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Commuting Safety

A Safer Commute

By Justin Stoltzfus

Over 86% of the United States workforce drives to work each day. US census data measuring the American commute from 2011 showed that 15.6% of commuters travel over 45 minutes to their workplace each day. Commuters driving suburb-to-city are hit hardest, where 12.5% of those surveyed traveled one hour or more. So how do commuters protect themselves from the hazards of the long drive to work? Safety agencies and auto industry experts point to some common ways to improve safety on a daily commute:

  • Pick a Safe Car. Commuters can prepare for the long haul by selecting a vehicle with excellent safety ratings. The main component in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) safety ratings is a series of tests for front and side collisions that show how well vehicle technology limits impact and injury. Individual safety features, like more advanced air bags, child safety features like LATCH, or carefully positioned restraints help limit injury in a collision. Other features that make vehicles safer include newer high-tech items like lane departure warnings, blind spot detection, and traction or stability control. Vehicle frame design, as well as maintenance features like tire pressure monitors, also add to a safer design.

  • Stay focused. While it's tempting to "multitask" on a boring commute, safety data shows that cell phone use, eating and drinking, and other distractions can make your car ride risky. Distracted driving dangers are on the rise: in 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. Even hands-free devices can cause a driving safety risk when you're distracted by conversation. Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon. Many state governments are starting to enforce laws regulating distracted driving to help limit the risks of talking and texting on the road.

  • Drive at a Distance. Beware of fender-benders: an important safe driving practice for your commute is to let a reasonable amount of space between cars work as a buffer for any unforeseen dangers like sudden stops, tire blowouts and other changes in traffic flow. State resources, like this one from Michigan, suggest keeping 2-3 seconds between cars, while still maintaining a speed close to the posted speed limit.

  • Report Aggressive Driving. Another big danger on the daily commute comes from the most aggressive drivers, who can endanger others on the road. The NHTSA shows how many thousands of accidents are due to aggressive driving, and offers commuters additional tips on dealing with this hazard. Be a defensive driver by treating others on the road with patience and courteousness and be alert to others on the road. Check if your community has a local tip line to report aggressive incidents (in many cities you can call 311), or alert the appropriate local authorities with a vehicle description.
These simple steps can make a daunting commute less risky for drivers and contribute to a more pleasant ride to and from home.

June 20, 2013, 1:10 PM

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