#StreetSmarts: What Every Rider Should Know Before Getting Into a Car

texting and driving

You wouldn’t get into the car with this guy, would you? (Daniel Stagner / Flickr)

Before you get in a car — even if you’re not the driver — you can still be in control. Well, you can’t control what drivers do, but you can take charge of your own safety.

For one thing, paying attention to what’s happening is good practice for when you learn to drive. And as a passenger, you can help avoid a crash happening as a result of things like bad decisions you notice being made by another driver, or even by the driver of the car you’re in.

Before you get into another car, here’s what you should know so you can make smart choices in the passenger seat.

Every single day, distracted drivers kill over 9 people and hurt over 1,153 people

YES, eating a donut at the wheel counts as distracted driving. You didn’t know that?

YES, eating a donut at the wheel counts as distracted driving. You didn’t know that?

And that’s just in the U.S.

Distracted driving is driving while doing any other activity that takes your attention off of driving.

There are three main types of distractions:
– Visual: when the driver’s eyes are taken off the road.
– Manual: when the driver’s hands are taken off the wheel.
– Cognitive: when the driver’s mind is taken off of driving.

If you’ve ever driven in a car, you can guess how common distracted driving is. Eating, looking at a map and talking on the phone are all distractions that can keep a driver from focusing on the road.

It can be really tempting to do other things while driving a car. Doing more than one thing at the same time is called multitasking. And it’s a fact that most people aren’t as good at multitasking as they think they are!

But when you’re a passenger whose life depends on what the driver is doing, it’s totally OK to remind your driver to focus on the road. Actually, it’s a good idea. It could save your life!

Just one phone call can change everything.

Texting while driving increases the chances of a crash by 23 times

texting and driving GIF

Drivers THINK you’re paying enough attention to the road, but they’re not. (Giphy)

The average amount of time spent to read a text while driving is 5 seconds. Sounds quick, right?

But if your driver is going 55 mph while checking their phone, you’ve traveled a whole football field (!) without the driver looking at the road.

Is a text message worth your life?

Is a text message worth your life? (Mike Mozart / Flickr)

Texting while driving is another form of distracted driving but it’s especially dangerous because it combines all 3 types of distractions. Here’s why:

– Looking at the phone takes eyes off the road.
– Sending a message takes hands off the wheel.
– Thinking about what to text or about the text takes the mind off driving.

But still … 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 admitted to reading or sending texts or emails while driving. (And 69% said they have talked on their cell phone while driving.)

As the passenger, offer to send a text for the driver as the designated texter. Just don’t be this gal:

Every 2 minutes, a drunk driving crash hurts someone

Distractions aren’t the only problem. Every day in America, another 28 people die because of these crashes. As soon as you step in a car with an intoxicated driver, you are putting yourself at risk.

Alcohol severely affects a person’s judgment. So when a driver is under the influence of alcohol, it can slow their reaction speed and prevent them from making quick decisions on the road.

Did you know it’s illegal for drivers under age 21 to drive with any level of alcohol in their system? For drivers over 21, .08% blood alcohol concentration is the legal limit to drive (in all states). That’s not much.

Even though alcohol and driving can be a deadly combination, it still happens … a lot. In 2012, 29.1 million people admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol. That’s more than the population of Texas.

But there are ways to prevent these crashes and protect yourself and others.

We know this can be difficult and awkward, and a big responsibility, but if you suspect your driver is under the influence, avoid getting in the car if you can. For example, suggest that it would be better to catch the bus or the subway. Or try texting another family member who could try to help. Or call another person, like a parent or another relative, for a ride home.

Distractions and impairments aren’t the only problems

So you’re ready to help your driver focus on the road … and you’ve decided to refuse to get into a car with a driver who’s been drinking or using drugs. Awesome! Here are 3 other issues you should know about so you can be an informed (and safe!) passenger:

1. Speeding.

speeding car

WHOA! Slow down! (atzu / Flickr)

Car crashes are way, WAY more serious when the driver is speeding. Fact: 30% of deaths that happen in crashes are because of speeding. (Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit in NYC is 25 miles per hour.)

What can you do about it? Look for speed limit signs, and peek at the dashboard to see how fast your driver is going. If he or she is speeding, point it out. (Try using humor!)

2. Failing to yield.

yield gif

Sorry, dude, but drivers have to yield when others have the right of way! (Giphy)

Sometimes someone other than the driver has the right of way — like when a walker is in a crosswalk. But drivers don’t always yield (let the person with the right of way go first) even though they should! And get this — crashes happen most often when cars are turning, not when they’re going straight. So if the car you’re in is turning, and there’s a walker crossing the street at the corner, and your driver doesn’t yield … this is when too many crashes happen.

What can you do about it? When your driver is getting ready to turn, you can help him or her be on the lookout for walkers who have the right away. If your driver is looking in the rear view mirror and starting to turn, for example, you can warn them before something awful happens.

3. Breaking the rules of the road.

When you learn to drive, you learn things like what all the traffic signs and signals mean, how to signal what you’re doing to other drivers (lights! horns!). But … drivers sometimes ignore these things. Like, they don’t use their turn signal. Or they ignore a sign that tells them they can’t turn here. And as you can imagine, crashes too often happen when drivers do these kinds of things.

What can you do about it? Be aware and be ready to ask your driver questions like, “Hey, don’t we turn at the next corner? Why aren’t you using your signal?” or “Um, doesn’t that sign mean ‘no left turn’?” That should nudge him or her to follow the rules.

Wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to protect yourself

If you are in a crash — and we hope you never are! — one thing that can save your life, and reduce your chance of being injured, is a simple seat belt.

Even if you’re only going a few blocks, seat belts are always a good idea. (Hey, they’re the law in 49 states, too.)

Of the teens (aged 13-20 years) that died in car crashes in 2012, about 55% of them were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.

And be aware of your “DOOR ZONE”.

Advocating for driving safety doesn’t end when the car stops moving. If you’re parallel parked, others are speeding past. The door zone is especially dangerous for you stepping out and for bikers in the bike lane. Traveling at 15 mph and smacking into an unanticipated door is life threatening.

biking nyc doored GIF

OUCH. (Giphy)

When exiting a car, be sure to look over your shoulder. And educate the driver to do the same. In many cities, if you “door” a bicycle riding who’s passing your car, it is the driver’s fault.

One way to practice safe behavior is the “Dutch Reach.” Use your hand furthest from the door to grab the latch. It naturally turns your body to see what’s coming over your shoulder.

Don’t forget!

Now you know more about what could be going on around you when you take a ride in a car. So make sure to keep these things in mind:

1. Cars are big heavy steel boxes. People are soft and easily hurt. You can’t change that! You can only change what choices you make.

2. Passengers have a responsibility to be safe, too, just like drivers.

3. You might get your driver’s license at some point, or you might decide not to. But we’re all passengers. So we all need to know how to be a smart passenger!