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Special Awareness

Special Awareness
Collisions caused by motor vehicles are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 2 and 34. Most of these incidents are avoidable, which is why they aren't really "accidents." In order to prevent collisions, you need to understand what causes them in the first place. In addition, you must be aware of what's occurring in the driving environment at all times so you can identify and avoid hazards.

A. "Rear-Ender" — This is the most common accident type and is nearly always the fault of the car in the rear. Drivers who tailgate do not leave enough stopping distance between themselves and the vehicle they immediately follow. The rear-end collision is often the result of following too closely but can be prevented by signaling early for all turns, stops and lane changes. It is also a good idea to frequently check the traffic behind your vehicle, and if tailgated, change lanes immediately. A driver should be aware of tailgaters or large vehicles following too closely or gaining rapidly from behind, and take appropriate action to avoid conflict.

  • Attempt to warn the driver behind you by tapping your brakes.
  • Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel. Chances are you may be pushed forward or even sideways and will still need to maintain control.
  • Your seat belt will prevent your face and upper torso from hitting the steering wheel or windshield. Most cars today have headrests. This will help minimize the whiplash factor.

B. Front or Side Collision

  1. From the Front:
    • If your vehicle is going to be hit from the front, be prepared to do the following: Use your arms or hands to protect your face and throw yourself across the seat to avoid hitting the steering wheel or windshield if you do not have a shoulder harness on.
  2. From the Side:
    • If possible, avoid head-on collisions and the inevitable impact. Attempt to maneuver so the approaching vehicle hits your car from the side.
    • Be careful when protecting your face. For example, airbag devices deploy in front-end impacts at approximately 35 mph. Use caution when placing your hands in front of your face as the airbag could push your hands into your face (The shoulder strap of your seat belt will prevent your face from hitting the dashboard).
    • Use the steering wheel to brace yourself and try to avoid being thrown against the side of your car.

C. Light Rain / First Rain — The first rain often leads to a dangerous condition in which to operate a motor vehicle. The first rain lifts the oil up from the road surface, yet does not completely wash away the slippery substance. Many drivers are generally unwilling to slow their speed to a level that the first rain requires. Light rain tends to be ignored by people who continue driving as if the roads were clear and dry. The light rain makes the road slick and simply does not provide enough water to wash away all the accumulated oil and debris. Speed should be dramatically reduced with extra stopping distance allowed and extreme caution exercised. It is important to remember that when road conditions and surfaces change, braking distance and traction change as well.

D. One-Way Streets
course sampleIn order to eliminate confusion in heavily traveled areas and to keep the flow of traffic moving, one-way streets are becoming more and more common. One-way streets often pose unique dangers to drivers. Wrong way drivers are common, as are other motorists making turns from unsafe lanes. Drivers should be aware of how to properly enter and exit one-way streets and be prepared to slow dramatically if necessary. Always choose the safest lane.


  • The leading cause of freeway accidents is "FOLLOWING TOO CLOSELY."
  • 50% of all accidents are caused by drivers 16 – 24 years of age.
  • 24% of all accident fatalities involve drivers 16 – 24 years of age.

Car Design

Cars manufacturers design vehicles with safety in mind. A driver should familiarize themselves with their vehicle's safety features, as they assist in accident prevention.

A. Windshield — The purpose of the windshield is to protect the driver or passengers from the environment. Fibers and plastic are often laminated between the glasses, so the windshield will not shatter completely in an accident. A clean, clear windshield is a vital element for driving, yet it is often overlooked as a safety tip. Properly functioning windshield wipers are not just useful during rain or snow, but may also clear the visibility in the case of sand or dust storms. (Under ordinary storm conditions, windshield wipers should be able to clear fog, snow or rain.) The most skilled driver on the road cannot control their vehicle if visibility is impaired. Prior to driving, it is imperative that the driver checks their visibility to ensure it is not hampered by dirty windshields. It is illegal to drive a vehicle on the roads if the driver's vision is impaired to the front or rear by a poorly maintained or defective windshield or rear window. Any vehicle manufactured after July 1, 1970, must have a windshield.

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NOTE: The vehicle's windshield should not have any objects such as stickers affixed to it as to obstruct the visibility of the driver. Signs or hanging objects from the rear view mirror are also prohibited. Tinted safety glass is only allowed if it conforms to U.S. Department of Transportation standards and does not affect the safe operation of the vehicle.

B. Crumple Zones — Cars are designed to collapse in an accident in order to absorb the force on impact. The "accordion" look often seen in cars involved in serious accidents is affected by design, whereas the energy of the accident is dispersed throughout the vehicle's crumpled mass. Assuming the driver remains in the vehicle, safely buckled, this design feature dramatically reduces injury in accidents.

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C. Truck Under-Ride — There is a bar affixed to the rear of large trucks that extends down from their trailer preventing cars from going under them during an accident. As rear-enders are the most common accident type, this helps to prevent the tops of vehicles from being sheared off by the trailers of large trucks.

D. Mirrors — A vehicle should be equipped with at least two mirrors: one interior-mounted rearview mirror, and one exterior-mounted rearview mirror on the driver's side. The interior rearview mirror should provide a clear view behind the vehicle for a distance of at least 200 feet. Almost all motor vehicles manufactured today are equipped with three rearview mirrors: interior, driver's side exterior, and passenger side exterior.


Driving on the roads of Tennessee requires attentiveness, skill, a vehicle that is responsive, a little luck, and a subconscious mind that can quickly react. When an emergency occurs on the road, the decision to act must be a split second one, and the driver must know instinctively what to do. The following will prepare you for an emergency driving situation:

A. Brake Failure — Many factors can cause brake failure. Wet brakes that result from driving through puddles or standing water, or brake overheating caused by prolonged use or hard driving, can each lead to failure. If total brake failure occurs, there are several corrective actions a driver can initiate. There is a requirement that every vehicle on the road in Tennessee be in proper working order with functional equipment. In passenger vehicles, there are two main braking systems: a hydraulic four wheel brake system, and a mechanically operated rear wheel parking brake. All brakes and brake components should be maintained in good condition at all times. Properly maintained brakes are not only required by law but are essential for the safe operation of the motor vehicle. It is advisable to check out the condition of a vehicle's brakes periodically to ensure that they function properly. An emergency situation would involve a total failure of the brakes along with the vehicle gaining momentum and speed, heading downhill. Procedures to follow include:

course sample1. Pumping Brakes — Often times a brake line is clogged and brake fluid is not flowing properly. Pumping would attempt to distribute brake fluid adequately. Try this solution first.

NOTE: Do not pump Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS). To initiate ABS Brakes, you must fully compress the brake pedal to near maximum capacity. This will activate the computer to pulsate the brake pads automatically and will continue while pressure is held down.

2. Downshift — The goal is to create more friction in the transmission. Shifting to a lower gear will create more tension in the transmission and slow the vehicle. Downshifting would also be effective in an automatic transmission vehicle.

3. Apply Parking Brake — Apply the parking brake gradually and smoothly to help slow the vehicle. A "panic" or sudden application of the parking brake may cause loss of vehicle control, such as a skid. Your goal is to slow the vehicle, not lock the wheels. When applied properly, the parking brake should be able to slow the vehicle to a safe stop. Many drivers are under the false impression that it is not necessary to apply the parking brake when the vehicle is parked; however, vehicles are equipped with parking brakes for good reason. The purpose is to prevent the vehicle from moving if it slips out of gear or is struck. A properly functioning parking brake must be capable of locking the wheels to prevent movement on any grade (incline). The parking brake must be applied every time the vehicle is parked, and the vehicle's transmission should be shifted to "park" or left in gear (manual transmission vehicle).course sample

4. Attempt to Warn Others — An out-of-control vehicle is a hazard to all on the road. It is your responsibility to warn other road users when you present a danger to them or could come into conflict with them. In the event of a brake failure, you must warn others by honking your horn, flashing your headlights, activating the hazard lights, or by any other practical means necessary.

5. Sideswipe Objects (attempting to reduce speed) — Sideswiping involves slowing the vehicle by deflecting the car off other objects on the road. No object should ever be hit head-on, nor should objects like curbs be hit, as they could cause the car to over-turn. Guard rails and parked cars would be good objects to sideswipe, as they might gradually slow the vehicle.

6. Shift into Reverse — In certain vehicles, you may be able to shift the transmission into reverse. This will create friction, which may help to slow the vehicle, but it will severely damage or destroy the transmission. Be aware that most recently manufactured vehicles have safety features that prevent this action.

NOTE: The vehicle should never be turned off in an attempt to stop. This action will cause other car functions, such as steering, to also fail.

course sampleB. Tire Blowout — A simple flat is often manageable when driving. A blowout, however, includes the shredding of a tire to the point where one is left driving on a rim with no control of the vehicle. If you need to swerve into an object, do so into something that will "give", reducing the chance of injury. Sound the horn and flash the lights to alert other drivers that there is a problem. The first reaction when a blowout occurs is to slam down on the brakes. This instant human reaction, however, will only cause more damage. A driver should hold the steering wheel firmly and keep the vehicle moving straight ahead. A driver should know the following actions to prevent an accident in the case of these blowouts:

1. Left Front Tire — The car will pull to the left and the steering will be quite heavy. One should not fight the pull, but instead grab hold of the steering wheel with both hands, gain control of the vehicle, and gradually slow the vehicle. No dramatic or excessive braking should be attempted.

2. Right Front Tire — The car will pull to the right and the steering will be quite heavy. One should not fight the pull, but instead grab hold of the steering wheel with both hands, gain control of the vehicle, and gradually slow the vehicle. No dramatic or excessive braking should be attempted. At speeds below 55 mph, a blow-out should be an easily controlled emergency.

3. Rear Tires — This will cause the car to fishtail and feel unstable in the rear. Control of the steering wheel is vital, as is awareness of any other vehicles around. Slowing the car gradually will help alleviate accident potential.

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C. Skids — An out-of-control skid is caused when the vehicle's tires lose traction. Traction is the grip that tires have with the road's surface. Traction is caused by friction. When friction is reduced, the tires have less traction (grip) on the road.

Traction loss can be caused by a number of factors. These include extreme vehicle maneuvers, worn tires, or an icy or wet road surface. When a thin layer of water gets between the tires and the road's surface, it can result in hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when the vehicle's tires lose contact with the road surface and ride on top of a thin film of water.

If you experience a vehicle skid of any kind, you need to correct it immediately. To do this, you must counter steer. You may have heard the old adage, " turn into the skid," to describe counter steering. However, this can be confusing, and many drivers misunderstand its meaning. To prevent confusion, simply remember that to correct a skid, you need to steer in your intended direction of travel. So, if your vehicle begins to skid off course, turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go. When you do this, you are counter steering.

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Special notes on skids...

  • Avoid turning or swerving suddenly
  • Don't apply the brakes too quickly
  • Pump the brakes and don't oversteer
  • Keep the vehicle clutch engaged and don't suddenly remove your foot from the accelerator
  • Pay special attention to driving on snow or ice
  • Avoid driving on the shoulder of the road
  • When traction is poor to begin with, drive in a higher gear and accelerate gradually

D. Oncoming Car / Wrong Side of the Road — The goal is to take evasive action as quickly as possible. Vehicles waiting until the last second to initiate a maneuver rarely have enough time to avoid a collision. An early evasive move might cause, at worst, a sideswipe or a rear-end collision, but will help avoid the more dangerous head-on collision. In order to minimize the chance of an accident, the driver should slow down as quickly as possible, pull to the extreme right or drive off the road completely, and/or flash the headlights and sound the horn.

E. Steering Wheel Locks — The ignition key should never be moved or adjusted while the vehicle is in motion. This can engage the steering column lock if a vehicle is so equipped. Many recently manufactured vehicles have safety features to prevent the steering column/steering wheel from locking while the vehicle is in motion. However, if this does occur, you must stop the vehicle as quickly as possible. Activate your hazard lights and sound the horn as necessary to warn other road users as you slow down.

F. Car Stalls/Breakdowns — The actions you should take in the situation of a stalled car will vary according to time and location, among other factors. The goal is to show other drivers that your vehicle is disabled and road service or a tow is required. These rules usually apply:

  1. Try to get your car off the road. Removing your car from the road will reduce the possibility of another vehicle hitting you. However, if left on the road for any reason, the vehicle must have its hazard lights on. A dark vehicle on the road is an accident waiting to happen. NOTE: The purpose of emergency flashers is to alert other drivers that an emergency situation or accident is ahead. If the emergency flashers do not work, put on the vehicle's turn signals instead.
  2. Remain in the car and lock the doors. Walking without direction on the side of the road looking for assistance is unwise and unsafe. Sitting in the locked vehicle waiting for law enforcement is the most prudent move. Law enforcement is always alert to disabled vehicles. NOTE: When the vehicle is disabled on a freeway, always attempt to pull to the shoulder and try to warn approaching traffic when necessary. (Use signals, hazard lights or flares.)

G. Accelerator Sticks — This is usually not a major problem, and can be solved by stepping repeatedly on the accelerator. If the car continues to increase in speed, however, either step on the clutch to disengage the gears or shift the vehicle into the neutral position. As a last resort, you can turn the vehicle off completely, but this action may result in a loss of the power steering.

H. Fan Belt Sticks or Breaks — The vehicle will most probably overheat. The driver should turn on the vehicle's heat to the highest setting. This will draw much of the heat from the engine block, helping to cool the vehicle. The vehicle should not be driven for more than a few minutes in this condition.

I. Steering Problems — Steering problems should not be solved on the road while driving. Slow down immediately. If power steering fails, the driver will have to work extremely hard to steer the vehicle, but full control will not be lost. Use your flashers and bright lights to warn others that there is a problem.

J. Headlight Failure

  • Try switching the headlights on and off a few times.
  • Try to adjust the dimmer switch.
  • Try turning on the parking lights, emergency lights, or turn signals.

K. Hood Latch Failure

If the hood latch fails and the hood opens while you are driving, the following actions can be taken:

  • Slow your vehicle immediately.
  • Put your head out of the window and look around the hood.
  • Use the center marking lines or lanes as a guide.
  • Pull off the road as soon as possible, as you pose a risk to yourself and other drivers.
  • Turn on your emergency lights.

L. Stuck tires — When tires get stuck in the snow or a similar substance like mud, shift the car into low gear and attempt to pull forward as much as possible with the wheels angled straight ahead. When wheels are turned to the side, they provide a greater resistance to forward and reverse motions. Do the same maneuver in reverse, and then forward again, without spinning the tires. This forward and backward motion should be repeated until the car moves free. A wood object such as a branch or board may be used under the tires if they are submerged very deeply. The use of snow chains helps reduces the chances of the tires getting stuck.

M. Soft Shoulders — The soft shoulder on highways is to be used in emergency situations only. Driving on the soft shoulder is highly dangerous, can lead to loss of vehicle control, and is also illegal. Some shoulders are paved which allow for optimum vehicle traction, yet soft shoulders are usually just packed dirt which is unstable and should only be utilized in an emergency situation.

N. Bad Pavement — It is vital as a defensive driver to be aware of all road conditions that may affect your safe use of the highway. Bad pavement is a major contributing factor to many traffic collisions. The vehicle loses traction with the road surface, caused by pot holes or bumps, while other factors make it difficult to simply steer the vehicle altogether. Drivers need to know the road conditions of areas where they intend to travel prior to beginning the trip. Local law enforcement or city agencies can keep drivers updated to all road conditions. Preparation for bad pavement or the choice to take an alternative route can help reduce accident potential. When speeds are increased during freeway driving, be prepared to steer around blocked roadways or obstructions to the roadway. Try and steer around any stalled cars as well, and warn other vehicles behind by utilizing brake and hazard lights.

O. Drop-Offs — Drop-offs are dangerous shoulders of the road, which drop off or are beveled into an abrupt drop from the normal roadway. Falling rain may also create a flowing gutter of water often a foot or more deep, creating an even more unstable driving situation.

P. Stuck in Deep Water — An overloaded vehicle has an increased chance of stalling in water. If you run into deep water, get stuck, and do not sink, try to escape immediately through a window. If you do sink, wait until the pressure equalizes before you try and open a window or door. First get into the back seat where air pockets usually form and kick out the back window. The back window is designed to come off fairly easily.

Q. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning — Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Vehicle motors give off carbon monoxide which is a deadly gas. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Do not leave the motor running in a garage.
  • Do not leave the motor running and windows closed when you park your vehicle.
  • Do not use the heater or air conditioner in a parked vehicle with the windows closed.
  • Do not leave the vents open when following closely behind another vehicle.
  • Do not drive with a defective muffler or exhaust system.

Collision Avoidance — Handling Emergencies

Most motor vehicle collisions are completely preventable. This fact means that they're not truly "accidents." An accident is an event that is unforeseeable or occurs for reasons outside of an individual's control. Motor vehicle collisions, on the other hand, can be avoided by taking a few basic preventative measures when you get behind the wheel:

  • Be alert and well rested.
  • Always expect the unexpected. Never assume drivers will follow through on what they appear to be doing.
  • Keep eyes moving (12–15 seconds or 1/4 mile ahead).
  • Maintain 3–4 second following rule as needed.
  • Look for potential hazards, poor road conditions, wrecks, etc.
  • Seek out an escape route, if available.
  • Check the vehicles behind you every 5–7 seconds.
  • Adjust speed to suit conditions.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Honk your horn when appropriate (you are only allowed to use your horn to avoid or warn others of a potential collision).
  • Watch out for trucks and buses.
  • Watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Signal and announce your intentions.

Remember, practicing good vehicle maintenance can greatly reduce the chances of emergency situations on the road.

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