Vehicle Safety

Almost every adult in North America has access to a motor vehicle. The average driver will drive approximately 10,000 miles (16,000 km) per year, for an average of 50 years. The chances of having a collision are high. In the United States in 1993 there were 40,115 deaths and 3.2 million injuries related to motor vehicles. In Canada every year, an average of 3,200 people are killed and 170,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents. Most of these deaths and injuries can be prevented.

Keep the following information in mind to protect yourself while driving:



The old expression "speed kills" is true. The higher the speed, the greater the chance of the driver losing control. As speed increases, so does the distance necessary for the driver to come to a stop. The severity of the injuries increases greatly at speeds over 50 mph (80 km/h). The chance of serious injury or death doubles with each 10 mph (15 km/h) increase of speed over 50 mph (80 km/h). Approximately three out of 10 drivers in fatal collisions were going too fast at the time of the crash.


Adverse Driving Conditions

Adverse conditions including rain, snow, ice, and fog affect your visibility even in daylight. In these conditions, other drivers also have trouble seeing you. Your car becomes difficult to control on curves or even on straight stretches when the surface if slippery. As well, itís more difficult to stop and it takes longer.


A few tips to remember when traveling in adverse conditions:


I arrived at a six-car pile-up that was caused when one driver stopped his vehicle in the middle of the road in heavy fog. This set up a chain reaction of vehicles running into each other. There were several injuries. The traffic was traveling too fast for the road conditions. By the time the drivers saw the other cars, it was too late to stop.



Seat Belts

Seat belts work. Using seat belts or child restraints will reduce the likelihood of being injured or killed in a traffic crash by 55% and 75% respectively. If youíre involved in a collision at 30 mph (48 km/h), the force is equivalent to a fall from a third floor window to hard ground below. Itís common for a person to be thrown from a vehicle in a collision or a rollover. If this happens, the chances of being killed or seriously injured are extremely high.

A few things to remember about seat belts:

Buckle your children up! Make sure they use seat belts or child restraints each time they are in the vehicle. In the event of a collision, if they arenít restrained, thereís a good chance theyíll be thrown from the vehicle or thrown violently into other occupants of the vehicle.

Infants and small children should be buckled into the appropriate infant or child carrier. Many parents think they would be able to hold their infants in their arms in the event of a collision. This is nonsense. In a vehicle traveling only 30 mph (50 km/h), a 10 lb. (4.5 kg) infant will be ripped from a belted adultís arms with a force of almost 200 lbs. (91 kg).

In Canada, and in most states, itís the law that children be protected by seats specifically designed for them. If used correctly, they will prevent your child from being thrown around in the vehicle.

Rear-facing infant carriers are designed for children weighing up to 20 lbs. (9 kg). A combination seat can be used in the rear-facing position for infants. It may be turned around to the forward-facing position for toddlers who weigh approximately 20 to 48 lbs. (about 9 to 22 kg.). Check the manufacturerís directions. Use booster seats for children who are too large for a child seat. The child will then be in a better position to use the adult seat-belt system. For more information on the proper use of these seats, contact your branch of the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the Canadian Motor Association (CMA).


Sleep Deprivation

With the busy lives most people lead, sleep is one thing many people will try to reduce in order to make time for other things such as studying, working an extra job or watching television. In fact, people brag about how little sleep they need. People falling asleep at the wheels of their cars are responsible for approximately 2% of all driver fatalities. They are also responsible for many serious injuries, which involve not only motor vehicles, but also other machinery such as farm and industrial equipment.

Prime times for "asleep-at-the-wheel" crashes are between midnight and 7 a.m., when itís natural to feel sleepy, and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

The comfort and ease of driving todayís cars can lull drivers into a drowsy state. The combination of cruise control, power steering, and soft seats, along with the hypnotic effect of highway driving can induce sleep. When you start to feel drowsy pull over and have a nap.

A few things to remember about drowsiness and driving:


Once I was called to the scene of a fatality on a straight stretch of highway. The car had driven off the road and rolled several times, killing both occupants. The road was bare, dry, and lightly traveled at the time. There were no skid marks. It was assumed the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.


Backing Up

Backing up is one of the more common causes of collisions. Your visibility is not as good as when traveling forward. Most of these collisions happen at a low speed. Even so, there are many fatalities every year related to vehicles backing up.

When backing up, remember to:


A woman was visiting her daughterís home for a barbecue and noticed they needed some groceries. The mother said she would run to the store to buy them. As she backed out of the driveway, she ran over her granddaughter, who was on her bicycle. The little girl later died of her injuries.



Animals seem to appear from nowhere on the highway, especially at night. They cause many collisions, injuries, and deaths. A vehicle may swerve off the road or into oncoming traffic in an attempt to avoid an animal, or the animal might crash through the windshield and kill the occupants.

Drive with extreme caution when traveling on roads frequented by wildlife, especially at night.


A young man was driving when he hit a horse that had wandered onto the highway. We found the man in his car, dead. The horse had been flung through the front windshield, striking the man and breaking his neck.


Cellular Phones

Drive down any busy street and you wonít have to wait long before you see someone driving while talking on a cell phone. They may even be sorting through papers at the same time. Driving requires concentration. If youíre going to use a cellular phone, use it with extreme caution. Preferably, pull over in a safe spot, than use the phone. If you use a phone often when driving, consider buying a hands-free phone and use the memory dial as much as possible.


Battery Safety

Use caution when boosting dead batteries. Batteries can explode and the acid inside them can be extremely harmful.

Many people have been blinded or have had serious facial injuries from exploding batteries and splashing acid. If your skin or eyes come into contact with this acid, flush immediately with lots of water. Seek medical aid. Itís wise to wear safety goggles when working around batteries.


When boosting:


The correct procedure for boosting a battery is as follows:

  1. Make sure vehicles are shut off.
  2. Connect the positive of the discharged battery to the positive of the charged battery.
  3. Connect the negative of the charged battery to a stationary, metallic part of the engine no closer than 18 in. (45 cm) from the battery.
  4. Stand clear and start the engine of the car with the dead battery.


Tire Safety

The right air pressure in your tires will help prevent collisions and save fuel. Tires will wear longer. Follow the manufacturerís instructions for proper inflation pressures. See your ownerís manual.


Winter Driving Survival

Always be prepared for an emergency when driving in the winter. You never know when you could get stuck. Listen to the radio and advice from the local police or motor association. If they advise against travel, take the warning seriously.

Remember when traveling in the winter:

These items can be stored in a coffee can


If youíre trapped in a car in winter:

If your gas tank is close to empty and immediate rescue doesnít seem probable, plan to build a shelter and a fire. Once your heater is not working, your vehicle will cool down very quickly and will become a two-ton steel icebox. Build the shelter and fire before you run out of gas.

When you travel in winter, always make sure youíre equipped with the gear youíd need for an unexpected night out.



Copyright 1997 Safety Health Publishing Inc.

Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter / paramedic and best selling author of the book "I Wonít be in to Work Today - Preventing Injuries at Home,Work and Play". Martin speaks across North America on the topic of injury prevention. His talks are humorous, but still have a strong underlying safety message. For more information, call him at (403) 225 Ė 2011 or visit his website at