SafeWise Car Safety Guide

Auto Safety from Driveway to Highway

With over 250 million cars in the U.S., it’s safe to say that driving is an ingrained and essential part of our lives. Every day, Americans take 1.1 billion trips in the car and cover millions of miles while transporting pets and family members, going on vacation, running errands, and traveling to work.1 That’s why it’s so important to learn proper auto safety protocol to protect yourself in and around your car—and to protect your car itself. To help you do just that, we’ve compiled safety information about car seats, seat belts, defensive driving courses, car alarms, and more.

Under the Hood

Oil Levels

Oil keeps everything lubricated and running smoothly in your engine, preventing metal from grinding on metal. When oil is low or old, your car will overheat and break down—not to mention cost you a ton to get it fixed. Get your oil changed every 2,000–5,000 miles (depending on whether you choose real or synthetic products) and check it periodically with a dipstick to ensure oil levels are sufficient.

Hood Latch

After peeking under the hood, give the latch a tug to verify it’s locked up tight. You wouldn’t want it flying up while you’re on the road!

Battery

Car batteries last about six years, but extreme cold, not driving for long periods of time, and taking short trips (not allowing your battery to fully recharge) affect this dramatically. Avoid coming outside to a dead and unusable car by asking your mechanic to test your battery. If the charge is below 25 percent, get a new one or carry a backup for when it fails.

Lights

Daytime Running Lights

Daytime running lights allow drivers to see you better in all lighting conditions. Plus, they’re automatic, so you never have to think about enabling this added safety feature.

Headlights/Tail Lights

Before you drive anywhere, check your headlights and tail lights. These lights help you see critters and objects on the road and let other drivers know you’re there, so they’re really important. If you drive with broken lights you might discover another downside: getting tickets from the police.

Windshield

Wipers

Dirty windshields cause glare and blind spots, obstructing your view of the road and what’s in front of you. Don’t make a dirty windshield worse by using old windshield wipers to clean up the problem. Instead, change your wiper blades once a year (or more often) and keep your windshield wiper fluid levels up, so your glass is always clean and clear.

Glass

Cracks are dangerous because they weaken your windshield, reflect light, and block your view. Always have a professional replace windshields with cracks longer than six inches, and patch cracks larger than a quarter to avoid running into problems (literally).

Tires

Tire Pressure

Properly inflated tires provide traction and keep you in control of your car. However, when tires are overfilled they may burst while you’re driving, and when they’re deflated you could lose the ability to steer properly.

Most cars have lights that turn on when your tire pressure is low, but buy a gauge to check manually before long road trips and between oil changes. Look at the rim of your tire or your car’s manual to determine how many pounds of air your tires hold, so they’re filled correctly every time. Here’s a quick tutorial to teach you how to fill your tires at the gas station.

Extreme Weather

Driving in the wind, rain, snow, ice, or blistering heat requires different driving tactics, tires, and safety knowledge. All-weather tires tackle most of these conditions, but consider upgrading to snow tires if you live in a cold, icy, and snowy climate.

Here’s what you should do in the winter before going on a roadtrip and other tips to enhance your safety while driving any any time of the year.

Dash

Hands-free Devices

It’s a ticketable offense in most states to talk and drive without a hands-free device—plus, it’s dangerous. Hook your phone up to Bluetooth while driving and turn on automated text responses so you don’t get distracted by incoming messages.

Dash Cams

Dash cams are a fairly new technology that monitor everything that happens in and around your car. Some insurance companies use dash cams to determine your auto insurance rates, but personal cameras record accidents and crimes and offer protection in a court of law. For instance, if you get into a hit-and-run accident, your camera will record the license plate number so you can track down the driver. Buy a dashcam for your car to give yourself an iron-clad witness to everything that happens on the road.

Car Alarms

Deter thieves from breaking into your car or driving away with it by installing a car alarm. Models range in sophistication and price, so whether you want a car alarm that sends alerts to your phone or a basic siren that scares thieves away, there’s a security product for you. Stay a few steps ahead of potential car thieves by reading about how to prevent auto break-ins, too.

Steering Wheel Locks

Steering wheel locks are a great alternative to larger car alarm systems because of their affordable price tag. These locks differ in strength and design, but all models prevent the wheel from turning and someone from driving off in your car. Compare top steering wheel locks that are tough enough to stand up to an attempted carjacking to give yourself a solid defense against car thieves.

Back-up Cameras

Back-up cameras eliminate blind spots to help you avoid running over objects, toys, animals, and people while you’re in reverse. Most new cars have rear cameras, which show you what’s immediately in back of your car, but you can install backup cameras in older cars too.

Front Seat

Seat Belts

Seat belts save lives. In 2014, the CDC reported that 12,000 people survived car accidents because they were wearing seat belts, and seat belts reduced serious injury by 50 percent in all accidents reported.2

No matter how old you are, always buckle up before driving. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, car accidents are the ninth-leading cause of death in the world, so seat belts are a simple solution to this preventable problem.3

Passenger Safety

Cars become ovens in the sun. Between 1998–2016, 700 children died from heatstroke after being left in hot cars—about 34 per year on average.4 Unfortunately, dozens of dogs suffer this same fate every year. Even when it’s 78 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, internal car temperatures can climb to 120 degrees in minutes. And on a 90-degree day, it only takes 10 minutes for internal car temperatures to reach 160 degrees.5

Animals and children succumb to heatstroke in mere minutes when exposed to extreme temperatures, so never leave them inside without the car running—even when the windows are cracked or just for a couple of minutes. You may not think this will ever happen to you, but 54 percent of all child heat stroke-related deaths happened when a parent or caretaker accidentally left a child in the car. Kars 4 Kids has a safety app to combat this issue that reminds you when a child (or pet) is in your car so you never suffer a tragedy.

Back Seat

Car Seats

Car seats are vital to the safety of your child and are required in all 50 states. However, not just any car seat will do. SafeWise conducted vast research to find top-rated car seats that exceed safety standards, optimize convenience, and cater to the unique needs of parents and children alike. Read our review of the best car seats available and learn from child safety expert Gloria Delcasto, who shared tips exclusively with SafeWise about the importance of seat belts, car seats, and booster seats.

Welcoming a new member to the family soon? Prepare your home for a little one by reading our complete baby-proofing guide that covers everything from unknown household dangers to how to properly cover outlets and more.

Pet Harnesses

You wouldn’t put your child in a car without a seat belt, so why would you do that to your pet? When shopping for a pet car harness, do so wisely because 25 out of 29 dog harnesses haven’t passed realistic crash tests.6 That’s because the Consumer Products Safety Commission does not oversee or regulate pet harnesses since they aren’t viewed as consumer products. On the up side, four pet harnesses and travel crates did pass crash tests and are deemed safe to use for your precious fur babies.

Roof

Roof Racks and Cargo

Unsecured cargo can turn into a missile when you suddenly stop or swerve on the road, risking your safety and the safety of others. To prevent tragedy or an insurance nightmare, always use a roof carrier and tie-down straps to secure items. Here’s more about properly securing cargo to your car’s roof for safer travels.

Trunk

Jumper Cables

A dead battery means you’re stranded wherever you are. This is potentially dangerous if it’s bitterly cold, you have a medical emergency, or you’re in an unsafe part of town. Carry jumper cables so another driver can help get your car started, or keep an emergency jump starter in your emergency kit to charge your car yourself if no one is around.

Roadside Safety Kits

Cars rarely break down, blow a tire, or get into accidents in convenient locations. That’s where roadside safety kits come in. These handy kits include everything from flares and reflective triangles to jacks, water, and flashlights. Make your own safety kit to get better prepared and use our car safety guide to determine what else you should have in your car at all times to stay safe.

Cargo

Even though your car stops when you slam on the brakes, loose items in the car may not. Whenever possible, tie down and secure heavy items inside your car or trunk and pack heaviest to lightest, so objects don’t become airborne and get damaged—or hurt you or your passengers.

The Extra Mile: Auto Safety Education and Industry Standards

Defensive Driving Classes

Becoming a responsible driver comes from experience, but you may accelerate your driving prowess with education and awareness training offered in defensive driving courses. These classes teach drivers about developing better driving behaviors, avoiding hazards on the road, and the dangers of driving while drowsy or inebriated. Find a defensive driving class near you to round out your auto safety.

IHHS Top Safety Picks

Each year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IHHS), an automotive auditing group with rigorous safety and quality standards, publishes a study on the safest cars. This study analyzes front and side crash test results as well as some of the safety features discussed in this article. If you’re looking to buy a new car or assess the safety of your current vehicle, take a look at IHHS’s top safety picks from 2006–2016.

Drive Safe!

Your car is your means to see the world and shuttle yourself and loved ones safely. The next time you take a drive, park in a lot, or lock up your car for the night, remember the tips in this guide to make your car and driving habits safer and more secure.

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