Watch out!


Did you know that according to a recent study by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 29 percent of Minnesota drivers are distracted? And 80 percent of crashes are due to driver inattention?

Yes, we all need to be safer drivers ourselves — but what we really need to do is watch out for others. So I decided to take a defensive driving class.

Anyone can take a defensive driving class. Classes are offered through the Minnesota Safety Council, St. Cloud State University’s Highway Safety & Research Center and many community education locations. I took mine through AAA.

Most classes are geared for those age 55 or older because, for that age group, Minnesota law allows a 10-percent discount on auto insurance for attendance. I was the youngest one in my class.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to endure the eight hours, but it was lively, informative, interactive and included high-quality multimedia presentations. Not only did I enjoy it, but I’ll share some valuable tips with you so you too can be safe and learn how to stay away from distracted drivers.

Three types of distractions: visual, physical and mental

Often there are secondary accidents when people are watching the first one. Beware of others around accident scenes.

People reaching for objects in the front or back seats are not concentrating on driving. Get around them.

Just because someone’s eyes are on the road and hands are on the steering wheel doesn’t make them a good driver. Mental distractions, like talking on phones or listening to audio books, are priorities over driving.

Although employers applaud multitasking, the National Safety Council put it this way: It’s nearly impossible to read a book and have a phone conversation at the same time. So why do people call and drive?

Move away from these drivers. It puts you in a safer place.

Drowsy drivers

Sleep-deprived drivers are the second-leading cause of fatal crashes. AAA recommends taking a break every 100 miles or every two hours on long trips.

You and I can do that, but what about all the other drivers on the road? Did you know that people can actually fall asleep driving a vehicle with their eyes open?

During a one-second “micro sleep,” brains actually shut off. Watch for nodding heads, weaving, slow speeds and irregular driving. Pass safely and get away.

More space for better flow

The recommended following distance is three seconds. Watch a car in front of you as it passes a marker, such as a street lamp or stripe in the road. You should be able to count to three before you reach the same marker. That’s a three-second space.

That space protects you from having to slam on your breaks, and it creates a buffer in traffic that evens out the flow. If everyone did this, traffic would actually move faster.

Watch the car in front of you. If its break lights go on and off a lot, they’re following the car in front of them too closely.

Best practice: Leave space between you and other vehicles. It’s your margin of safety.

Communicate with others

Use your turn signals. In fact, use your signal before you break or slow down. Some people even tap on their breaks too.

All of this is to give the person behind you time to move over a lane or maybe a little extra time to stop if they’re not paying attention. Don’t get rear ended because the driver behind you is distracted.

Minnesota law states that in rain or snow, vehicle lights must be on. Many vehicles lights are on all the time. That makes for good visibility. You want to be visible!

If yours don’t turn on automatically, turn them on at all times. It’s simply safer.

Road rage

I know that you, dear Southwest Journal reader, do not participate in road rage, but there are many out there who do.

You’ve heard them honking, passing on residential streets, or weaving through traffic like a computer game. Let them be. Don’t get mad, they’ll get their due. Avoid eye contact, do not respond, change lanes, get a space between you and them.

If they’re tailgating, slow down a bit to make them pass you. If they’re already mad, it’s better to get them ahead of you than behind you.

Why let someone ruin your day? Stay away from them.

Road conditions affect driving abilities

Rain, fog, snow, ice — we have it all in Minnesota. While we have enough trouble with dry pot-holed roads, a wet or snowy road actually reduces the contact tires have with the road. They can easily slip.

The more you slow down, the more traction your car will have. Keep away from fast drivers during weather conditions.

Right of way

“Minnesota nice” seems to impair driving at right-of-way situations. At a four-way stop, the vehicle on the right goes first. Always. It’s not up for negotiation.

Don’t be nice about it. Be right about it.

New traffic designs

The yellow blinking arrow means turn when it’s safe. You still need to watch for oncoming traffic, though.

I guess this has been proven to work so we’ll probably see more of these. Just like the growing number of roundabouts — watch the signs!

And then there’s the latest in Minnesota Department of Transportation design: the Diverging Diamond intersection. This unintuitive, uncomfortable design is gaining in popularity with national departments of transportation.

We have one in Bloomington at Interstate 494 and 34th Avenue South on the way to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s Terminal 2–Humphrey. Follow the link below to watch it in action.

We may as well get used to it. Expect to see more of these intersections in the future.

Stay alert and be careful out there!


For more information:

Minnesota Drivers Manual

An amusing awareness test

Diverging Diamond intersections

Distracted drivers

  •  Teens and young adults are the most distracted drivers.
  • In adult drivers, males are more distracted than females.
  • Drivers of vans are the most distracted, followed by pickup trucks, SUVs and then passenger cars.
  • Higher levels of distraction are found on Mondays, weekend days, between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • It is illegal for drivers to read, compose or send text messages and emails or access the Internet using a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic — including stopped in traffic or at a traffic light.
  • Nationwide, it is estimated that more than 100 million people use cell phones while driving.
  • A nationwide insurance poll showed 81 percent of the public admits to talking on a cell phone while driving.


Ranking of driving distractions:

  1. Rear passenger interaction
  2. Cell phone dialing, texting, and viewing
  3. Cell phone conversation
  4. Eating
  5. Smoking
  6. Reaching for objects
  7. Drinking
  8. Front passenger interaction
  9. Other