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When It's Like Mad Max Out There: 5 Tips for Staying Safe and Sane on America's Roadways

Driving should never be considered a contact sport, but as more and more people take to the road with phones in hand, it's time to start taking your safety as a driver more seriously than ever before. There are roughly 5.5 million automobile accidents every year in the United States, and while the promise of autonomous cars is getting closer with each passing day, it still behooves us humans who drive to do so with great caution and plenty of preparedness. When the highways and byways feel post-apocalyptic, here are five tips for staying safe and sane behind the wheel.

1. No Phone—Ever

Some car accidents really are accidents. A tree limb falls onto a roadway. A tire blows out. A driver experiences a heart attack or stroke. While all of these situations can result in collisions, the vast majority of collisions happen because of human error, and one of the biggest culprits are cellphones and smartphones. According to the CDC, eight people die each day in the United States because of distracted driving, and using a phone is increasingly becoming the "distraction" of choice. So, put it away. Don't use your phone—ever—and when someone else's phone use results in your being in an accident, contact a good lawyer—like this West Palm Beach auto accident lawyer — so you can make sure to get any medical bills, lost wages, and car damage covered.

2. Drive Under the Speed Limit

When you're in a hurry, a speed limit can feel like little more than a barrier to whatever goal you're trying to reach, which is a shame since speed limits are in place for your and others' protection. Exceeding the speed limit is a major contributing factor in automobile accidents, and the faster you're going, the worse any injuries are likely to be as well. Stay safe by driving the speed limit, and stay sane by always leaving for your destination with plenty of time.

3. Be a Defensive Driver

One key to staying safe on America's roadways is to always practice defensive driving. How do you do that? By paying close attention and anticipating the possible moves of other drivers. Driving is one of many activities that people can perform on a kind of mind-numbed autopilot. So long as nothing unexpected happens—the car in front of you slams on its brakes, a cat runs out into the roadway, etc.—it seems fine to only keep one eye on the road. But unexpected things are always happening. Don't let your mind go blank when you're behind the wheel. Pay attention to everything going on around you so that when you have to make a quick, defensive maneuver, you're ready to.

4. Keep Your Car in Good Shape

Believe it or not, a well-maintained vehicle is less likely to be involved in an accident, because everything from the brakes to the fuel injection system are working as you expect them to. Because every vehicle responds a little differently, drivers get very used to their own vehicle's way of responding. Some cars have very sensitive clutches. Some take a long time to gather speed. Some vehicles' brakes stop on a dime, while others need more distance.

Regardless of how your vehicle handles, you get used to it, which is why your safety relies on your keeping it in good shape. Human beings are creatures of habit, and when we get used to our cars and trucks responding a certain way, anything out of the ordinary can become a danger.

5. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

While it's illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the sheer number of non-sober driving incidents proves that issues of legality don't seem to stop many of us from getting behind the wheel when we shouldn't. That needs to stop. Make a commitment to yourself and to your family that at no time will you ever get behind the wheel of a car if you've had any alcohol or taken any drugs.

Plan ahead. If you're going out with friends, have a designated driver. If you aren't good at planning ahead, call a cab. Having to pick up your car from a bar the morning after is not a big deal. Going to jail, wrecking your vehicle, and causing harm to yourself or someone else— that's a big deal.

The roads are filled with distracted people who are not paying attention to what they're doing while driving. Don't be one of them. Follow these five tips, and you'll stay safe and sane in even the worst traffic conditions.

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