August is National Traffic Awareness Month, but if you know me at all, you know that every single day is traffic awareness day in my world. I see every hour that I spend with a new teen driver as one more opportunity to teach traffic awareness at all times. Every additional safe driver on the road helps to reduce avoidable crashes and save lives.
I could talk about hundreds of traffic awareness topics, but since this time of year is popular for travel and outdoor recreation, I’m going to narrow it down. How can you increase your traffic awareness, and thereby safe defensive driving skills, when there are more people (in cars or out of them) on the road?
Maintaining Awareness with Excess Cars on the Road
In heavy traffic, which is common during these summer months of high travel, it’s very easy to get frustrated or caught by surprise. When traffic suddenly slows down, you may find yourself reacting a split-second later than you wanted. Or maybe you’re stuck in a slower lane and looking for an opportunity to move over. Have you ever had someone fly up alongside you in a lane that’s about to close and cut over right in front of you?
Busy roads are primed for crashes, near misses, and aggressive driving. How do young drivers navigate this minefield of potential problems? The number one way to maintain safety as a driver is to never let your emotions take over your brain. When you get scared, angry, frustrated, or anxious, you can quickly become part of the problem.
When excess cars are on the road, every driver has an opportunity to de-escalate the situation and improve the flow of traffic. While you can’t control what other drivers do, you can stay patient and keep yourself under control. Remember that your goal is to get to your destination safely, not to break any speed records. Keep your goal in mind and let the frustrations melt away. If other drivers are acting aggressively, watch your speed and get yourself into a lane away from them. If someone is honking at you while you choose skills-based driving over faster methods, take it as being “cheered on.” Remember, these other drivers are not likely to be in your life more than a few moments, so you really don’t need to worry about what they think as long as you are driving safely and with great awareness.
Always remember that if you’re feeling overwhelmed in heavy traffic, get to an exit or rest stop to take a break. Sometimes you just need a few minutes to get your nerves settled and head cleared so that you can get back to safe driving.
Be Aware of Non-motorized Road Traffic
We tend to see far more people on the roads outside of cars during these warmer months. Both bicyclists and pedestrians have the right to share the roads, so always be aware of this type of traffic. As someone in a car, you’re more likely to cause harm to an individual on a bike or on foot, so non-motorized traffic awareness is a vital safe driving skill.
When you notice a pedestrian or cyclist, be sure to safely navigate around them with at least four feet between you. This is the law because it gives the safest amount of room. If you are on a winding road and cannot see that the lane ahead of you is completely clear of oncoming traffic, you absolutely must slow down and remain behind a cyclist traveling in your lane. Wait until you can see that the road is open to move out that four feet into the oncoming traffic lane. It is important to remain patient and wait until it is safe to pass. Impatience can result in a head-on collision with another car, possibly involving the cyclist as well.
Pedestrians following the rules of the road should be walking towards you, and they typically understand that their own need for personal safety dictates that they move as far off the road as possible when cars approach. But it is still safest to slow down and move over so that they know you see them and are concerned for their safety.
Stay Aware of Traffic, Stay Safe as a Driver
Traffic awareness is such a basic safe driving skill that it’s amazing we still need to highlight it. But sadly, the number of distracted driving accidents every year shows us that we do. As a reader of the Safe Driving Coach Blog, you know the benefits of maintaining awareness at all times. I hope you’ll share our blog with friends, especially those with teens getting ready to become drivers! The best compliment we can receive is a referral from a former student.
If you have a teen who is getting ready to drive, check out our course for parents: The Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers. If you’re not sure that teaching such important skills to your teen is right for you, consider professional lessons with a Safe Driving Coach. We’ll work with your teen driver to ensure that every day is Traffic Awareness Day.