Good Drivers Live Longer
BY: Michael Castleman
Wanna stay alive? Consider how you drive -- especially if you’re a guy. Of the 42,510 Americans killed in motor vehicle accidents from 2005 through 2007, 70 percent were men, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And of the 27,491 drivers killed in accidents, 76 percent were men. Motor vehicle accidents are also the leading cause of paraplegia -- and again, compared to women, four times as many men lose the use of their legs.
Are you starting to see a pattern? Wait, there’s more. A research firm that compiles information for auto insurers recently found that, compared to women, men are approximately:
• 3.4 times more likely to be cited for reckless driving
• 3 times more likely to be busted for driving drunk
• 3 times less likely to use a seat belt
• 1.8 times as likely to speed
• 1.5 times more likely to run red lights and ignore stop signs
• 27 percent more likely to be found at fault in accidents
“Men are the problem on the highway,” says Elly Martin, a spokesperson for the NHTSA, “and they pay a heavy price for it” -- in life and limb. Billboards remind everyone to buckle up, and that’s good advice. But if you want to live to see your grandchildren get their drivers licenses, you need to do more than use a seat belt. “Men need to drive better,” Martin says. Here’s how:
Never speed Speeding relative to traffic increases risk of accidents substantially. Allow enough time to get where you’re going while observing the speed limit. Arriving late is better than not arriving at all.
Never tailgate Tailgating is the fastest route to a rear-ender. The traditional advice is to allow one car length between you and the car ahead of you for every 10 miles per hour you’re driving. “But that’s too complicated,” says Randy Buck, an instructor at the Skip Barber Racing School who teaches basic driving skills -- as well as race car driving -- at motor sports tracks around the country. “Today we use the three-second rule.” As the car ahead of you passes a landmark, start counting. It should take you three seconds or more to reach the same landmark. “The three-second rule is better because it works at any speed,” Buck explains. “Unfortunately, most drivers allow only one and a half to two seconds, so they’re at risk for accidents.”
Never run red lights If the light turns yellow, stop!
Never drive buzzed More than 15,000 Americans die in alcohol-related accidents every year -- and we’re not talking down-a-six-pack, stumbling drunk. It takes about one hour for one drink -- that’s one 12-ounce beer, one standard cocktail or one glass of wine -- to clear your bloodstream. If you have one drink, don’t drive for at least one hour after you finish it. If you have two drinks or more, don’t drive until at least that number of hours has elapsed.
Train your eyes Faced with a possible accident, says Buck, most people look at what they’re trying to avoid -- another vehicle, a phone pole, etc. “But the hands naturally follow the eyes. So don’t look at what you’re trying to avoid,” he advises. “Look where you want to wind up, and you’re more likely to get there in one piece.”
Look way ahead Most people scan the roadway no more than 50 yards ahead of them. Look at least 100 yards down the road so you can see trouble before you’re on top of it.
Avoid distractions Concentrate on driving. Don’t eat, drink, talk on the phone, check a map or ogle the cutie who’s pulled up next to you.
Avoid frequent lane changes Whipping in and out of lanes increases your risk for an accident.
Remain calm Don’t take out your frustrations on other drivers.
Get out of the way When faced with an aggressive driver --someone who speeds, tailgates or changes lanes recklessly -- stay calm and let them pass you.
Avoid eye contact Eye contact with aggressive drivers can trigger road rage and even worse driving. If someone gives you the finger, ignore it, breathe deeply and continue on your way safely.
Call the cops If you witness reckless driving, note the license number and type of vehicle and ask a passenger to call the police. If you’re driving solo, repeat the license number a few times to remember it. When you can pull over safely, call the police.
When it comes to health, most people don’t think about how they drive. But driving well -- and in most cases, that means less aggressively -- can go a long way in helping you live to a healthy old age.
Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.