Avoiding Auto Accidents

Avoiding Auto Accidents

By Harry Cheff, Risk Management Associate

Most automobile accidents are avoidable, and the causes can often be traced to a few common factors, including distracted driving, driving too fast, following a vehicle too closely, poor weather conditions, and operating a vehicle that has not been properly maintained, to name but a few. Personally, when I think back on the accidents I’ve been involved in, I can honestly say that nearly all were avoidable, had I only followed (though not too closely, if you know what I mean) the advice I’m about to share with you.

The changing seasons can have an impact on how you drive. The fall, with its increasingly shorter days, signals the start of the mating season when deer, elk, moose, and other larger animals become more active. The activity means more animals crossing the roads, especially at dawn or dusk. Adding to this seasonal danger is the fact that, during snowstorms, certain types of sizeable animals are attracted to the salt on the sides of roads spread by plows. So, remember to slow down in the fall and winter and be extra aware of animals near the roads or crossing them. Driving 5 mph below the speed limit, especially in the dark, may allow you enough time to avoid that costly animal strike. 

Of course, the winter months involve still more challenges. So, before heading out during what could prove to be dangerous driving conditions, check the road report. If the roads are bad, then change your plans if at all possible. And, as noted in the Safe Schools online course “Winter Driving,” when you are driving in the winter – or any season, for that matter – the best way to avoid accidents is to maintain the proper condition of your vehicle and control your speed and as well as your following distance.

Whatever time of year you are driving, your best strategy is to drive defensively. You can’t control your fellow drivers – nor can you change the weather or prevent unexpected driving hazards – but you can be prepared to respond to, and hopefully, avoid those unexpected hazards.

By employing five tactics, which we refer to as the “Five Strategic Driving Skills,” drivers can significantly reduce the likelihood of an accident. These simple strategies allow drivers to readily identify unexpected hazards and, most importantly, to anticipate the likely mistakes of other drivers.

The Five Strategic Driving Skills are a part of the MSGIA SafeSchools Defensive Driving online course, where they are delineated as follows:

  1. Expand your look-ahead capacity: this gives you more time to react to a hazard.
  2. Size up the whole scene: you should always know what is in front, beside, and behind you.
  3. Signal your intentions early: doing so helps you reduce the risk of being involved in a traffic accident (you should always signal your intentions at least five to eight seconds before you make a turn, change lanes, enter or exit the freeway, or pass another vehicle).
  4. Plan an escape route: your escape plan will likely involve one or more of the following actions – slowing or stopping your vehicle, changing direction by turning, changing lanes, or swerving, signaling a warning to other drivers using turn signals, headlights, or horn.
  5. Take decisive action: when you’re faced with a sudden hazard, you must immediately take action that will result in the least danger to you, your passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers. 

The leading cause of all accidents is distracted driving. All distractions endanger the safety of the driver, passengers, and bystanders. These distractions include but certainly are not limited to texting, eating/drinking, talking, grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video, and adjusting the audio system or climate control device.

According to the MSIGA SafeSchools “Distracted Driving” online class, experts classify distractions into three main types:

  • Manual distractions, such as reaching for a beverage in the drink carrier or retrieving something from the center console, involve using your hands for something other than the task of controlling the vehicle.
  • Visual distractions, such as looking down at a spilled drink in the vehicle, involve shifting your focus from the road to elsewhere in or out of the vehicle.
  • Cognitive distractions, such as fretting over a challenging meeting or trying to remember what you need to at the store, involve situations wherein your mind wanders from the task of driving.

Distractions influenced by technology can require a combination of a driver’s visual, manual, and cognitive attention, making these types of distractions particularly dangerous. It’s why texting has earned its bad reputation. Texting involves all three types of distractions at once. And talking while driving is hardly any less dangerous. In fact, researchers found that talking on a mobile phone quadruples your risk of an accident, which is roughly the same level of risk associated with drinking and driving drunk.

So, before you put your car in “drive,” here are a number of commonsense practices you can follow to decrease the likelihood of being distracted when driving:

  • Turn off your mobile phone and place it out of reach to avoid the urge to dial or answer. If a passenger is present, make him/her your personal assistant to handle any calls or texts.
  • Adjust mirrors, seat, and climate controls.
  • Map out destinations and set the deviation controls on your GPS. If you have a passenger, designate him/her to serve as a co-pilot and help with directions.

Some additional reminders as you travel the highways of Montana include:

  1. Allow enough time to get to your destination.
  2. Be familiar with the particulars of your vehicle.
  3. Keep a log of regular maintenance on district vehicles and ensure that there has been a multi-point inspection.
  4. Make sure the heater is working and the tires are in good condition and properly inflated.
  5. Keep an ice scraper and a snow brush in your vehicle.
  6. Make sure you have a winter survival/emergency kit in case your vehicle breaks down.

Plan for the following: 

  1. If you should have to pull over due to weather conditions, put on your flashers and wait out the storm (if for you get stuck in the snow or slide off the road, put your flashers on and wait for emergency help to arrive).
  2. Pay attention while you are driving – if you begin to feel tired, pull over to a safe spot off of the highway and rest.
  3. Remember that under state law the snowplow always has the right of way (snowplow drivers have very limited visibility and CANNOT see other traffic well).
  4. Be extra cautious at night, dawn, and dusk, and be on the lookout for animals on the roads.
  5. Always buckle your seat belt before you start driving!

The health, safety, and welfare of district employees and the students trusted to their care is a priority at MSGIA.  Our goal is for everyone who departs to return home safely to their loved ones.  With that in mind, we encourage all school employees to view the Safe Schools online training videos related to driving district-owned vehicles. Each course offers helpful reminders on the safe operation of district-owned vehicles.  Three courses in particular that we strongly recommended are Winter Driving, Defensive Driving, and Distracted Driving. 

If you have any questions, please contact MSGIA at 877-667-7392. Return to newsletter