Sometimes driving in a big city can seem like the bumper car ride at the amusement park: cars whizzing from all directions, taking aim at you and daring you to hit them while they cut you off. If you’re not a regular urban driver, it may amaze you that there aren’t more automobile accidents than actually occur.
But therein lies the key: somehow, regular urban drivers know what to do to avert daily disaster. For those whose daily commute or business normally keep you away from city streets, here are some tips to keep your car out of the body shop.
1. Expect mayhem. To paraphrase baseball legend Yogi Berra, 90 percent of safe driving is half-mental. If you expect bad things to happen, you are much more likely to be on high alert and exercise the caution you will need to leave the city unscathed.
2. Exercise 360-degree vision at all times. While this applies to every driving situation, the vehicular and pedestrian congestion that characterizes big-city streets makes this technique absolutely critical. Make sure all of your mirrors are set so you get close to 180-degree coverage to your rear, and constantly move your eyes and scan out your side windows so you are fully aware of everything around you.
3. Study a detailed street map before you set out – Even if you have GPS. If you’re going to a neighborhood you’ve never been to before, you need to have a good idea of how to navigate if something steers you off course, like a traffic jam, construction or just being boxed out of a turn you wanted to take. Know the layout of one-way streets and rehearse an alternate route or two in case you’re forced off your intended route.
4. Don’t get caught in intersections. Looking ahead of the vehicle directly in front of you is the only way to avoid getting caught inside an intersection on a red light in heavy traffic. As you come to a regulated intersection with slow traffic ahead, you should hesitate to enter the intersection if you think you might not clear it before the light changes. This will only cause a traffic jam and, in some cities could result in a ticket.
5. Know the local right-on-red laws. In some cities, like New York, right turns on red are illegal; what’s more, there are no signs to tell the visiting driver that it is so.
6. Watch for stopped cabs and buses. These stops are unpredictable, and moving traffic often swerves suddenly to get around them. Look ahead and be prepared to change lanes or allow others making sudden changes ahead or alongside you.
7. Keep your foot light on the gas. Your best protection against an auto to auto collision and serious injury is lower speeds, so avoid the temptation to hit the gas pedal to beat a traffic light or zoom through a string of green lights ahead of you. With limited sight lines, hazards can appear on city streets faster than you leave yourself time to react.
8. Listen to radio traffic reports. Find out which radio stations post regular traffic reports and tune in – it is your best bet for avoiding a traffic jam.
9. Give pedestrians the right of way. It is a no-win proposition if you hit a pedestrian, even if it is not your fault. If jaywalkers want to play chicken with you, it is not a loss to let them win.
10. Be assertive without being aggressive. There are two sure ways to get into an automobile accident in the city: being too aggressive or too timid. One thing you can count on: no sane driver wants to have an accident any more than you do. On the other hand, being overly cautious is likely to make others around you more aggressive to get by.