Bicycle Safety Tips while on Spring Break

Beach towns are a popular spring break vacation destination, and often a bicycle is the easiest form of travel in these small, often-congested areas. But bicyclists are vulnerable to other road users, especially motor vehicles. In fact, the first automobile crash in the United States occurred in New York City in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicycle rider (Famous First Facts, by Joseph Kane).

Tips for Bicyclists

  • Bicyclists must obey all traffic controls and signals.
  • Be sure to comply with helmet laws in the state where you are riding. Bicycle helmets are recommended for all ages.
  • Watch for pedestrians as well as motor vehicles.
  • If you are allowed to ride on the sidewalk, yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before passing.
  • Keep at least one hand on the handlebars.
  • On the roadway, check behind you before changing lanes. Signal your intent to turn to other vehicle operators by pointing in the direction you are going to turn.
  • Do not ride two abreast when this will impede the flow of traffic.
  • Do not wear headphones or any other listening device except a hearing aid while bicycling.

Tips for Motorists

  • Give bicycles extra space whenever possible. Some riders may not be able to control their bicycles well and may suddenly get in your path. Be sure to give extra space to young riders, riders who seem distracted, riders who may have been drinking and older riders.
  • As you start to pass, approach slowly and try not to frighten the rider. Be aware of the possible path the bicyclist may take. Riders may swerve for hazards you are not aware of, such as potholes, puddles, and storm drains.
  • Always start your pass well behind the bicycle. You should have at least a half-lane of space between your vehicle and the bicyclist. If you do not have this much space, wait for a gap in oncoming traffic and then pass.
  • Before you move over to pass, signal to traffic behind you to let them know that you are changing lanes. You may want to warn the cyclist by tapping your horn.
  • At night, use your low beam headlights when traveling near bicyclists. Avoid shining your high beam headlights into riders’ eyes.
  • When parallel parking, check for bicycles before opening the driver’s side door.

Bicycling is a fun, efficient form of transportation. Put safety first for a better spring break.

How Parents Can Enforce Graduated Driver Licensing Laws at Home

Parents typically feel ambivalent when their teens receive their driver’s licenses. They appreciate the freedom from being their teen’s sole source of transportation, but they worry that their teens won’t be able to handle the corresponding freedom of being behind the wheel on their own. In most states, teens’ freedom is limited by Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws. But many parents are unaware of these laws or, if they are aware of them, fail to implement them as house rules.

This is a mistake. Enforcing GDL laws as house rules is an excellent tool for parents, who have the support of an existing law, the need for which and the efficacy of which is fully supported by research. Enforcement of the law by the police, while somewhat irregular in some states, is a very real possibility and could result in legal consequences for the teen. This gives parents additional support from an outside source when enforcing the law in their own households.

The first step in implementing your state’s GDL law is to become familiar with it. The law is typically detailed in the first or second chapter of the driver handbook. Many states post their driver handbooks online. You can also find information on GDL laws at your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or Department of Public Safety website. Once you locate the information, save or bookmark it for future reference. GDL laws change as teens mature and gain experience (the “graduated” in Graduated Driver Licensing).

The next step is to help your teen understand the importance of following GDL laws. Begin a dialogue with your teen before she or he even has a learner’s permit. Ask your teen to tell you why she or he thinks GDL laws exist. This helps your teen think and allows them to educate themselves about the process. Make sure your teen understands that GDL laws exist not only to protect teens from themselves, but to protect them from other teens. Your teen needs to follow GDL laws whether she or he is the driver or a passenger. Remind your teen that GDL laws become less stringent as the teen demonstrates responsible driving behavior – it’s not just about having another birthday.

Next, incorporate your state’s GDL laws into your house rules. For example, newly licensed drivers are typically restricted from driving during certain hours. You can ensure that your teen obeys the law by integrating these time limits into your teen’s curfew.

Finally, establish penalties for violating the GDL law or receiving a traffic ticket, whether the violation is for disobeying the GDL law or another offense. Be clear about the penalties from the beginning and relate them to driving by withdrawing driving privileges or enforcing new limits on driving. Help your teen understand all the ramifications of receiving a ticket, such as points on the license, fines, insurance increases, and failure to achieve the next stage in the GDL process.

Enforcing the GDL law in your household is a valuable tool that will help ensure your teen’s safety behind the wheel.

Restricting Your Teen’s Access to Alcohol: A Guide for Parents

Restricting your teen’s access to alcohol is one of the most important things you can do for them as a parent. There are highly-publicized risks of fatal alcohol poisonings and devastating car crashes due to drinking and driving, for example. But there are other, less-publicized risks that could be equally destructive to your teen’s health and well-being, such as increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, violence and rape, and suicide.

Teens are ill-equipped to handle the physical, mental or emotional consequences of drinking alcohol, but they have poor impulse control and a sense of invincibility and must contend with overwhelming peer pressure. They need consistent support and structure from their parents if they are going to avoid alcohol and its attendant repercussions.

Here are some guidelines for developing a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol for your children:

  • Start an ongoing dialogue early about alcohol: the risks, the ramifications, and your desire for your teen not to use alcohol. Emphasize abstinence from alcohol as part of your overall value system. Ask for a commitment not to use alcohol.
  • Offer praise for good decisions and guidance for mistakes. Working together to rectify a bad grade can be good practice for dealing with bigger problems in the future.
  • Help teens set short-term and long-term goals. Relate their goals to their physical endurance, mental acuity, and emotional fitness. Ask them how they think using alcohol could keep them from achieving their goals.
  • Invite mentors and other people your teen would not want to disappoint into the dialogue. Ask them to support your efforts to encourage abstinence from alcohol.
  • Train your children to ask, “Is it worth the risk?” Make sure they can apply the potential consequences you’ve discussed to real-life scenarios. Discuss the situations of people you know or those of people in newspaper and magazine articles and ask your teen to help you list the problems they have encountered as a result of drinking alcohol.
  • Model good behavior where alcohol is concerned. While it is true that it is legal for you to drink alcohol, teens have very little tolerance for what they perceive as hypocrisy, and they often fail to make distinctions when making judgments.
  • Keep alcohol locked up and out of sight. Many adolescents, and even pre-adolescents, begin experimenting with alcohol in their own homes.
  • Monitor situations where temptation can occur: for example, when your teen participates in unsupervised group activities or attends events, such as weddings, where alcohol is being served to adults.
  • Limit your teen’s attendance at parties, both in number and in length of time spent. Make a pact to pick your teen up at any time, from any place, with no questions asked until the following morning when you are both calm. Limit sleepovers unless they are at your house under your supervision.
  • Communicate with the parents of your teen’s friends. Ask what they are doing to ensure that the children don’t have access to alcohol when they are under their supervision. Share situations (not names) that you have discussed with your teen; their responses will help you determine whether or not you are on the same wavelength regarding teens and access to alcohol. Tell them you welcome feedback on how your child behaves when you are not present and that you will not reveal the source of the information.
  • Observe other parents’ efforts to restrict minors’ access to alcohol. Offer to help chaperone at events your child will attend. Be careful – even “good people” have erroneous ideas about teaching teens to “drink responsibly” under their supervision. Make sure your teen understands that even if another parent is allowing the use of alcohol, your teen does not have your permission to partake and should come home immediately.
  • Keep your teen busy. Kids often get into trouble when they have too much unsupervised free time. Invest time and effort into helping your teens find safe, fun ways to spend their time, such as participating in faith-based activities.
  • Adopt a trust-but-verify policy. Even “good kids” can find themselves in difficult situations. Your teen doesn’t have the benefit of your years of wisdom and experience. Explain the risks of being in the wrong situation; even if your teen doesn’t drink, being present at a party where teens are drinking can have serious consequences. Monitor your teen’s – and your teen’s friends’ – Facebook and MySpace pages.

And, last but certainly not least, realize that your teen is vulnerable to making poor choices every day. Don’t let your guard down. Finding a balance between being too controlling and allowing too much freedom will require constant effort, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. Your teen’s health and happiness may depend on it.

Spring Break Safety – How to Identify an Impaired Driver

Many spring breakers drive to and from their vacation destinations. Spring break drivers are often relatively inexperienced due to their youth and may have difficulty navigating hazardous driving situations. One way to manage the risk is to spot impaired drivers early so you can increase your space cushion. This way, if the impaired driver causes a crash, you are much less likely to be part of it.

Although the term “impaired” typically refers to drivers who are under the influence of alcohol, for the purposes of this article, it refers to any driver who is exhibiting difficulty with the driving process. A driver may be “impaired” by drowsiness, confusion, distractions inside or outside their vehicle, aggression, talking on a cellular phone, or a variety of other causes. For those who are sharing the road with an impaired driver, the most important issue is that the other driver is impaired; the specific reason isn’t as significant, because the reactions of other drivers should be the same regardless of the source of the impairment.

You should scan the general behavior of other vehicles when you search the driving scene, noticing any drivers who are:

  • Drifting within their lane
  • Speeding or driving at erratic speeds (speeding up, then slowing suddenly)
  • Weaving in and out of lanes
  • Exhibiting odd behavior, such as stopping for a green traffic light
  • Displaying aggressive behavior, such as following too closely

Once you recognize that a driver is impaired, you must increase the amount of space between your vehicle and theirs. Motorists are often tempted to pass a driver who may be impaired, but this option is dangerous because it decreases the space between you and the impaired driver, even if only temporarily. The point of identifying impaired drivers is to note their unpredictability. If the impaired driver makes another mistake while you are passing, you could be involved in a crash.

Take the following actions when you recognize an impaired driver:

  • Reduce your speed. This will increase your following distance if you are behind the impaired driver. Also, reducing your speed will allow you to more safely take other actions, such as changing lanes.
  • Continue scanning the driving scene. Don’t get so distracted by the impaired driver that you cause a crash yourself.
  • Increase your following distance from other vehicles. If you tailgate the vehicle in front of you, you will be forced to focus on that vehicle to avoid rear-ending it.
  • Once you’ve increased your distance from the impaired driver, check the space cushion all around your vehicle – in front, behind, and on both sides. Make sure you haven’t compromised your space cushion in your effort to move away from the impaired driver. Make any necessary corrections carefully. Remember to signal for all lane changes.
  • Resume your scan of the driving scene. Impaired drivers are common in popular vacation spots.

If you think an impaired driver is in imminent danger of causing a crash, ask a passenger to note the license plate number, a description of the vehicle, and the vehicle’s location and direction of travel. Have your passenger contact law enforcement, or pull off the road so you can safely make the call yourself.

Make your spring break a safe, healthy, relaxed vacation using defensive driving techniques from the National Safety Commission.

Tips for Teens: Drowsy Driving during Spring Break

Many young people spend the time following the end-of-year break from school looking forward to Spring Break, when they will have a great time frolicking with friends in a sunny, sandy locale.

But the long hours of recreation in the hot sun and the excitement of spending the week with friends can cause fatigue on the drive home. Six hours of sleep or less triples your risk of becoming sleepy while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Being fatigued while driving can result in a serious crash due to:

  • Impaired reaction time, judgment and vision
  • Problems with information processing and short-term memory
  • Increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors

Some drivers try to avoid these effects by ingesting substances such as NoDoz, Red Bull, or coffee, each of which contains caffeine, a stimulant. But it’s important to realize that the effect of any of these products is, at best, minimal and temporary. The “crash” that follows when the stimulant effect wears off can leave a driver feeling more tired than ever and can increase irritability. Sleep is a neurobiological need that can only be met with sleep, so increased dosages of caffeine will only increase the severity of side effects, not the degree of wakefulness. Too much caffeine can cause restlessness, nervousness, muscle twitching, and an irregular or rapid heartbeat.

To increase your chance of arriving home safely, make plans for your return from Spring Break that allow for a good night’s sleep the night before you leave. Sleep experts recommend at least seven to nine hours. Avoid alcohol and medications (over-the-counter and prescribed) that may impair performance. Plan to leave at a time which will not require you to drive through the night.

Take your driving trip with a companion so you can switch drivers when needed. Passengers can also watch for early signs of driver fatigue. Passengers should stay awake to talk to the driver. Schedule regular stops every 100 miles or two hours. Never try to drive “straight through” – you might never arrive at all. When you stop, spend several minutes stretching and taking a short walk.

Signs that tell you that you must stop immediately for sleep include:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly, rubbing your eyes, or trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip

Remember, the only cure for sleepiness is sleep!