. These conditions lower the traction capability, so a reduction in speed is advised.
  • Slow-moving vehicles - Bicycles, tractors, large trucks, or animal-drawn vehicles may slow or block your path. In these cases, be prepared to reduce your speed to match the slower flow. You may need to follow at a slower speed until you can safely and legally pass them.
  • Roadside stands or gas stations - Drivers are often making last-minute decisions, sudden stops, or turns into roadside stands or gas stations, which often cause collisions. Drivers leaving their high beams on or re-entering the highway without looking make these high -risk areas. Check carefully, be aware, and adjust to the potential risks.
  • Unexpected animal crossings - Small animals may dart into your path while you drive. Try to swerve or brake sharply if it is safe. You never want to risk a collision or put a life in danger to avoid a small animal. Large animals should be avoided at all costs; many large animals (cows, deer, elk, etc.) can cause as much damage to you and your vehicle as another car.

More potential hazards include:

  • Narrow bridges or abutments
  • Winding roads and hills
  • Off-road vehicles
  • Areas where you lack a line of sight in the distance
  • Areas where the width of the road decreases
  • Oncoming vehicles (especially large ones) that produce air turbulence
  • Hidden intersections

Safe Passing Techniques

Safe passing requires rapid decision-making and good judgment. Passing other vehicles on the road is often a dangerous maneuver. Visibility and vehicle responsiveness are essential. The following should be observed:

A. It is unsafe and against the law for any vehicle to pass another vehicle when the view is obstructed within 100 feet of any bridge, viaduct, or tunnel, or when approaching within 100 feet of or traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing. A vehicle may pass on the right side if that vehicle is making, or is about to make, a left turn upon a highway, within a business or residential district with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lanes of moving vehicles in the direction of travel, or on a one-way street. In no instance should a vehicle be driven off the paved or main roadway to pass.


B. Fatal crashes often occur when passing is attempted on a mountain road or hill. It is against the law to pass to the left on a mountain, when approaching or upon the crest of a grade or curve of a highway, or where the driver's view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction. Additionally, if a vehicle is operating on a grade at a speed of less than 20 miles per hour, no vehicle shall attempt to pass it on a grade unless the passing vehicle is traveling at least 10 mph faster than the overtaken vehicle (without exceeding the speed limit), and unless the maneuver can be completed in a distance not greater than 1/4-mile. When driving on mountain roads, be aware of the potential for vehicle overheating or brake failure, the need for proper gear choices, and the need for lower speeds. When driving at high altitudes, a vehicle is prone to overheating and vapor lock. NOTE: When the width of the roadway on a grade is insufficient to permit the passing of vehicles approaching from opposite directions, the driver of the vehicle descending the grade must yield the right-of-way to the vehicle ascending the grade and, if necessary, must back his vehicle to a place in the highway where is possible for vehicles to pass (California Vehicle Code Section 21661).

1. Passing is legal whenever there is a broken line on the driver's side of the road or when there is a single white broken line separating two lanes going in the same direction.

2. A driver shall use a passing lane when the maneuver is perceived as safe and prudent and can be completed without using excessive speed. The pass must be completed within a reasonable amount of time, and the driver cannot exceed the speed limit. Remember these passing tips:

Two cars next to each other
  • Avoid passing on two-lane roads, because you will be driving into oncoming traffic.
  • Check road conditions ahead, as you will need a 10- to 12-second gap in oncoming traffic to pass safely.
  • Always signal when beginning and ending the pass.
  • Don't attempt the pass unless you have enough room to return to your lane.
  • Before you re-enter your lane to complete the pass, make sure you can see both headlights of the car behind you in your rearview mirror to ensure you have enough room to pull back in front.

3. When passing is prohibited or especially dangerous...

  • Passing is prohibited on a freeway if the driver must enter and then exit from a carpool lane to complete the maneuver.
  • It is illegal to pass within 100 feet of an intersection.
  • It is illegal to pass when going up a hill and crossing double yellow lines.
  • It is illegal to pass within 100 feet of a railroad grade crossing.
  • It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus with a flashing red light and, if equipped with one, a stop signal arm.
  • It is dangerous to pass a long line of cars.
  • It is dangerous to pass when the vehicle ahead is traveling at or near the speed limit.
  • It is extremely dangerous to pass when an oncoming car is within a half-mile.
  • It is dangerous to pass if the maneuver is started close to a "no passing" zone.

Do not pass on a curve. As your view may be obstructed around a curve, it is dangerous and illegal to pass to the left of the center line when driving into a curve. A vehicle hidden from view may be approaching from the opposite direction, and if you attempt the pass, a crash is very likely. You must wait until you are out of the curve and have sufficient visibility of the road ahead before you may pass.

Passing Safely


Passing can still be done safely despite all the restrictions placed on this maneuver. The key is being able to see and identify when it is safe to pass a vehicle in front of you. So how do you know when it is safe to pass? Ask yourself these questions to help you make that determination:

  • Do I really need to pass?
  • Is it legal to pass?
  • Is the vehicle ahead driving well under the speed limit?
  • Is the road ahead clearly visible?
  • Are any oncoming vehicles a safe distance away?
  • Is there room to return to the lane in front of the vehicle ahead?

Scanning the road is an essential skill, particularly for passing.

To make a successful pass, follow these steps:

  1. Scan the roadway for hazards, including oncoming vehicles, those approaching from the rear, and other vehicles merging into your lane.
  2. Look over your shoulder to check your blind spots. This will allow you to avoid running into another vehicle when making your move. Make sure to maintain a safe following distance.
  3. Signal before you move into the adjacent lane to make the pass. Turn on your turn signal at least 3 to 5 seconds before you begin the maneuver.
  4. Tap your horn lightly if necessary to let the other driver know you are preparing to pass.
  5. Be sure you are driving at least 10 mph faster than the vehicle you are passing (without exceeding the speed limit).
  6. Re-check road conditions to make sure it is still safe to pass. When driving on a multi-lane highway, for example, a driver may move in front of the vehicle you wanted to pass, which would force you to travel further.
  7. Ensure that you have enough room to return to the lane. It is safe to move back in when you are able to see both headlights of the car you just passed in your rear-view mirror.
  8. Signal before moving back into the lane, again turning the signal on 3 to 5 seconds in advance.
  9. Glance over your shoulder again to make sure it is safe to return.
  10. Make sure you do not cut in too close to the vehicle you passed. Give its driver a two-second space or wait until you can see both its headlights and its tires in your mirror before moving into the lane.

Three Feet for Safety Act

Drivers of motor vehicles have to leave a minimum of three feet of clearance between their vehicle and a bicyclist in the event that the driver wishes to overtake the bicyclists and pass on the left. This must only be done when it is safe and will not create a hazard or collision. If you cannot give the bicyclist the designated three feet, either because of road conditions or traffic, you may still pass but only when it would not endanger the safety of the Bicyclist. This law became effective on September 16, 2014 and violators are subject to a fine of $35. If a driver has a collision with a Bicyclist causing him or her bodily harm and is found to be in violation of the Three Feet of Safety Act, then a $220 fine will be imposed on the driver (California Vehicle Code 21760).

When You Are Being Passed

Vehicles on freeway

You must yield when you are being passed. It's not just a courtesy - it is the law! Passing must be safe for everyone involved, including you. Accelerating to prevent the pass is dangerous, so maintain your current speed or slow down a bit instead. If the passing driver starts to reenter the lane in front of you too early, just ease off the accelerator. Always remember that there will always be other drivers traveling faster than you. In fact, you are required to give way by moving to the right.

Common sense dictates that you allow the other driver to pass. But it's not just a matter of common sense. California Vehicle Code Section 21753 prescribes that the driver of an overtaken vehicle safely move to the right-hand side of the highway in favor of the overtaking vehicle...and not increase the speed of his or her own vehicle until completely passed.

Watch this video for a review of passing safely.


Long truck

Trucks are powerful and heavy, often weighing four to five times more than a typical car. They are equipped with up to eight mirrors, but even so they are involved in many traffic collisions. Motor vehicle operators lack a general respect for trucks, often tailgating them or becoming caught between a truck and the curb. A driver should also be aware of the truck's blind spots. Studies have shown that a tractor-trailer truck traveling at 55 mph will typically need twice the stopping distance of an automobile traveling at the same speed. That is why drivers should never cut in front of a truck, especially when the gap between that truck and the vehicle in front is small to begin with. Special care must be given when driving near trucks on the freeway. Trucks should be given extra clearance whenever possible, with the automobile driver always leaving an escape option on the road. Drivers must be aware of a truck's blind spots at all times, realizing a truck's rear-view and side mirrors are not always sufficient. A common blind spot for a truck driver exists near the right front wheel of the truck, and another is within 30 feet of the rear of the trailer. Therefore motorists should never tailgate a truck, pass to the right of a truck, cut in front of a truck, or drive parallel to a truck for any length of time.

Truck Tips:

  • Often times, a driver of a passenger vehicle does not realize when his or her vehicle legally becomes a "truck" on the road. Sometimes merely towing another vehicle changes the laws you must follow. Your vehicle becomes much heavier, and your stopping distance can multiply by two to three times. When a driver is towing a vehicle and following another vehicle being towed or a three-axle truck, the driver must stay at least 300 feet behind that vehicle. If the driver is in a business or residential district, on a highway with more than two lanes moving in the same direction, or when overtaking and passing the vehicle ahead, the same rules would apply.
  • A truck traveling at 55 mph will require more than 400 feet to stop without factoring in the reaction time of the driver. Truck drivers must travel at safe speeds in relation to traffic flow and the increased distance to stop. Drivers must keep clear of fast-moving trucks on open roadways.

SMART RULE: If you cannot clearly see the truck's side view mirrors, the truck driver probably cannot see you!

Some typical problems involving trucks include:

A. Trucks making wide turns account for many collisions as cars are often sandwiched between the truck and curb. Drivers must respect the wide turns required by trucks.

B. Trucks having three or more axles or any truck drawing another vehicle (as well as farm labor vehicles transporting passengers and vehicles transporting explosives) have a different maximum speed from passenger vehicles; they are not allowed to travel over 55 mph, and usually stay in slower traffic lanes (California Vehicle Code 22406). The higher the truck's weight and the higher the truck's speed, the longer the stopping distance.

C. Slow trucks often carry full loads of cargo and lack the power to keep up with the flow of traffic. Drivers should never tailgate a truck, but simply change lanes when it is safe to do so.

Blind Spots

The "No-Zone" represents dangerous areas around trucks where crashes are more likely to occur.


Side Blind Spots - Trucks have much larger blind spots on both sides of their vehicles than passenger vehicles (cars). When you drive in these blind spots (No-Zones) for any length of time, you can't be seen by truck drivers. If a commercial driver needs to change lanes quickly for any reason, a serious crash could occur with the vehicle in the No-Zone. Commercial motor vehicle operators need to constantly use their mirrors to check the sides of their vehicle. You should be aware when vehicles move into your blind spots, and you should pay attention to when they come out of these No-Zones.

Rear blind spots

Rear Blind Spots - Unlike cars, trucks have deep blind spots directly behind them. Other vehicles need to avoid tailgating in this No-Zone. Once a vehicle moves into this area you will not be able to see them, and there is a good chance the vehicle may rear-end you. The rear No-Zone is usually from the end of your vehicle to about 30 feet behind.

Front Blind Spot - The front of a truck also has a blind spot. Commercial motor vehicles are often much higher than regular cars, which makes it very difficult to see smaller cars directly in front. This is one reason a truck should leave extra room for following distance. Drivers are often unaware of this blind spot and cut in right in front of a truck, causing a rear-end collision. If a truck driver sees a vehicle trying to pass him, he should slow down to give it extra room to get in front of his truck.

Watch this video to understand a truck driver's view of the road.

Passing Trucks

Always pass a large truck on the truck's left and, after you pass the truck, move ahead of it. Don't linger alongside the truck. If you do, you make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the truck driver to take evasive action if an obstacle appears on the road ahead. Don't rush to pass a truck on left and then cut into the open space in front of the truck to exit the freeway, for example, or to beat the truck to a spot where the roadway narrows down to a single-lane, such as a construction zone.

Car Maintenance

Mechanic inspecting a vehicle

car-batteryA. Preventative Maintenance - A vehicle should always be in good working order. Preventative maintenance should provide for fewer unexpected mechanical failures. Quick reaction time is useless if the vehicle cannot respond due to poor maintenance. A proper maintenance timetable should be followed, with brakes, tires, and fluid levels the primary focus. In addition, check and replace worn or cracked belts and hoses. Also perform a maintenance check prior to a long road trip. An emergency such as a blowout, car stall, or brake failure can often be avoided if the car is properly maintained. Pay heed to instrument panel indicators as they warn you of problems. Make sure your gauges and instrument panel lights are in proper working order.

B. Tire Maintenance - Collision avoidance and emergency driving techniques don't just rely on a quick reaction time and skill behind the wheel. An important element, as stressed numerous times throughout this curriculum, is properly maintaining all essential vehicle control mechanisms. The tires, in particular, are the vehicle's connection to the surface. Each tire must have a minimum tread depth of one thirty-second (1/32) of an inch in any two adjacent grooves anywhere on a pneumatic tire. (A pneumatic tire is a tire capable of being inflated by compressed air.) Driving on balding tires or those without any tread whatsoever would be analogous to a person attempting to walk on thin ice. The task is both difficult and dangerous. A driver must keep his or her tires rotated and inflated to the manufacturer's suggested levels, ensure there is adequate and sufficient tread, and periodically check the tires for distress. These precautions will allow your tires to wear evenly, stick to the road better, and corner better in snow, rain, and ice conditions. Remember to properly inflate your spare tire.


While automotive technological advances have helped to significantly reduce air pollution, motorists can do their part in cleaning up the air by performing needed repairs and maintaining their vehicles. The EPA claims that a large amount of hydrocarbon pollution comes from relatively few cars with "dirty exhaust."

Drive An Old Vehicle?

As of 2005, there are no longer any rolling smog exemptions for vehicles 30 years old or older. A smog inspection is required for all vehicles with the following exceptions:

  • Diesel powered vehicles model year 1997 and older
  • Diesel powered vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating of more than 14,000 pounds
  • Electric vehicles
  • Natural gas powered vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating of more than 14,000 pounds
  • Motorcycles
  • Beginning in January 2013, the new STAR Program replaced the existing Gold Shield and Test Only Program. Your DMV registration renewal notice will state if your vehicle requires a smog check at a STAR station.

    Safety Equipment

    Happy Family

    A. Seatbelts - The effectiveness of and need for seatbelts is unquestionable. To increase the chances of survival in a crash, it is important that all occupants remain inside the vehicle. NHTSA has estimated that 2,800 lives could have been saved nationwide in 2013 with 100% seat belt use.2 Neck injuries and paralysis are often the result of unbuckled drivers and passengers being thrown "clear" of the collision. The seatbelt prevents the driver from being thrown through the windshield and into traffic. Cars are designed to collapse in a crash and disperse the force of the impact, with the inner compartment (the crumple zone), which is made to withstand the collapsing vehicle, securing and protecting the driver and passengers. It is important for drivers to periodically check to ensure all seatbelts are functioning properly. A quick seatbelt check by a mechanic or car dealer will determine whether the belt is at risk of malfunctioning. A minor or slight adjustment to a jammed belt or to the pendulum or ratchet mechanism might be the difference between life and death.

    Seatbelt Laws and Safety Tips

    1. As of January 1, 2012, a child who is under eight years of age must be properly secured in a rear seat in an appropriate child passenger restraint system that meets applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards, unless the child is 4'9" tall or taller. Children between eight and (less than) sixteen must either wear a safety belt or be secured in an appropriate passenger restraint system.

    2. Starting January 1, 2017, in addition to the previous child passenger restraint system laws, any child under the age of 2 must be secured in a rear-facing child passenger restrain system. The exception to the rule is if the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches tall (California Vehicle Code 27360).

    3. Penalties for violation of California Vehicle Code Sections 27360 and 27360.5 (child safety restraint laws) are, for a first offense a fine of $100 and if the court requires attendance at an education program that includes demonstrating proper installation and use of a child passenger restraint system. A second or subsequent conviction is punishable by a fine of $250 and, if the court requires, attendance at the educational program just described.

    An amendment to the Child Safety Restraints Law requires that a child who must be secured in a child safety seat (under eight years) be secured in the rear seat of the vehicle. However, a child is allowed to be secured in the front seat of the vehicle in case of a life threatening emergency or if:

    1. there is no rear seat.
    2. the rear seats are side-facing jump seats.
    3. the rear seats are rear-facing seats.
    4. the restraint system cannot be installed properly in the rear seat.
    5. all rear seats are occupied by children seven years old or younger.
    6. medical reasons necessitate that the child not ride in the rear.

    Notwithstanding the above conditions, a child may not ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle with an active passenger air bag in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system.


    4. The driver and all passengers of a motor truck, truck tractor or passenger vehicle must be properly buckled in a safety belt at all times. California Vehicle Code Section 27315, entitled the "Mandatory Seat Belt Law," but known as the "Motor Vehicle Safety Act," stipulates that "a person shall not operate a motor vehicle on a highway unless that person and all passengers 16 years of age are properly restrained by a safety belt." The penalty for failing to do so is a fine that increases for all subsequent offenses of this type. The court may order attendance of a seat belt course or traffic school in lieu of the fine for first offenders.

    5. Passengers may only ride in the passenger compartment. Other areas of the vehicle, including the trunk in most vehicles and the truck bed of pickups, are not safe for use by passengers. The practice of riding in the trunk, known as "trunking," has been popular especially with teenagers due to passenger restrictions on teenage drivers. It is illegal for drivers to knowingly permit a passenger to ride in the trunk of a vehicle. Violations call for a fine. In addition, passengers found guilty of riding in the trunk will be required to pay a fine.

    6. As of January 2002, all school buses manufactured for use in California must be equipped with combination pelvic and upper torso passenger restraint systems.

    7. The back seat of the vehicle is the safest place for children 12 and under to be seated.

    8. Children should not be placed in the front passenger seat if the car has a passenger side airbag. (There is risk of suffocation when the airbag is inflated.)

    9. A driver not properly restrained by a seatbelt will receive a traffic citation.

    10. A passenger 15 years old or younger who is not properly restrained by a seatbelt will cause the driver of the vehicle to be in violation of the seatbelt law, and the driver will receive the citation.

    11. A passenger 16 or older who is not wearing a seatbelt will receive the citation. The driver may also be cited.

    12. The use of your seatbelt is required by law if your vehicle is a 1968 or later model car or 1972 or later model truck.

    Using a Seatbelt

    To operate a manual seat belt properly, you must:

    1. Sit upright. Extend the latch plate and belt as far as you can. Attach the buckle until it clicks. If you need a longer belt, you can usually get extenders from automobile dealers at no cost.
    2. Position the lap belt as low on your hips as possible. Make sure the belt settles snugly around your hip and pelvic bones and across your upper thighs. There should be no slack in the lap belt.
    3. Position the shoulder belt over your shoulder, collar bone, and down across your chest. Many vehicles offer a comfort feature that will allow a small amount of slack in the shoulder belt, much like a window shade. Just pull the belt out at least five inches and then let it retract. Pull it out again about an inch and release. The belt will then settle into place. (Consult your vehicle owner's manual if the mechanisms of your seat belt differ.)

    Child Safety Seat Recommendations

    Properly used, child safety seats can reduce childhood deaths by as much as 70%. However, NHTSA reports a 46% rate of misuse of car seats and booster seats ranging from incorrect installation of the seat to incorrect use of the seat, such as strap placement and positioning.3 Always follow the instructions that come with your child's safety seat and if you are concerned that you may not have installed a seat correctly, you can attend car seat education classes. The following are just guidelines but should give you a general idea as to which product is best for your child. Remember, all children under the age of 2 must be secured in a rear-facing child passenger restraint system unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches tall.

    • Infant Rear-Facing Only Car Seat - This car seat is designed for newborns and small infants. You should tilt this seat at about a 45-degree angle to keep the child's neck from falling forward. Keep your child in this seat for as long as possible until they outgrow it and then upgrade to a convertible car seat.
    • Convertible Car Seat - This car seat is called convertible because it can be switched from rear-facing to forward-facing once the child is at least 2 years old, weighs 40 or more pounds, or is 40 or more inches tall. The seat should have a full harness to keep the child secured.
    • Belt-Positioning Booster - These come in two types: backless or high-back. Use a high-back booster seat if the vehicle does not provide adequate head and neck support for the child. Regardless of the type, use booster seats only with lap and shoulder belts. Remember: the California Vehicle Code requires that up until 8 years of age or 4 feet 9 inches in height all children must be in a federally-approved child restraint system which would include a booster seat if appropriate for the size of the child. If a vehicle does not have a shoulder strap type belt system in the back seat, the person transporting the child must have the child use a lap belt.
    • Lap and Shoulder Belt - For children at least eight years old or at least 4' 9" tall if they can:
      • Sit without slouching;
      • Keep their back against the seatback;
      • Bend their knees comfortably over the edge of the seat;
      • Keep their feet flat on the floor; and
      • Sit in this position comfortably during every trip.

    The lap belt needs to rest on the upper thighs or hips and away from the stomach. The shoulder harness should cross the chest and collarbone, but not the neck. Do not put the shoulder harness under the child's arm or behind the back.

    One Belt/Seat Per Person

    Sometimes a young child will want to sit on the lap of an adult or share a seat with someone else. This is a very bad idea, and here are some reasons why:

    • Studies show that eight out of every ten children who die in car crashes would have survived if they were in a child safety seat.
    • One out of four children killed in car crashes is crushed by an adult who failed to buckle his or her safety belt. Even if you wear your seat belt when your child is in your lap, the physical forces involved make it practically impossible to protect your child. Death has been recorded in crashes as slow as 12 mph. A 12-lb. child becomes a 240-lb. force in the arms of the person holding the child in a 10 mph car crash.

    If your child doesn't want to be secured or sit alone, you will have to explain why. Even if the child sits perfectly still during the trip, the potential for serious or fatal injury is still there. You will have to be sure you are wearing a safety belt yourself so the child understands the need to be restrained in a moving vehicle. It's also a life-saving habit you are teaching if you make your child buckle up every time he or she gets in the car.

    Child Safety Locks

    Many vehicles now have child safety locks for the rear passenger doors. These locks are activated by the driver and keep children from opening the rear doors while the vehicle is in motion or from leaving the vehicle before a parent. A properly restrained child, in a seatbelt and shoulder harness or child safety seat, with the doors locked with safety locks stands the best chance of not being injured in a collision or when exiting the vehicle.

    Seatbelt Myths

    Many myths exist about wearing seatbelts. Some myths and the corresponding truths follow:

    - Safety belts trap you in the car during a collision.


    The safety belt keeps you secured and greatly reduces the chance of being knocked unconscious. When conscious, there are better chances to escape, as it takes only a second or less to take off the safety belt.

    - Safety belts are for long drives but not needed for quick, local trips.

    50 percent of all traffic deaths happen within 25 miles of the home. Death can occur when drivers are traveling at speeds of 40 mph or less.

    - People thrown clear from a collision are able to walk away from danger.

    The chance of surviving a car collision is 45 percent greater if you are buckled IN the car. If your vehicle is hit from the side, staying in the vehicle will prevent you from being thrown into the path of another car, through the windshield, or onto the pavement. The truth from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA): Approximately 49 percent of passenger car occupants in the US who were killed in vehicle collisions in 2014 were not retrained.4

    Safety belts help protect occupants in six ways:

    1. There is a "ride down" in which the safety belt begins to stop the wearer as the vehicle is stopping.
    2. The safety belt keeps the head and face of the wearer from hitting objects inside the car, such as the steering wheel rim, windshield, interior post, and dashboard.
    3. The safety belt spreads the stopping force widely across the strong parts of the body (such as the chest and hips).
    4. Safety belts keep occupants in their seats, thereby keeping them from colliding with each other.
    5. Safety belts help the driver maintain control of the vehicle, thereby decreasing the possibility of an additional crash.
    6. Safety belts help prevent the driver and passenger from being thrown through the windshield and onto the roadway or into traffic.

    The Concepts of the Second and Third Collisions

    Drivers who wear safety belts have more control over their vehicles in emergency situations, and therefore have a better chance to avoid a crash. It is said that a motor vehicle collision actually consists of three separate collisions. After a vehicle crashes into another object, two other collisions also occur. As a result, when we look at a motor vehicle crash, we are actually looking at three total collisions:

    1. The First Collision: The Vehicular Collision. The first collision occurs when the vehicle collides with another object. In a severe crash with another vehicle or other large object, the car comes to an abrupt stop.

    2. The Second Collision: The Human Collision. At the moment of impact, occupants are still traveling at the vehicle's original speed, leading to the second collision. Anyone not secured will crash into a part of the vehicle's interior, other objects in the car, or other occupants.


    3. The Third Collision: The Internal Collision. After a person's body stops, internal organs still move forward, which leads to the third collision. During this stage, these organs may collide into other internal organs or the skeletal system.

    Both the second and third collisions can cause serious injury or death. Therefore your best protection against these additional collisions is to fasten your seat belts and properly secure all heavy items. When properly fastened, they distribute the forces over the larger, stronger parts of the body that can better absorb these forces.

    If you get into a collision, your safety belt is designed to keep you inside the safety zone area (passenger compartment), which allows you to have better control of your vehicle during the second and third collisions. Your safety belt takes the forces of impact from the first crash almost instantly, dissipating it and therefore protecting you. It is a safer medium for absorbing the forces than the glass or steel in your vehicle.

    Estimate of Lives Saved Yearly by Seat Belt Use for Passengers Aged 5 and Older:5

    2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    1,257 1,137 1,243 1,197 1,241

    Examples of Effectiveness:

    • According to NHTSA’s data, in 2013, seat belts saved an estimated 12,584 lives among passenger vehicle occupants 5 and older.6
    • Seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.7
    • According to the NHTSA, more than a third of children under age 13 who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2011 were not in car seats or wearing seat belts.8
    • In 2013, 9,580 Americans who died in crashes were not wearing a seat belt, which accounts for an estimated one-half of all fatalities when the victims’ seat belt status was known.9

    SMART RULE: Neck injuries that lead to paralysis can be dramatically reduced by wearing a seatbelt at all times.

    Securing Heavy Items

    In addition to making sure that driver and passengers are secured with seatbelts and that children who are required to be secured in a child restraint system are done so properly, you must make sure that heavy items that may move as the car corners or which may strike a person inside the car if a collision occurs are secured. Just as a person unsecured by a seatbelt may become like a projectile during a collision, so too may a heavy package. Appropriately sized packages should be kept in the trunk or in a storage area behind the rear seat in SUVs or crossovers and not on seats next to passengers.

    Unattended Children In Vehicles (Kaitlyn's Law)

    A parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child who is six or younger may not leave that child inside a motor vehicle without being under the supervision of a person 12 or older under the following circumstances: if there are conditions that present a risk, if the engine is running, or if the keys are in the ignition. If cited for this offense, you will have to pay a fine. 70 percent of the revenue generated by this law will be allocated to county or city health departments, where the money can be used for development and implementation of community education programs on the dangers of leaving children unattended in motor vehicles. Always make sure your children leave the car with you, especially if you use child safety locks in the back doors.

    B. Airbags - Airbags are designed as supplementary restraint systems that only complement properly worn seatbelts. There is often the false impression that seatbelts are not required when airbags are utilized. In fact, both systems used together create the optimal safety mechanism for injury prevention.

    Children should never be placed in a seat with an airbag. Children should be properly buckled in a child's seat in the back seat only!


    Some facts about airbags include:

    • They inflate and start to deflate three times faster than the average person can blink his or her eyes.
    • They can inflate at speeds of up to 200 mph.
    • They can only be used one time if ever activated and then must be replaced.
    • They are extremely reliable, and the possibility of accidental inflation is very unlikely.
    • Inflation will not block your vision because it starts to deflate instantly.
    • Crash sensors measure the severity of the crash. If the crash is severe enough, they send a signal to the air bag, which inflates in a fraction of a second.

    The energy required to inflate frontal air bags quickly in a crash can sometimes cause injury. Airbags inflate and deflate in fractions of a second at high speed, so the force that is generated can be enormous. These safety devices can be particularly dangerous to young children, so you must make sure to position them properly to ensure their safety. The safest place for young children to sit is in the rear seat while secured in safety seats or safety belts. As noted earlier, never place a rear-facing infant seat in the front seat if the vehicle is equipped with a passenger-side airbag.

    On-off switches are available for airbags. An on-off switch can deactivate driver or passenger airbags. Vehicles without rear seats or with small rear seats, such as pickup trucks and sports cars, may have a passenger side on-off switch as standard equipment. You can get authorization from the NHTSA to have an on-off switch installed by a dealer or repair shop if you:

    • Cannot avoid placing a rear-facing infant seat in the front seat.
    • Have been advised by a physician that you have a medical condition that places you at specific risk.
    • Cannot adjust your driver's position to keep your breastbone back approximately 10 inches from the center of the steering wheel.
    • Cannot avoid situations, such as carpools, that require a child 12 or under to ride in the front seat.

    Any young children who sit in the front seat should never be allowed to sit in a parent's lap.

    C. Head Restraints - Properly adjusted head restraints reduce the risk of severe injury when involved in rear-end collisions. The driver should adjust the head rest prior to driving.

    New Generation Safety Features

    The onset of the new millennium has seen automobile manufacturers adding new safety features to many vehicles. Along with technological advances in performance and comfort, there has been progress in safety technology. Driving a motor vehicle with some of these new safety features may prevent injury in the event of a collision, save you money, and may even save a life. Safety features may also increase the vehicle's resale value and reduce the cost of automobile insurance. Some of these features are listed below.

    A. Seatbelt Design - New adjustable upper belts allow you to change the height of the shoulder strap to accommodate a person's size. This added feature may encourage passengers to wear their belts, as it increases shoulder belt comfort. A seatbelt "pretensioner" has been added, which retracts the seatbelt to remove excess slack in a crash (almost instantly). The seatbelt still needs to be adjusted as snugly as possible, as pretensioners are not strong enough to pull you back in your seat. Pretensioners are good for only one incident and then must be replaced, similar to an airbag.

    B. Side Airbags - Side airbags provide additional chest protection by inflating instantly during many side collisions, and some even provide head protection. Side airbags are not required by law, but most manufacturers are still padding or improving door and body structures to meet federal side-impact requirements.

    C. Traction Control - Traction control systems improve vehicle stability and steering control during acceleration by controlling the amount the wheels can slip when you apply excess power. The system automatically adjusts the engine power output and sometimes applies braking force to selected wheels during acceleration and cornering. Traction control is mainly found on vehicles with four-wheel, anti-lock brake systems.

    D. Daytime Running Lights - These lights increase the ability of oncoming drivers to see your vehicle. Since they may not include taillights or other exterior lights, headlights must still be turned on at dusk or when you must continuously use your windshield wipers. On many newer cars, headlights come on automatically, and stay on, when the engine is started. Driving with your headlights on during the day increases the visibility of your vehicle for other drivers. When your lights come on automatically it also eliminates the responsibility of remembering to turn your lights on in bad weather where visibility is, or can be, seriously diminished for every driver. Some headlights also come on automatically when it is sensed that there is not enough daylight left to drive without them.

    Driver Responsibility

    A. You must be properly licensed with the DMV and obey all regulations and restrictions that are applicable to your driver's license.


    B. The automobile should be in proper working condition, with the brakes, tires, lights, etc. all working properly and properly maintained.

    C. You should be prepared for emergency situations and have a first aid kit and flares available.

    D. You should be familiar with the applicable rules of the road as defined in the California Vehicle Code, as well as the ramifications of many of the violations.

    A responsible driver always drives defensively by using common sense at all times while on the road.


    1 Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis. (2016). Query Accident/Incident Trends. Retrieved from:

    2 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2015). Traffic Safety Facts - Lives Saved in 2013 by Restraint Use and Minimum Drinking Age Laws. DOT HS 812 137. Retrieved from ttps://

    3 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2015). National Child Restraint Use Special Study. DOT HS 812 157. Retrieved from

    4 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2014). Traffic Safety Facts 2014. DOT HS 812 261. Retrieved from

    5 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2014). Traffic Safety Facts - California 2010-2014. Retrieved from

    6 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2015). NHTSA urges motorists to wear seat belts for safety. NHTSA 20-15. Retrieved from

    7 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2015) Seat Belts: Get the Facts. Retrieved from

    8 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2013). NHTSA Finds More Than a Third of Children Killed in Crashes Were Not in Car Seats or Wearing Seat Belts. NHTSA 26-13. Retrieved from

    9 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2015). NHTSA urges motorists to wear seat belts for safety. NHTSA 20-15. Retrieved from