If we knew then what we know now, we would have been safer drivers.
I was more than six months pregnant with my son and picking up some new-mom supplies at the local Babies R Us. Stepping into my Nissan Altima carefully and settling my burgeoning belly into the seat, I looked behind me and started backing out of my parking spot. In my rearview mirror, I could see a car diagonally across from me starting to back out, fast. Halfway into the aisle, I honked my horn frantically and tried to get the driver’s attention, to no avail. The other car crashed into my bumper, hard.
Finally, the car stopped at impact, and I stepped out of the car, livid.
“Did you not hear me honking at you?” I said to the teen driver, who was cowering and avoiding my gaze. “Did you have the radio on too loud? I’m pregnant, here!”
She said, “I guess I did…”
To her credit, she stayed with me and exchanged information and she got her mom on the phone, who just happened to be a police dispatcher. Her mom told me how to file the claim and what to do, and the resolution was smooth, luckily.
Learning Lessons the Hard Way
That day taught me a valuable lesson. I liked to crank up the tunes as much as anyone else. But if you are playing it so loudly that you can’t hear anything else, like a siren or horn, that’s a hazardous situation. I’m sure I damaged my hearing, blasting Whitesnake and Guns N Roses as a teenager. It wasn’t smart then, and it’s not any smarter now.
This, along with several other points I’ll outline below, is a key tip for parents to teach their teenagers about safe driving (and follow themselves).
1. Get Your Feet off the Dash
Have you ever been cruising down the road in the passenger seat, your feet propped up comfortably on the dash? Yes, me too. Then I discovered that’s a great way to rearrange your facial features with your knee if you are involved in an accident.
Imagine the force at which an airbag deploys, which is fast and hard. It would buckle your knee, hopefully in the natural direction. Then the airbag would violently push your kneecap right into your nose, eye, or mouth. If you like your teeth, then keep your feet down.
I hope I don’t have to remind you to never prop your foot up on the dash while driving. Don’t do it even if you’re in a self-driving car or settled on a long road on cruise control. Be alert, aware, and have your foot very near the brake, ready if and when it might be needed.
2. Don’t get a ticket for DWA: Driving While Angry
I admit; I’ve done it. I’ve argued with my husband in the car while he’s driving or while I am. Anger leads to poor driving. Poor driving leads to bad decisions. Bad decisions lead to injury. Sometimes even death. Sounds pretty grim, right? Pull over. Catch your breath, and remind yourself that your heart is racing and you are seeing red. And you can’t drive in that condition.
Road rage is dangerous for you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road. Take a walk instead.
3. Full Stop: for the love of your transmission
Confession time again: how many of you have failed to come to a full stop before slamming your transmission from park to reverse, or reverse to drive, switching gears in the middle of the movement. Eh, it’s not hurting anything, you think.
Actually, what this does is strip your gears by forcing them to substitute for the brakes. Over time, this tiny little habit will result in months of extra wear on your transmission, and that’s a costly replacement. Stop. Commune with your brakes. And then shift gears.
4. The 60mph club
Believe it or not, there is no law prohibiting – ahem – physical relations in a car. If you’re parked in an enclosed garage and steaming up the windows, go for it. However, if the car is parked at some public place and people can see the actions inside the car, then you’re risking a fine for indecent exposure.
It goes without saying (I hope) that getting frisky while the engine is running and the transmission in gear could earn you a ticket for reckless endangerment, public indecency, or both.
In California, any person who commits this act is guilty of disorderly conduct (a misdemeanor you don’t want on your record to have to explain to future employers). The law applies to anyone who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view.
5. You can be well-heeled… just not while driving
Yes, those spiky heels or giant wedges are HOT. But if the rubber heel protector catches on the rubber floor mat on its way to the brakes, or your foot stomps on the accelerator at an angle that causes your speed to be erratic, that’s not so hot.
Frankly, if you had to choose between driving in high heels, flip-flops, or barefoot, the safest option would be barefoot. And that’s not ideal because the flat, evenly distributed surface of a shoe sole is a more stable surface for the gas, brake and clutch. Not to mention that if your feet are sweaty (ew), or wet, they’ll slip right off. Driving in nylons or tights posts a similar risk, as they do not have enough traction to grip the pedals properly.
This is unpleasant to think about, but if you do happen to be in an accident, shoes can help insulate your feet from injury. And if you must get out of your car to inspect damage, there could be broken glass or sharp debris in the road that you don’t want to step on in bare feet. Picture Marv in the first “Home Alone” movie stepping on that nail on the basement stairs and you won’t want to do that to yourself.
6. Save the flip flops for the beach
Speaking of appropriate driving footwear, don’t Google “driving in flip flops” unless you have a foot fetish and want to watch someone’s feet on the pedals of a car for several minutes. Let’s talk for a minute about why wearing flip-flops to drive is not the best idea:
- They’re not very secure. Think about your flip-flop dangling off your foot as soon as you lift it off the ground. Unless you want hammer toes, you can’t possibly grip those babies tightly enough to be securely attached to your appendages. Remember, you shouldn’t take your eyes off the road for a second, and if you’re fiddling with a flip-flop, it’s not going to turn out well.
- They might get stuck. This has legitimately happened to me: my shoe misadjusted in the pivot between the accelerator and brake pedals. If your shoe gets stuck under the accelerator and you can’t depress the brake, what happens? This can happen with loose shoelaces, too, by the way. Didn’t you learn anything from “Footloose” and the tractor scene?
- It may not be legal. Some states even prohibit drivers from wearing flip flops because of the risks. If you were to get pulled over and the officer notices you are driving in flip flops, you could get a citation. In Virginia, a press release was issued to outline that wearing flip flops or open heeled shoes (like mules and clogs) is an unsafe driving practice.
“Our employees see it all the time,” says DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb. “Our customer service representatives who conduct road tests have seen flip-flops and sandals come off and get stuck under the gas or brake pedal. Fortunately, we have not had any tragic situations, but that is what we are trying to prevent.”
The bottom line: Wear whatever you want when you aren’t driving. But keep a pair of driving shoes in the car, ready to be slipped on before you start the car.
Get driving moccasins like these. Or a pair of Tieks for driving: expensive but adorable. Or some tried-and-true Converse slip-ons. Bonus: Driving shoes keep your heels in better shape because you don’t have to rest them on the mats while you’re driving.
Have Fun AND Be Safe
You’re about to complain that you can’t have any fun in the car. I can see it on your face.
Treat your car with the reverence and attention it deserves; if you don’t pay attention to these safe driving tips, your odds for getting into an accident increase by a factor of x. We don’t know what x is, but who needs to take that kind of chance?