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Edmund's Top Tips for Safe Driving

Family driving a silver SUV.

Edmunds Top Tips for Safe Driving

Although the civilian world isn't nearly as dangerous as the frontlines, there are many situations that required heightened awareness to ensure safety. Whether you're freshly transitioned or have been out for a while, it's always a good time to brush up on auto safety.

To get the best advice on staying safe behind the wheel, we went to Edmunds.com, a car-shopping website focused on making car shopping easy and stress-free.

What are the biggest safety concerns drivers should be aware of on the road?

While we might most immediately think of external issues as being dangers to drivers – such as weather and road conditions – the biggest risk to drivers is their own behavior. Human performance and behavior factors contribute to more than 90 percent of vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Alcohol use and driving without seat belts are two factors that greatly contribute to traffic fatalities.

Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities accounted for 31 percent of overall fatalities in 2012, the most recent year for which NHTSA has data.

More than half the people who died in traffic fatalities in 2012 weren't wearing seat belts. NHTSA says that the use of lap and shoulder seat belts reduces the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 50 percent.

Distraction is another concern: NHTSA says there are at least 3,000 deaths annually in the U.S. from distraction-related auto crashes. At any given moment, 100,000 people are texting while driving, while another 600,000 drivers are talking on handheld cell phones. But technology isn't the only cause of distraction. Parents are often distracted by kids in the back seat, and – believe it or not -- nearly every week, our editors see people who are reading newspapers as they drive in stop-and-go freeway traffic.

Finally, vehicle condition and driving behaviors that don't suit weather also can pose dangers to drivers. Edmunds.com recommends that drivers check their cars as the seasons change to ensure that they are properly maintained and can meet the challenges of wet, snowy and icy or very hot weather. And drivers should slow down when roadway conditions are out of the ordinary, because of snow and ice, rain or wind.

What are the most important safety features new car buyers should look for?

Cars are getting safer all the time. New cars are required to have electronic stability control, a system that uses automatic computer-controlled braking of individual wheels to assist the driver in maintaining control in critical driving situations. Anti-lock brakes are a key component of these systems.

In addition, Edmunds.com (and NHTSA) recommend looking for cars that have the following features:

  • Back-up cameras. This technology helps drivers see if there are any obstructions – particularly people, and most especially children – in the area immediately behind the vehicle. Back-up cameras will be required in all cars starting with the 2018 model year.
  • Lane-departure warning. These use a camera to track a vehicle's position in relation to lane markings on the road. The systems warn the driver of unintentional lane shifts so driver can steer back to the middle of the lane.
  • Forward collision warning. Using forward-looking sensors, this technology detects other vehicles ahead. If the vehicle is getting too close to another vehicle at too high a speed, the system warns the driver of an imminent collision so the driver can brake or steer to avoid or mitigate a collision. Some more advanced systems will actually brake the car.

Car shoppers who also are parents should look for cars that are well suited to children's car seats and have features that make car seat installation a snap. Edmunds.com's Best Cars for Car Seats has lots more detail.

While these are some initial safety features to consider, make sure to buy a car that is a right fit for you. Edmunds' Live Advice offers unbiased car experts, who can help answer any questions you might have while shopping for a car to make the process easier and get you in the right car.

Which current models offer the highest safety ratings?

There are so many cars that have top safety ratings that it would be difficult to list them all. The easiest thing to do is to check the safety ratings of any car in which you're interested with the two major rating entities: the federal government's 5-Star Safety Ratings and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Picks and Top Safety Picks +. Focus on the ones that perform well in both organizations' testing.

Apart from testing, do bear in mind that the smallest compacts and subcompacts don't fare as well as larger models when it comes to crash protection. The laws of physics always apply, as safety experts have told Edmunds.com: Smaller, lighter vehicles — even those with good crash test ratings — don't provide as much protection as bigger, heavier ones.

If you're looking for a shortcut, you can't go wrong with the Edmunds.com guidelines on how to pick a good, safe car for your teenage driver. This provides tips that can be used for anyone looking for a vehicle with safety as a top priority.

How can a car buyer spot a vehicle that is potentially unsafe to drive?

Buying new is one quick way to steer clear of troubled cars.

Or if you are shopping in the used-car market, you can stick to considering certified pre-owned cars, which have been reconditioned and meet manufacturer standards. You can also shop for used cars at a new-car dealership. Many of these cars will carry a warranty.

If you're buying from an independent used-car dealer or a private party – or even a new-car dealership that sells used vehicles – here are some things to do before you buy:

  • Run a vehicle history report. The vehicle history report will flag cars that have been in accidents.
  • Check Edmunds.com's Car Maintenance Guide. It allows you to put in your VIN number to see if there are any outstanding recall notices for that vehicle.
  • Look for obvious signs of trouble, such as tire wear, indicating that they need to be replaced because they are old or worn past the point of safety. Buyers also should watch out for uneven wear, indicating car misalignment or more serious frame damage. Other potential and fairly obvious safety problems can be cracked windshields, burned out signals, brake lights or headlights.
  • Get an independent inspection, for a more thorough safety assessment. In addition to sizing up the car's mechanical condition, a good inspection will detect body damage caused by accidents. Also, an inspector will look at tire wear to see if the tires are safe.
  • Be cautious of a car that has a salvage title. Not all salvage title cars are unsafe but many of them have been in accidents or floods.

What are the best habits drivers can adopt for safer driving?

  • Keep your car properly maintained. Edmunds.com's maintenance guide can help you stay current on the recommended services for your car. Solving small issues before they become big ones is an easy way to stay safe.
  • Check your tire pressure monthly. This is a good idea even if your car has a tire pressure monitoring system. These typically let you know when your pressure is extremely low, but it's best not to wait.
  • Go to an advanced driver training school. These are not racing schools (although many of the skills they teach are the same). These programs can help you sharpen your skills for how to handle emergency situations such a skids, evasive lane changes and emergency braking.
  • Use your seat belt. Insist that everyone in the car use them, too. Don't forget to secure your dog.
  • Don't drive if you've been drinking. Designate a sober driver. And if you like gadgets, get a smartphone breathalyzer. Believe it if it tells you you've had too much to drink.
  • Stay focused on your driving. Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road. Nothing is more important than getting to your destination safely.

Edmunds.com is a car-shopping website driven to make car buying easy.

Almost 18 million visitors use our shopping tools every month to connect with over 9,500 dealer franchises across the U.S. Shoppers can browse our inventory listings for available cars and trucks, and with Edmunds.com's Price Promise, they can get an instant, upfront price on those same vehicles. Recently named by Maritz Research as one of the most trusted online consumer review sites - and the only automotive site listed in the top ten - Edmunds.com is also home to comprehensive car reviews, shopping tips, photos, videos and feature stories. Even when you're at the dealership, we're always by your side. Just call our free Live Advice Line at 1-855-782-4711 or use our acclaimed Edmunds.com iPhone and iPad apps or Edmunds.com Android App. We're based in Santa Monica, Calif., but you can connect with us from anywhere by following @Edmunds on Twitter or by becoming a fan of Edmunds.com on Facebook. You can also find us on Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Flipboard.

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