News

Keeping Hollis, Brookline kids safe from driving accidents is a top priority

Friday, August 15, 2014

By KATHY CLEVELAND

Staff Writer

School is for learning, but parents, teachers and administrators will virtually all agree that keeping children safe has always been the highest priority.

Years ago, the messages about children’s safety could be symbolized by crossing guards and the old public service announcement with a ball bouncing into a street and the voice-over reminding drivers to watch out for children running into the street.

The rash of school shootings in recent years put the focus on metal detectors, locked doors and security cameras.

But through those changes there has been one constant: The greatest risk to children of any age is accidents, and a leading cause of teen car accidents is alcohol.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “unintentional injuries” accounted for 15,518 deaths among young people ages 15-24 in 2011.

Traffic accidents caused most of them. Homicides of all kinds accounted for far fewer deaths.

Jon Van de Car, the automotive shop teacher at Merrimack High School and a driver education teacher for 20 years, said the biggest problem he sees with young drivers is alcohol.

“Anybody under 18 caught drinking and driving should lose their license for a minimum of a year, if not two years,” he said.

Drivers education courses do not focus enough on alcohol, he said, and they should always demonstrate its effects on driving.

He recalled going to a workshop years ago: Drivers took on an obstacle course of plastic cones, first with no alcohol, then after consuming two drinks.

“The results were staggering,” Van de Car said. “It really opened my eyes.”

Most adults have heard the message about drinking and driving, but teenagers are focused on so many other things and feel invincible.

“You have to keep re-educating them every year” about alcohol, Van de Car said.

Here are tips from the Governors Highway Safety Association to help people remain safe when driving a vehicle:

Safety tips

Obey the speed limits. Going too fast gives you less time to stop or react. Excess speed is one of the main causes of teenage accidents.

Always wear your seat belt – and make sure all passengers buckle up, too. Don’t try to fit more people in the car than you have seat belts for them to use.

Adjust your car’s headrest to a height behind your head – not your neck – to minimize whiplash in case you’re in an accident.

Make sure your windshield is clean. At sunrise and sunset, light reflecting off your dirty windshield can momentarily blind you from seeing what’s going on.

Experts now recommend that you hold the steering wheel at either 3 and 9 o’clock, or even lower at 4 and 8 o’clock. If you’re in an accident and the airbags go off, you’ll be safer with your hands not flying into your face from the impact of the airbags.

Consider other drivers

Don’t drive like you own the road. Drive like you own the car.

Don’t make assumptions about what other drivers are going to do. The only thing you can assume about another driver with a turn signal on is that he or she has a turn signal on. The driver might not be turning at all, and just forgot to turn it off.

Watch out for aggressive drivers, and try to stay out of their way. They are the cause of a lot of accidents – especially on freeways.

Never pull out in front of anyone or swerve into someone else’s lane.

Constant awareness

Make sure your car always has gas in it – don’t ride around with the gauge on empty.

If you’re in the country, watch out for deer and other animals. If you see an animal approaching, slow down and flash your lights repeatedly. Dusk and dawn are particularly bad times for running into animals, so be on the lookout for them.

When light turns green, make sure the intersection clears before you go.

Driving around school

If you’re lucky enough to have your own car, be mindful when driving around your school’s campus, or even just when parking there.

Always stop for school buses with flashing lights. The flashing lights mean that students are either getting on or off the bus, and may be crossing the street. Their safety depends on cars obeying this law.

Don’t park in fire lanes around the school. Not only will you probably get a ticket, but you could be blocking the area where a fire truck might need to park.

Try to get to school five to 10 minutes early, and leave five minutes late to avoid the mad dash into and out of the parking lot. Lots of accidents happen when people are rushing around.

Always watch for kids getting on and off school buses.

If your school lot has perpendicular spaces (not angled parking), park in a space you can pull straight out of instead of having to back out. Backing out in crowded lots is always tricky.

Don’t try to get away with not obeying the “little” rules. Minding the speed you’re going or taking a few extra seconds to buckle up is always worth it.

Merging, turning, passing

Merging, turning and passing require you to be extremely alert and aware of the drivers around you. Many accidents happen because of drivers being oblivious and inconsiderate when doing one of these three things.

Avoid making left-hand turns across busy intersections that don’t have turn signals. It takes awhile to learn how to gauge the oncoming traffic. It’s better to go down a block or two until you come to a light, or plan a route that doesn’t need this turn.

When there’s an obstruction in your lane, wait for oncoming traffic to clear before you pull around. Just because someone’s blocking your lane doesn’t mean you have the right of way in the next or oncoming lane.

Use turn signals to indicate your intention to turn or to change lanes. Make sure to give the cars behind you enough time to react before you take the action. Then make sure to turn your signal off.

Never pass …

If you don’t know if there’s enough space or time.

Because you’re playing “passing games” with a friend.

If the car you’re trying to pass is going the speed limit.

When there is another car passing you.

When passing one car doesn’t make a difference.

Over a solid yellow line on your side (you need a dotted line to pass).

In dangerous weather conditions.

When there’s a blind spot in front of you, such as a hill or a curve.

When there is oncoming traffic in the other lane.

If there is road work or construction going on.

Through tunnels, on narrow roads or on bridges.

On two-lane roads, never pass trucks or other vehicles you can’t see around.

How to pass with caution

Pass at least 10 miles per hour faster than the car you’re going around, but don’t exceed the speed limit.

Be sure you’ve completely cleared the passed car with enough space before pulling back into your lane.

Passing another car can be tricky. Whenever in doubt on whether you can pass safely, just don’t try it.

Driving in bad weather

Driving in bad weather can be scary and very dangerous. It’s best to avoid it altogether, but if you happen to find yourself in a storm or a heavy snowfall, these tips will help:


Heavy rain

If you need your windshield wipers on, you also need your headlights on – in rain, fog, sleet, freezing rain or snow. It will help your visibility and also help other drivers to see you.

Double or triple the space you normally leave between you and the next car in wet whether. You’ll need even more space to stop on slick roads.

If it’s raining too hard for you to see, try to find a safe place to pull over until the worst of the rain has passed.

Don’t use cruise control in wet or slippery conditions. The cruise control may apply more throttle if the drive wheels start to slip.

If you see a tornado coming your way, find shelter as fast as you can. If that isn’t possible, get out of the car and find a ditch to take cover in, protecting your head and neck.

Snow

Brake gently, and when driving on slippery surfaces such as ice or snow, use light pressure on the accelerator pedal when starting. If your wheels start to spin, let up on the accelerator until traction returns.

If you’ve had to dig your car out of snow or ice, or if you’ve backed into snow, make sure your exhaust tailpipe is clear. If your tailpipe is blocked, you may be breathing carbon monoxide.

If driving a white car during snowfall or after the snow has fallen, your car may be camouflaged by the snow, so turn on your headlights and make it easier for other drivers to see you.

When starting out in bad weather, test your brakes to see how far it takes you to stop.

If you’re stuck in ice or snow, try putting your floor mats under the edge of the tires to give them traction.

Ice and sleet

In winter, keep an ice scraper with a brush in your glove box in case it snows or sleets, and check that you have wiper fluid and/or deicer in your car.

Remember that bridges and overpasses can freeze before the roads do.

Ensure that your windshield washer works. You may need it in snow and sleet.

If you’re unsure if you can make it safely in rough weather, it’s best to not attempt your trip. Keep in mind that sometimes the roads are actually worse than they appear to be and risks can be greater. Wait it out if you can.

Avoiding accidents

New drivers have to face the reality that every time they get behind the wheel, risk of an accident is lurking. Car crashes can result from many things, including speeding, drugs and alcohol, calling or texting, fatigue or not paying attention. You could even find yourself in an accident caused completely by someone else.

Texting while driving

In a recent online poll of 16-19-year-olds, more than 50 percent admitted they text while driving. The numbers already show that even talking on a cellphone will increase the chances of getting into an accident, and that’s when your eyes are actually on the road. When you text, your eyes aren’t fully watching the road. Those few precious seconds back and forth can be the difference between life and death.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to resist answering or checking your phone while driving, a good rule of thumb is to put it somewhere in the car where you can’t get to it while you’re driving. Yes, your friends may have to wait a few extra minutes to get a reply from you, but at least you won’t be causing accidents or getting hurt.

More and more states are banning the use of cellphones while driving. To see what the laws are in your state, check out the Governors Highway Safety Association website at www.ghsa.org.

Also, visit distraction.gov for details about each state’s laws.

Driving under the influence

Completely not worth it. Don’t drink and drive, and don’t ride with anyone who has been drinking. It doesn’t matter if you think you can pull it off – chances are you can’t and you’ll get into a crash. Call parents or other, non-drunk friends to take you home if you need a ride.

Similarly, don’t drive or ride with anyone who has been doing drugs. This can include over-the-counter drugs, depending on how drowsy they can make you.

Distractions

Putting on your makeup, changing the radio station, friends wrestling in the backseat – all these things can lead to you losing focus and taking your eyes off the road. Avoiding accidents often requires a split-second decision to brake or swerve, so eliminating distractions is vital to increase your odds. For new drivers, it is recommended to limit passengers to parents or instructors for the first year.

Fatigue

Drowsiness can totally sneak up on you when you’re driving. For teens, driving between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. is a particularly dangerous time for falling asleep at the wheel. Here are some signs to watch for and do something about before you run into a tree or another car:

You yawn a lot.

You have trouble keeping your eyes open.

You don’t remember the last few minutes or seconds.

You drive over the rumble strips more than once.

Your head or body jerks from the brink of falling asleep.

You can’t concentrate.

The car wanders from the road, or into another lane.

What to do if you’re falling asleep

Immediately slow down and pull off the road into a safe parking space. Lock your doors and take a nap, at least 20-45 minutes.

Make a pit stop. Use the bathroom and get a soda or coffee to drink.

Sit up straight.

If you have a passenger, talk to him or her.

Play some music loudly. Try singing along.

Roll your window all the way down or turn your vent on cold full blast in your face.

What to do if you’re in an accident

Accidents happen to nearly every driver. Try to remember these steps:

Immediately call 911 if anyone is injured. If everyone is OK, assess the scene.

If possible, do not move any cars until photos have been taken.

Call the police before calling anyone else. Sometimes other drivers will try to stop you from doing this, but in many states, it’s required that you report the accident.

Call your parents if you need to.

Get information from the other driver(s), including their name, address, phone number, license plate and insurance carrier.

Take photos with your phone or your passenger’s phone. Be sure to get pictures of the position of the cars, the damage and anything else that’s relevant. This can help later to prove how the crash happened. Keeping a disposable camera in your glove box will help with this if you don’t have a camera phone.

Get the names and numbers of any witnesses to the accident.

Write down a note for yourself, or make a voice memo for yourself while the details of the accident are fresh in your mind. This can help with questioning later.

Call your insurance agent, and process any claims in an appropriate amount of time.

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