Many people are unaware of important steps you can take to improve your safety and health when driving.
Schools, advocacy groups, and driver’s education providers do a very good job of warning drivers about the dangers of driving under the influence, failing to wear a seatbelt, distracted driving, and aggressive driving. This is critically important given the number of fatalities that these bad driving behaviors cause each year.
But there are many other significant threats to safety and health on the roads that receive almost no attention. To help close this information gap and save lives, we have identified our Top 5 (non-obvious) Tips for Safe and Healthy Driving. Please share them.
1. Maintain Properly Inflated Tires
Under-inflated tires are unsafe. More than 700 deaths may occur each year as a result of tire-related crashes. Given these statistics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tells us that proper tire pressure is the most important part of tire maintenance. If you buckle your seatbelt and put your younger children in car seats, like nearly all Americans do, then you should also regularly monitor your tire pressure (and check your tread depth and wear).
If you are unsure how to check your tire pressure, watch our How To Video to see where to find your proper tire pressure and how to check it.
If you need a gauge or pump, visit our Shop to get great deals on products we’ve thoroughly tested and recommend.
2. Restore Your Headlights
On older cars, headlights with yellowed/blurred lenses dim your lights significantly. In our tests, older lenses lost more than 50% of their brightness. The resulting decrease in visibility makes driving at night far more dangerous. Fortunately, there are several inexpensive DIY headlight restoration kits that are fairly easy to use. If your car is more than 4 years-old, we recommend restoring your headlights. You can purchase our recommended kit in our Shop.
3. Avoid Congested Roads
For millions of Americans, driving on congested roads and freeways is a way of life – a daily grind that the Police famously compared to being “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes.” There is no question that driving in heavy traffic on the way to and from work, kids’ schools, and afterschool activities can take a mental toll. But many drivers may not know that it can take a heavy physical toll as well: With their vents open, they are actually endangering the health of everyone in the car because they are breathing the heavily polluted air around them.
Every gas-powered vehicle emits fine particulate matter: PM2.5 and PM10 (smaller than 2.5 microns and 10 microns respectively). These pollutants can cause respiratory illnesses and have been linked to up to 3.3 million premature deaths worldwide despite the advances in emissions control. Since these pollutants are out of sight, they are largely out of mind for the public, notwithstanding that they literally surround us when we drive on congested roads, as the USC Keck School of Medicine has documented.
Although you likely have a cabin air filter to remove pollen, large particulates, and certain odors from the air inside your car, chances are it cannot filter out fine particulate matter and other dangerous pollutants. So your best defense against vehicle emissions is to avoid driving on congested roads by planning your drives to avoid peak traffic and checking traffic before every drive.
4. Recirculate Your Air When Stuck in Traffic
But what do you do if you cannot avoid traffic? You have one good option: Recirculate your air when you are stuck in traffic. It will substantially reduce the amount of pollution that enters your car. Just remember that you need to bring outside air into your car when you get a break in traffic or after 30 minutes, whichever comes first, in order to prevent dangerous levels of carbon dioxide from building up in your car.
Bonus Tip: Buy a HEPA cabin air filter. HEPA cabin air filters will filter out virtually all fine particulate matter. But even with such a filter, you should recirculate your air as much as possible when stuck in traffic to maximize your in-car air quality. You can buy an excellent HEPA cabin air filter by visiting our Shop (just make sure to purchase the model that fits your car).
5. Don’t Turn Off Your Advanced Safety Features
Newer cars often come with an array of advanced safety features, ranging from adaptive cruise control to lane departure warning. These features are often opt-in, which means that they may not be used, particularly if drivers do not know they have them or do not understand them. In the case of lane departure warning systems, many drivers actually turn them off because they can be annoying. Unless the annoyance rises to the level of being a distraction, however, we would recommend using your advanced safety features whenever you can. Driving fatalities are stubbornly high, likely because of the rise in distracted driving. You need every tool you in your car’s tool box to reduce your risk on the road.
If you would like more tips like these, visit our Smarter Driving Tips Page and download our curated list of Tips for “How to Drive with Health & Safety in Mind.”