Driving a car, or getting run over by one, is still one of the most popular ways to get killed in the modern world. Despite the fact that cars are safer than ever, they are still driven by human beings who, let's face it, often have trouble retaining even the minimal techniques and rules required to operate a vehicle.
But if you're reading this, hopefully it means that you are intent on doing what it takes to survive in a world full of such drivers by being just a little more careful. So for you, here are some advanced tips that everyone should know, even if most people don't ...
This is one of those things that takes next to zero effort to do right, but that almost everyone does wrong.
You hopefully already know that the "blind spot" is the name for the area on either side of a car that is invisible to wing mirrors. It's such a frequent cause of accidents that higher-end car models have adopted fancy radar or camera systems capable of detecting other vehicles in your blind spots and delivering the information to you in furiously urgent beep-screams as you swerve in terror and/or crash anyway.
Just gritting your teeth and flooring it isn't the answer.
However, the technology isn't the problem -- the necessary equipment to eliminate blind spots was around back when Henry Ford was still producing cars and anti-Semitic newsletters. All you need are your car's wing mirrors -- which most people have adjusted incorrectly.
You see, blind spots can be put into full view of your side mirrors, provided that these mirrors are adjusted to contain no part of your own car. Just angle them away from you until the point where your car is no longer visible in either one, and leave them there. That way, there's no overlap between them and the rearview mirror, and any car that's passing you on either side will remain in at least one of your mirrors until it enters your field of vision.
Admittedly, this seems less like a "tip" and more like "the most obvious piece of instruction of all time," but nobody freaking does it. Manufacturers have to let you adjust the mirrors (due to things like differences in driver height), and most people simply don't know how to do it. That's why those same engineers are spending millions on technology meant to eliminate blind spots -- they have simply failed to teach people not to point their goddamned mirrors at the sides of the vehicle they're attached to.
If you saw someone blow past a yield sign into traffic and vanish in an explosion of steel and glass not unlike one of the Iron Giant's volcanic diarrheas, you'd be tempted to blame the crash on the driver who ignored the road sign.
But what if the yield sign wasn't there, like those intersections where there's nothing but an esoteric flashing yellow light and everyone stops and stares at each other? There would probably still be the odd person who flies through, but average drivers would become extremely cautious as a result of having no clear instruction of what to do. They would instead just intuit their next move based on the traffic around them, which is kind of the point of stoplights and road signs to begin with -- to force you to stop and look.
"What the hell does 'yield' mean, anyway?!"
In other words, you may be better off without the signs.
There are experts who believe that the overabundance of signs and signals just make you complacent, because you're fixated on blindly following instructions printed on reflective metal rather than not killing your fellow drivers. And we've all seen it happen -- drivers with a green light will plow through an intersection and T-bone another car that was clearly in their path, simply because the pretty colored light told them they had the right of way. And think about how people will lose their freaking minds if traffic and/or weather conditions have them driving slower than the posted speed limit, routinely causing accidents by trying to weave their way back up to maximum warp, even though the speed limit is literally just a number on a sign that takes absolutely nothing into consideration beyond what a few civil engineers came up with on a calculator 30 years ago.
"15 mph is fast enough for anyone. Those buggy drivers are out of control."
The Dutch city of Drachten decided to test out the theory by replacing 20 four-way intersections with 20 roundabouts free of any road signage, and the results were surprisingly nothing like The Cannonball Run. One intersection that typically killed two to four people every year saw no injuries for the next six years, and another intersection went from 36 accidents in the previous four years to just two in two years. All this just from putting more responsibility into the hands of drivers and forcing them to interact with each other in the absence of indifferent commands from stoplights and signs (although it could also be related to the fact that nobody in the Netherlands has a The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift poster on their bedroom wall).
Since the success in Drachten, a number of other cities have tried out similar concepts, most notably London, whose recently debuted Exhibition Road looks like the guy in charge of painting lines on the streets was tripping balls that day.
We're still not clear on how this is supposed to help, but there you are.
We're not saying that you should ignore stoplights and road signs, but that you shouldn't rely on them to make every decision for you. Just because you had the right of way at an intersection won't make you any less dead if you pull in front of an 18 wheeler, and refusing to slow down for pedestrians because they aren't crossing in a designated crosswalk won't put you any less in jail if you chop them in half with your Daewoo.
Or maybe we should just put it this way: Obey the signs, but assume that nobody else is doing so.
Every car comes with a stereo and speakers, but you don't find much in driving manuals about what you should or shouldn't do with them. So it's easy to assume that it's safe to bump some jams while driving, as long as you're focused on the road and not constantly messing with the knobs or looking at yourself in the rearview mirror while you're singing. But research shows that your tunes are probably making you a worse driver, even if you just like a little ambient music in your Prelude.
"These whale songs are so ... *yawn* ... so ..."
An Israeli study connected test subjects to heart monitors and put them through a driving simulator while they listened to music of varying tempos. A no-music control group experienced significant heart rate fluctuation while driving -- that is, their heart sped up when things got exciting, like if a moose turned up in the street or something. But those who were listening to any type of music saw their heart rate stay level (except during the Les Miserables soundtrack, when their heart rates soared with bittersweet triumph).
At first glance, this suggests that the drivers who were listening to music were more calm, and thus more careful drivers than the control group. But it was the opposite -- the music group Dukes of Hazzarded their way through the virtual driving course like they were running moonshine for a one-legged banjo player. They were calm (maybe), but only because they were less focused on driving than the control group -- they were placated by the music.
Which is why your creepy uncle always told you that mood music was the key.
The study also showed that drivers who were listening to higher-tempo music (between 120 and 140 beats per minute, the speed of most dance and techno music) were twice as likely to blast through red lights and had twice as many accidents as those who were listening to slower music or the deafening echo of their own thoughts. Drivers who were listening to dubstep were 84 percent more likely to believe that there was a Transformer behind them trying to mate with their car.