When you get behind the wheel of your car and pull out onto a highway, you expect to arrive at your destination alive. Yet deep down there’s this twinge of fear. You realize that driving is dangerous and could produce fatal consequences.
According to Jeff Wise, author of the book Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, highways are actually far safer than the average road or city street. For example, in 2007, 0.54 people were killed for every 100 million vehicle miles driven on interstates, compared with 1.32 killed on local urban streets. While most find this idea to be confounding, it actually makes total sense.
“For one thing, everyone is headed in the same direction at about the same speed,” Wise explains. “No trucks are pulling out randomly from side streets, no SUVs are throwing on their brakes to make an impulsive left turn. On a highway, each driver’s options are severely limited. And that means it’s much harder for them to create unpleasant surprises for one another.”
However, this doesn’t mean you’re completely safe. While accidents may be less likely on highways, they can be more dangerous when they do occur. (Thanks in large part to the high speeds.) Thus, knowing how to avoid an accident altogether will increase your chances of staying safe.
- Maintain a Safe Speed
Highway speed limits can vary rather dramatically from highway to highway and state to state (anywhere from 50 mph to 85 mph). They can also change abruptly over different stretches of road on the same highway. It’s important that you always maintain a safe speed and avoid going too fast or too slow.
While speeding is exceptionally dangerous, so is driving below the speed limit. When all vehicles are traveling at 75 mph except for one car traveling at 55 mph, an accident is bound to ensue. If you can’t drive close to the speed limit and keep up with traffic, you may need to choose another path to your destination.
- Stay Away From Big Trucks
One of the more dangerous elements of highway driving is the frequency of close contact with large trucks – meaning 18-wheelers or tractor-trailers. Should a compact car get in a collision with a semi-truck, the results are generally deadly.
Research shows that roughly one-third of deadly truck crashes involve driver error. The most common leading errors are speeding, distraction, and failure to yield right of way. Since you can’t control these causes, you’re best to just stay away. Keep your distance and only get close if you’re planning to pass.
- Maintain a Safe Following Distance
“Nobody likes being tailgated and, on top of that, it’s risky. If the driver in front of you has to come to a quick stop, following too closely could have dangerous consequences,” Allstate explains. “Instead, maintain a safe following distance from the car ahead of you (especially if roads are slick).”
The best rule of thumb is to leave a minimum of three seconds between you and the car in front of you. The best way to do this is to pick a landmark in the distance and begin counting as soon as the car in front of you passes the point of reference. Stop counting when you pass the same point. If it’s three seconds or more, you’re in the clear.
- Cut Out Distractions
Distractions are deadly when you’re traveling at high speeds. According to the NHTSA, looking down for five seconds at a speed of just 55 mph is like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed! Now amplify that by driving at 75 or 80 mph and it only takes two or three seconds for something catastrophic to happen.
Make a conscious effort to eliminate as many distractions as possible while driving on the highway. This includes electronics, navigation, food, texting, phone calls, and even conversations with passengers.
Adding it All Up
Highway driving doesn’t have to be scary, dangerous, or deadly. When you understand what risks you actually face, you can make smart choices and stay out of harm’s way.