Getting behind the wheel of your car or truck may seem like a commonplace event, but it is also likely to be the most dangerous thing you will do all day long. In the U.S., car crashes are the fifth-leading cause of death. Your odds may be even higher depending on where you live, what you drive and how you drive.

Although you can’t control the actions of other motorists, you have a great deal of control over how you operate your vehicle. That means you can increase your chances for a safe trip by following a few simple precautions. Here are helpful tips to keep you driving happy – and safe.

  1. Focus on the task at hand
  2. Don’t let phones, radio, air conditioning, kids in the back seat, or a heated discussion with your spouse distract you from your job as the driver. Always pay attention to the road and your vehicle. Studies show that drivers under 20 are the most prone to distractions while driving, with 11% involved in fatal crashes while distracted. For more info and tips on preventing distracted driving click here.

  3. Expect other drivers to make mistakes
  4. Don’t trust anyone but yourself.

  5. Slow down
  6. The faster you travel, the longer it takes to stop, and the more significant the impact when you crash. But do go along with the flow of traffic, as long as it does not exceed recommended limits. And remember that posted speed limits are based on clear, dry roads – not wet or snowy.

  7. Take advantage of safety devices
  8. As much as possible, buy or lease a car / truck with a high safety rating and a large number of air bags. Invest in the right child restraints and seat belt adjusters for your family, and use them. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, placing children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half.

  9. Always, always, always buckle up
  10. Many car crash fatalities each year could be prevented by wearing a seat belt. The National Safety Council says that seat belts reduce your risk of injury in a crash by 50%. Those least likely to buckle up are teens, rural drivers, intoxicated drivers, and commercial truck drivers.

  11. When in doubt, yield
  12. If you aren’t sure who has the right of way, err on the side of caution. If you know you have the right of way but another motorist seems to disagree, give in. Better to lose a bit of time than to get caught in a collision.

  13. Stop on red
  14. The leading cause of intersection collisions is running the red light. Sometimes it’s a lack of attention to the road. Sometimes it’s glare from the setting sun. Sometimes it’s just plain hurry. The best practice is to slow down before each intersection and evaluate the situation. Never race the yellow light.

  15. Use your blinkers
  16. Confusion is the enemy of safe driving. Make your lane changes and turns predictable and smooth, and always signal in advance.

  17. Let it go
  18. Road rage is not just an urban myth. Since you don’t know who might be behind the wheel of that vehicle that just cut you off, it’s safest to back away and overlook the offense. Road rage has led to murder over trivial offenses in all 50 states. Getting even could get you killed, not to mention the innocent drivers in your vicinity. If you suspect that another driver may be drunk or impaired, stay away and alert the authorities as soon as it is safe to do so.

  19. Keep a buffer between yourself and other motorists
  20. Tailgating leads to rear-end collisions, and you will be the one to foot the bill for the repairs. In good weather, allow at least two seconds of lead time in front of you; in bad weather, more.

  21. Monitor your blind spots and stay out of others’ blind spots
  22. This is especially true of large vehicles, such as tractor-trailers. The rule of thumb is that if you can’t see the driver in the truck mirror, that driver can’t see you either. Crashes involving semitrucks often prove fatal for the driver of a car.

  23. Don’t drive drunk, buzzed, high, or low
  24. Even over-the-counter cold medication can alter your response times so assess yourself honestly before deciding to drive. The average drinker can only metabolize one drink per hour. One drink equates to 12 ounces of beer, or 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. If you are under the influence of any mind-altering substance, stay away from the wheel.

  25. Adjust for rain
  26. When the roads are slick and wet, especially in a torrential downpour or the first 30 minutes of a storm, your braking times increase. Turn off cruise control. Add extra space between your vehicle and other vehicles. Slow down as much as is feasible. Learn to detect and react appropriately to hydroplaning (do not try to steer and take your foot off the accelerator to slow down without braking until you regain tire traction with the roadway).

  27. Prepare for snowy weather
  28. Slow down and use snow chains if you see snow accumulating on the highway, but do not use chains on ice. Here in Montana, where snow and ice are common, consider investing in winter snow tires. Do not use cruise control during winter months.

  29. Inflate your tires appropriately and change them when they are worn
  30. Properly inflated tires make for safer, more secure handling, and tire blowouts can cause an instant loss of control.

  31. Use headlights wisely
  32. Anytime visibility is impaired on winding roads and/or during fog, rain, snow or low light, make sure you can be seen by turning on your headlights. Only use your high beams in low-traffic areas and turn them down for oncoming drivers.

  33. Maintain your vehicle
  34. Regular oil changes and fluid checks can save you from surprise breakdowns on the road. If your car becomes disabled on a busy highway or interstate, the National Safety Council recommends that you try to pull over into the breakdown lane, if possible. Remember to use your turn signals and watch for fast-moving cars. If you have parked a comfortable distance from traffic, lock the doors and wait for help.

    If you are close to traffic, exit the vehicle, and find a safe place to stand, away from the side and rear of the car. If you cannot reach the breakdown lane, and your car is stopped in traffic, leave the vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so, and wait for help in a secure location on the side of the road.

  35. Respond safely to tailgaters
  36. If someone is following too closely, add twice as much space between your car and the vehicle in front of yours. This increases your ability to see and prepare for a collision. Then carefully and gradually decrease your speed to slightly below the speed of surrounding traffic, and try to move into a right-hand lane, to let the tailgater pass. Do not hit the brakes suddenly, unless you are forced to do so to avoid a collision.

  37. Keep a steady pace
  38. Sudden increases and decreases in speed, unexpected lane changes, and unpredictable stops make it hard for other drivers to anticipate your actions. Be predictable and avoid surprising anyone around you.

  39. Look far ahead of your vehicle
  40. Keep your eyes far down the road and anticipate problems before you come to them. Look for erratic drivers, slow traffic, intersections and highway debris. In towns and cities, watch out for children, pedestrians, dogs and bikes. In rural areas, watch out for deer and other animals.