The probability of a new driver having an accident is the greatest during the first six months after obtaining the driving licence. This is partly due to a lack of driving experience and ability to control your actions.
The more chance you have to practise driving under supervision before you receive your right to drive, the better prepared you will be to drive independently once you get your licence.
Plenty of driving experience in different traffic environments and situations while you are practising will give you a sounding board for traffic situations you may encounter in the future and help you understand how traffic is about interaction where everyone is responsible for the smooth running and safety of traffic.
In addition, many basic functions associated with controlling the vehicle become automatic, and more of your brain capacity (mental ability) is freed up for other activities, including making observations. Being sufficiently observant and having experience of situations you have encountered before will enable you to anticipate and manage traffic situations as an independent driver.
Driving against the sun in rush-hour traffic is an example of a potential risk factor.
It means an ability to identify any risk factors arising from the road and traffic conditions and your own actions.
This includes making observations and understanding the significance of the observed condition or factor.
Not all risk factors/hazardous conditions turn into accidents. You must always assess the risk or likelihood of the hazard being realised.
Many different factors may be at play simultaneously in a given situation, and for this reason, understanding the big picture is important. You must be able to assess what the primary risk factor in any situation is, and select a line of action that increases the safety margin and reduces the accident risk. This is what risk management means.
The factors may be roughly divided into internal and external risk factors.
Some of the risk factors of driving stem from:
Driving is a self-directed activity. You have a lot of say in your own risk level through what you do and what you don’t do.
What is your motive for driving? Is it getting from A to B? Is driving a way of ‘letting out steam’ for you – do you jump into the car and start driving when your emotions are in a turmoil? In this case, you are also likely to speed, or drive unpredictably or aggressively. Is driving a source of enjoyment or excitement for you? It is important that you become aware of and understand your motives for driving so that you can control them and reduce the risk for yourself and other road users.
Internal risk factors are those related to controlling your own actions. Controlling your actions is a skill that plays a key role in becoming a safe driver. Controlling your actions means controlling your state of mind. Can you act calmly and systematically, for example in a challenging traffic situation, or do you panic? Do you start driving even if you are tired or have been drinking? If your mates egg you on to show how fast your car can go on the motorway or how adept you are at controlling your car on a twisty road at a high speed, do you go along with it?
Do you know how alcohol, medicines or other intoxicating substances affect your ability to drive and your driving performance? Alcohol reduces your ability to concentrate and to observe and respond to hazardous situations. It also slows down your reflexes. You are more likely to speed and ignore traffic signs and traffic control when you are under the influence of alcohol. Your ability to control the car, such as keep within the lane, is also compromised, especially in the dark and on a twisty road
Intoxicants, which include not only illegal drugs but also medicines, whether available over the counter or prescribed by a physician, influence your ability to drive safely. Examples of such medicines are
Always check the label and information sheet of a medicine for any warnings. Remember that taking several medicines at the same time may alter their effects. Drinking alcohol when you are on a medicine is also extremely dangerous. The period during which medicines take effect may be long and subject to individual variations in many cases. The effects of some medicines are only felt with a delay. Ask your pharmacist or physician about how medicines affect your ability to drive, or whether there is another option that would not affect your driving if you need your car on a daily basis.
Intoxicants always affect your ability to drive. In the case of illegal drugs, you cannot know what their effects on your driving are. A zero tolerance policy on driving under the influence of intoxicating substances is enforced in Finland.
Being tired can seriously affect your judgement when driving. Fatigue is particularly dangerous as it undermines your ability to assess the level of your tiredness.
Symptoms of tiredness:
Tiredness may be caused by lack of sleep: you do not get enough sleep at night. Long working days, long drives as well as partying and drinking cause tiredness. The only effective way of avoiding the risk caused by tiredness is to get enough sleep. Fresh air, coffee or loud music will not help.
How to reduce the risk caused by tiredness:
Disturbances distract you from your driving and increase your accident risk. In particular, disturbances inside the care are a significant risk. They may include activities related to smoking, eating or drinking, making different adjustments, such as setting the heating and air conditioning or some other device, using a phone or another device while driving, a moving object inside the car, or the passengers. The driver-assistance systems of your car and their signals may also distract you. Have you ever noticed having narrowly missed an accident while you were distracted by a device or person in your car?
Dividing your attention is particularly difficult when you are in the middle of a complex traffic situation, for example in a challenging intersection.
Especially for young drivers, the impact of other passengers can be significant; not only because you are distracted by what the passengers say or do but also because your mates may encourage you to drive faster than you would like to, or attempt risky overtaking manoeuvres or other equally dangerous acts.
Remember that as the driver, you are responsible for not only the vehicle and yourself but also the safety of your passengers and other road users. Consequently, you should give your full attention to driving. Tell your mates that since you are the driver, you decide the speed and style of driving, and how loud the music is playing in the car.
As a young driver, your ideas of yourself and your driving skills are an important internal risk factor. Self-confidence is a good thing, but excessive confidence may make you believe that you are a better driver than you actually are. When you are over-confident, you tend to underappreciate the risk of accidents and their possible consequences, including the possibility of injury or death.
You should have a realistic idea of yourself and your skills to be able to manage the risks in traffic for your part. Through good self-knowledge, you can understand the limitations of your skills, and you can select the correct way to act in each situation on the road.
Learn to change the way you observe your surroundings in different traffic environments. Think about what sort of observations you need to make in a city environment as compared to driving in the countryside or on a motorway. Be careful in new or exceptional situations, including in the vicinity of roadworks or scenes of an accident.
Different vehicles on the road involve different risks, which you need to understand. The drivers of heavy goods vehicles mainly use their mirrors to observe the traffic, and for this reason, they cannot necessarily see vehicles driving very close by. You should thus avoid driving in their blind spots. You should also avoid driving too close to such large vehicles, as they block your visibility. This also means that other road users cannot see you. If you are thinking of overtaking, remember that a heavy goods vehicle is long. Their braking and stopping distances are much longer than the distances needed by cars. Allow them plenty of space when they are turning.
Motorcycles are difficult to see among other traffic. They accelerate faster and can slip through small gaps in traffic. Some motorcyclists exploit this by trying to share the lane with other vehicles and weaving in and out of lanes. This makes them unpredictable from your point of view.
Watch out for light quadricycles on the road to make sure you spot them. As they drive more slowly, you have to respond by reducing your own driving speed. Give mopeds room on the edge of the road and respect their drivers’ rights in traffic.
Learn to recognize different warning signals indicating potential hazards: traffic signs warning you of an elk hazard or a bend, the brake lights of the vehicle in front of you, the car in front of you driving unsteadily, signs of tiredness in yourself, a vehicle approaching you from behind at a high speed etc.
The earlier you can recognize these, the more time you have to react. By selecting the correct speed for each situation you allow yourself time to observe, anticipate and recognize risks.
Did you know that the faster your drive, the narrower your field of vision becomes? In a stationary car, the driver’s field of vision is approx. 180 degrees. When your speed increases to 100 km/h, your field of vision is already reduced to 50 degrees, or one third of what it was when you were not moving. The faster you drive, the more your vision focuses on a narrow sector in front of you. This is why it is important to drive slowly enough and actively keep a lookout in all directions.
The driving speed also affects the causation of potential accidents and their consequences. The faster you are driving, the more serious the consequences will be for both yourself and anyone else involved in an accident. Also remember the correct driving speed on twisty roads. Notice the warning signs for bends and slow down before the bend to the recommended speed or less.
The faster you are driving, the longer it takes for you to stop. It is important to remember this when you are driving in a queue and the queue starts speeding up. By leaving a longer distance between you and the car in front of you, you improve your chances of not crashing into it if the queue suddenly slows down abruptly or stops.
Remember that your skills improve gradually as you gather experience. As a new driver, you can reduce your general accident risk by simple means: selecting the correct speed for each situation, ensuring that you have a sufficiently wide field of observation, and leaving an adequate distance to other road users – in front of you, on both sides and behind you.
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