The 2011 Lincoln MKS EcoBoost

Ford's New Year's resolutions for safer driving: Obvious and interesting

The roads today are crowded and sometimes confusing, but the cars we drive are smarter and safer than ever. Understanding these technologies and using them correctly can help you drive more safely. Nevertheless, there is one thing you can do before even getting in the car that will make you a smarter, safer driver and that is simply leaving the stress at home or the office.

It’s not a bad idea if you and/or your passengers become argumentative to pull over safely, exiting the car until the dispute is settled. Electronic devices are not the only source of distracted driving.

Following is Ford’s somewhat paraphrased resolutions for safer driving in 2012.

1, Buckle up for safety, not because it’s the law. The only reason seat belt laws came into existence is because the save lives. You may not be driving a racecar, but there may be others on the road that think they are. In 2009 alone, the use of safety belts in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 12,700 lives in the US, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Those annoying alerts indicating the seatbelts aren’t buckled are there to remind you – not to drive you crazy. Ford’s own BeltMinder system has been credited by NHTSA for increasing the buckle-up rate by five percent among drivers in vehicles with BeltMinder.

2. Keep your eyes on the road. In two seconds you travel several hundred feet on the highway. Even at residential speeds if you are distracted for longer than a quick one-two count, you are courting disaster. According to a 100-car study conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, driver inattention by looking away for more than a few seconds is a factor in nearly 80 percent of accidents. That means no texting – no message is worth dying for!

3. Read your owners’ manual. It’s been languishing in your glove box and reading through it will impart valuable safety information and could even save you some money. For instance, Ford owners might be surprised to find out they don’t need those oil changes every 3,000 miles like they used to. Many new Ford models allow 10,000 miles between oil changes.

4. Keep the windshield clear! On wintry mornings, late really is better than never. If you try to negotiate traffic peering through a tiny patch of visibility in the windshield, you are endangering yourself and others – it’s just plain dangerous. Leave an additional 5-10 minutes of time to scrape the snow and ice from your car and give your defroster a chance to do its job. That goes for just dirty windows and windscreens the rest of the year, too.

5. Understand the technology working to keep you safer. Today’s vehicles are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, but it always helps if drivers understand the features. Some of us grew up being told to pump the brakes when we hit a patch of ice, but that’s not how ABS systems work. With ABS, pumping the brakes turns the anti-lock brake system on and off, decreasing brake efficiency and increasing stopping distance. ABS pumps the brakes automatically much faster than you could for better steering control.

6. Learn how to parallel park. Though it isn’t difficult with proper instruction, many dread trying to parallel park. Some veteran motorists, after years of driving, still will go to great lengths to avoid it. Ford collaborated on a research project with the MIT New England University Transportation Center evaluating stressful driving and parallel parking ranked highest. So let this be the year you master the art of parallel parking – or get technological help. Ford is equipping more vehicles with its innovative Active Park Assist technology – even the new Focus, making it the first vehicle in its class with self-parking. The system uses an ultrasonic-based sensing system and Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) to position the vehicle for parallel parking, calculate the optimal steering angle and quickly steer the vehicle into a parking spot. It eliminates much of the stress. And MIT researchers say reducing stress makes for better drivers.

7. Put your seat in the proper position. Make sure your seat and headrest are adjusted correctly to give you the optimum support. Your legs shouldn’t be overstretched to reach the pedals; you should be able to glance up and out at your mirrors with ease. Remember on most cars you can adjust the steering wheel to an optimal position as well.

8. Keep your tires properly inflated. Don’t forget to check the spare tire periodically, as well. The level of tire pressure affects, safety, braking, mileage and wear, thus making it well worth a minute or two. You'll find the recommended inflation level in that handy owner’s manual we suggested you read and also on a sticker on the driver’s side doorjamb.

9. Always Be Prepared. In the age of the cell phone and car based emergency services an automotive survival kit is less likely to be needed than in year’s past. Still we seem to remember a large group of motorists stranded on an interstate last winter simply because it was impassable during a blizzard. Friends and special services can’t help you if they can’t get to you so you should be ready for such contingencies during winter. You should have water, blankets, granola bars or beef jerky, a few road flares, a good flashlight (and extra batteries), jumper cables and kitty litter for traction if you’re stuck in snow. We would also recommend 100 feet or rope and a couple of space blankets.

10. Keep a safe distance. Remember the two-second rule. The vehicle in front of you should be passing a road marker two seconds before you. Some drivers’ manuals even recommend a three-second rule.

Torque News wishes you and yours a happy, safe and prosperous New Year.

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