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Space, speed management can make for safer driving

With slightly less than three months remaining in 2015, South Carolina roads have been deadlier than 2014.

So far, there have been 694 fatalities on South Carolina roads compared to 623 for all of 2014. State troopers, as part of the S.C. Target Zero effort, have stepped up enforcement efforts on U.S highways and state secondary roads where the majority of crashes happen.

The state’s Target Zero campaign has been working for several years to reduce accidents through driver education and various road condition factors.

According to state statistics, almost 43 percent of accidents are the result of a vehicle leaving the roadway.

Speed is a factor in 35 percent of crashes. Interestingly, driving too fast for conditions rather than exceeding the speed limit is more often the reason for crashes. The S.C Department of Public Safety adds that speed crashes are not always weather-related. The biggest cause is drivers hitting stopped or slowing vehicles.

Increased trooper presence and improved roadway conditions should help lower the state’s traffic statistics. But in most cases it comes down to the individual driver better understanding the conditions and adjusting accordingly.

“It’s all about space, speed management,” says Alan Beckley, instructor and owner of Alert Driver Training, which serves the region.

In teaching space and speed management, here are several of the scenarios Beckley encounters and his advice:

How should you merge onto an interstate highway, especially at times of high traffic volume?

Traffic lanes coming into a highway are acceleration lanes, not merging lanes, he said. Drivers should watch their speedometer and reach at least 45 mph before attempting to merge into traffic. “You don’t have to be at 60 miles per hour,” he said.

In cases of heavy traffic it’s better to “get over as early as possible,” Beckley said, and not drive to the end of the acceleration lane and expect to be let in. Ideally merging is a zipper-like process with cars alternating. “It depends on the conditions and the drivers,” Beckley said.

In cases where construction has reduced the number of lanes, creating merges and causing traffic, Beckley again recommends merging sooner rather than later. It’s OK to let one or two cars merge in front of you, he said. The key for the merging driver or the driver on the main travel lanes is to “keep looking farther ahead and adjusting your speed,” Beckley said.

How close should you follow?

Many people say to keep at least a car length or two distance when possible. “But what is a car length?” Beckley asked. He recommends counting the distance between you and the vehicle in front based on a fixed point. A distance of 1 or 2 is good for an experienced driver; for a beginner it should be 3. When it rains, at minimum double the following time, he said.

You encounter uneven pavement and run off the road, what should you do?

Leaving the roadway accounts for about 43 percent of traffic accidents in South Carolina. Beckley said the best way to regain control is to steer even farther off the pavement. First grip the wheel and take your foot off the accelerator – don’t hit the brake. After pulling away from the edge of the pavement, gently turn your wheels at an angle so it moves to the pavement. The worst thing you can do, Beckley, said, is have your wheel hit sidewalks in the uneven pavement.

Above all, “don’t panic,” Beckley said.

You are approaching a traffic light and it turns yellow. What do you do?

Drivers should first check their rearview mirror to see how close the vehicle behind them is following.

“Although a yellow light is a caution to slow down and stop, one must do so safely. Braking abruptly for a yellow light with someone right behind you is an invitation for a rear-end collision. In such a case it is better to proceed through the yellow light than risk getting hit from behind.

“Other factors to consider are the distance you are from the light, the speed you are traveling, and the size of the intersection. Along with making use of the rearview mirror, it is also a good idea to “cover” the brake; that is, have one’s foot poised over the brake in preparation for stopping,” he said.

Above all, regardless of the driving conditions, “stay alert for everything,” Beckley said. “Stay alert, stay alive.”

Alert Driving Training

For information on Beckley’s instruction go to alertdrivertrainingsc.com, facebook.com/alertdrivertraining, or call 803-324-2578.

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