Driving Hazards

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Every accident, no matter how minor, takes a toll on life.

A hazard is a source of danger. When driving, it forces you to change your speed or steering to avoid a collision. To say that driving can be dangerous is an understatement. In 2019, 38,800 people were killed in car accidents in the United States. Ninty-five percent of all vehicles involved in fatal car accidents were passenger cars or light trucks (vans, SUVs, or pickup trucks).

The leading cause of occupational fatalities is vehicle-related crashes. The "Fatal Four" most frequent causes of death and injury on our roads in 2018 were:

  1. Driving under the influence (DUI) - nearly 30% of all vehicle-related fatalities;
  2. Speeding - about 26% of all vehicle-related fatalities;;
  3. Reckless driving - 29% of all fatalities - violating the rules of the road; and
  4. Distracted driving - 5% of all fatalities - eating, texting, changing stations, etc.

Click the button to see a list of other common causes for vehicle-related crashes.

Other causes include:

  • Running yellow and red lights;
  • Aggressive behavior - road rage;
  • Failure to use a seat belt;
  • Weather conditions - rain, snow, wind, etc.;
  • Night driving;
  • Road conditions - potholes, slopes, rough surface, etc.;
  • Animal crossings; and
  • Construction zones.

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1. What is the most frequent cause of occupational fatalities?

a. OSHA recordable injuries
b. Vehicle-related crashes
c. Driving while under the influence (DUI)
d. Falls from elevated surfaces

Drunk Driving

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10,000 lives taken needlessly.

Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that's one person every 50 minutes. These deaths have fallen by a third in the last three decades; however, drunk-driving crashes claim more than 10,000 lives per year. That's about one-third of the 36,560 people killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes on U.S. roadways during 2018. (NHTSA)

An alcohol-impaired-driving fatality is defined as a fatality in a crash involving a driver or motorcycle rider (operator) with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or greater.

Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely.

The Effects of Alcohol on Driving

BAC is measured with a breathalyzer, a device that measures the amount of alcohol in a driver's breath or by a blood test. Click on the button to see the effects blood alcohol concentration has on driving.

The Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in g/dLTypical EffectsPredictable Effects on Driving
.02Some loss of judgment; relaxation, slight body warmth, altered moodDecline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target), decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)
.05Exaggerated behavior, may have loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes), impaired judgment, usually good feeling, lowered alertness, release of inhibitionReduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, reduced response to emergency driving situations
.08Muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing), harder to detect danger; judgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are impairedConcentration, short-term memory loss, speed control, reduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search), impaired perception
.10Clear deterioration of reaction time and control, slurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinkingReduced ability to maintain lane position and brake appropriately
.15Far less muscle control than normal, vomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance for alcohol), major loss of balanceSubstantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing
Table describing BAC and typical effects of various BAC levels

For more information about drunk driving statistics and laws in your state, see the CDC's Sobering Facts: Alcohol-Impaired Driving State Fact Sheets.

2. Statistics show that almost 30 people die in drunk-driving crashes _____.

a. every 15 minutes
b. every hour
c. every day
d. every week


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Speed kills!

Following drunk driving in the "Fatal Four," speeding is involved in about 26% of all motor vehicle fatalities. In 2018, speeding killed 9,378 drivers. We all know the frustrations of modern life and juggling a busy schedule, but speed limits are put in place to protect all road users. Learn about the dangers of speeding and why faster doesn't mean safer.

Speeding also affects your safety when driving at the speed limit but too fast for road conditions. This is true especially in bad weather, when a road is under repair, or in an area at night that isn't well lit.

Speeding endangers the speeder's life and all of the people on the road around them, It is a problem we all need to help solve. NHTSA provides guides and toolkits to help spread the message about safe driving, including tips on what you can do if you encounter an aggressive driver on the road.


Speeding is more than just breaking the law. The consequences are far-ranging. Click the button to see the far-ranging consequences of speeding.

  • Greater potential for loss of vehicle control;
  • Reduced effectiveness of occupant protection equipment;
  • Increased stopping distance after the driver perceives a danger;
  • Increased degree of crash severity leading to more severe injuries;
  • Economic implications of a speed-related crash; and
  • Increased fuel consumption/cost.
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Never use offensive hand gestures!

Aggressive Driving

Speeding is a type of aggressive driving behavior. According to estimates by the AAA Foundation's Annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, millions of drivers engaged in angry and aggressive behaviors in the 30 days before the survey.

Click the button to see examples of aggressive driving behaviors.

  • switching lanes quickly/or very close behind another car;
  • making rude gestures or honking at other drivers;
  • driving 15 mph or more over the speed limit on a freeway;
  • driving through a red light;
  • passing in front of a vehicle at less than a car length;
  • speeding up when another vehicle tries to overtake you;
  • following a vehicle closely to prevent other vehicles from merging; and
  • merging into traffic even when another driver tries to close the gap between vehicles.

Click the button to see the various factors that have contributed to an overall rise in aggressive driving.

  • Traffic congestion. Traffic congestion contributes to aggressive driving, including speeding, changing lanes frequently, or becoming angry at anyone they believe impedes their progress.
  • Running Late. Some people aggressively drive because they have too much to do and are "running late" for work, school, next meeting, or other appointments.
  • Anonymity. A motor vehicle insulates the driver from the world. The driver becomes an observer of their surroundings rather than a participant. This can lead to some people feeling less constrained in their behavior.
  • Disregard for Others and For the Law. Speeding and changing lanes abruptly might occur in response to specific situations. There is more rude and outrageous behavior on the road than in the past because more drivers drive more miles on the same roads than ever before.

3. After drunk driving, what causes more vehicle-related fatalities?

a. Speeding
b. Road rage
c. Reckless driving
d. Distracted driving

Reckless and Careless Driving

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving kills.

Reckless driving is the third leading cause in the "Fatal Four" of driving fatalities. A person who drives a motor vehicle with "wanton disregard." The driver is aware of and consciously disregarding the risk that their driving may harm another's property.

Click the button to see examples of reckless driving

  • Driving a car with faulty or poorly-adjusted brakes
  • Driving next to another vehicle while on a one-lane road
  • Failing to yield
  • Racing another vehicle
  • Driving too fast for the conditions of the highway
  • Driving a vehicle that is overloaded to the point of view obstruction
  • Failing to signal
  • Spinning out your wheels
  • Endangering people or property in areas open to the public
  • Illegally passing in any of the following ways:
    • on a hill or slope;
    • two vehicles at once;
    • at an intersection;
    • a school bus while stopped;
    • while approaching or in a curve;
    • at a railroad crossing; and
    • while pedestrians are around.

Careless Driving

Careless driving rarely includes deliberate disregard or extreme indifference to the rights of others. However, driving that endangers or is likely to endanger property or any person, including the driver or passengers of the vehicle, is guilty of careless driving. The definition varies from state to state. In some states, reckless driving is also called careless driving or dangerous driving.

Click on button to see examples of careless driving.

  • tailgating - following too closely
  • braking too quickly without warning
  • passing a vehicle on the right
  • accidentally driving through a red light
  • taking your focus off the road
  • eating, drinking, or smoking while driving
  • slowing down to watch an accident

Examples that may include actions that are inconsiderate of other vehicle operators on the road:

  • driving too slowly for conditions
  • unnecessarily remaining in a passing lane
  • flashing bright lights repeatedly
  • changing lanes repeatedly
  • moving into an unsuitable gap

4. Reckless driving occurs when a driver operates a vehicle _____.

a. with a non-caring attitude about others
b. in a manner that endangers persons or property
c. with deliberate, wanton disregard for others
d. with little concern for the consequences

Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving - Sentry

Distracted driving is number four in the "Fatal Four" that causes about 25% of all driving fatalities. It’s six times more likely to lead to a car accident than driving drunk. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving. It includes talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, or anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.

Driving distractions fall into one of three categories:

  1. Manual: Anything that involves taking your hands off the wheel.
  2. Visual: Actions that take your eyes off the road.
  3. Cognitive: Activities that take your mind off driving.

Texting is considered the most dangerous form of distraction because it involves all three distraction categories. Consequently, most states have declared texting to be illegal when operating a moving vehicle.

According to the NHTSA, 660,000 drivers use electronic devices while driving. Distracted driving claimed 2,841 of those lives in 2018.

You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.

Safe driving is only accomplished when the driver is sober and focused.

Click on the button to see a list of examples of distracted driving behaviors that increase the likelihood that you'll have an accident.

Common distractions include:

  • being cognitively distracted or "lost in thought;"
  • using the cell phone (talking, watching, listening, texting);
  • rubbernecking or staring at something of interest such as a person, object, or event;
  • talking and looking at other vehicle occupants;
  • reaching for devices, coffee, food, or cell phones;
  • eating or drinking;
  • adjusting vehicle devices/controls such as rearview mirrors, radios, climate controls, or seats;
  • disruptive objects such as pets or insects in the vehicle; and
  • smoking, lighting up, putting ashes in the ashtray, etc.

You can see the distracted driving laws in your state by visiting the Governor's Highway Safety Association's Distracted Driving website.

5. Why is using the cellphone, especially texting, considered the most dangerous type of distraction while driving?

a. It takes the driver's hands off the wheel
b. It takes the driver's mind off driving
c. It takes the driver's eyes off the road
d. It takes the hands, mind, and eyes off driving

Drowsy Driving

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Time to pull over!

Research shows that nearly 83.6 million sleep-deprived people are in the workplace, at school, or driving on the road. Drowsy-driving crashes:

  1. occur most frequently between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the late afternoon;
  2. often involve only a single driver with no passengers running off the road with no evidence of braking;
  3. frequently occur on rural roads and highways.

Why Drowsy Driving is Dangerous

A drowsy driver is an unsafe driver because performance is negatively impacted. Drowsy driving symptoms are similar to those experienced while driving while under the influence of alcohol. In fact, driving for 20 hours without sleep makes you as dangerous as someone driving with a .08% Blood Alcohol Concentration. The effects of drowsy driving include:.

  • slows reaction time,
  • impairs judgment and situational awareness,
  • increases lapses in attention and risk-taking,
  • increases the potential to microsleep – dozing off for a few seconds while driving

Warning Signs

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, certain warning signs indicate you may be sleep-deprived. Click the button to see the warning signs to watch for if you're concerned about drowsy driving.

Warning signs include:

  • frequent yawning or blinking;
  • feelings of "nodding off;"
  • difficulty keeping your head upright;
  • trouble remembering the last few miles you've driven;
  • missing an exit or road sign;
  • following other cars too closely; or
  • drifting into the other lane or hitting rumble strips.

For more information on drowsy driving, see the National Road Safety Association's website.

6. Drowsy driving symptoms are similar to _____.

a. careless driving
b. drunk driving
c. aggressive driving
d. reckless driving

Drug-Impaired Driving

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Drug use - NIH (Click to enlarge.)

You can't drive safely if you're impaired. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, In the U.S., over 40% of the drivers involved in fatal car crashes tested positive for drugs.

It's illegal everywhere in America to drive under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, opioids, methamphetamines, or potentially impairing over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Driving while impaired by any substance—legal or illegal—puts you and others in harm's way.

Many substances can impair driving, including some over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs. Click the button to see the effects of various drugs on drug-impaired driving.

  • Marijuana is, by far, the most common drug used while driving. Like alcohol, it impairs the driver's ability because it slows coordination, judgment, and reaction times. Increased legalization has made this drug much more available and accessible.
  • Methamphetamine is the second most common drug of choice among drivers. It can make drivers more aggressive and reckless.
  • Cocaine is the third most common drug used while driving. It can also make drivers more aggressive and reckless.
  • Stimulants. Both amphetamines and cocaine are stimulants. They change perceptions and reaction time and can cause hallucinations. Drivers may use them to keep working long hours or to complete long-haul assignments.
  • Sedatives. Sedatives are a category of drugs that slow brain activity. They are also known as tranquilizers or depressants. Sedatives have a calming effect and can also induce sleep. Sedatives include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and "Z-drug" sleep medications.
  • Simultaneous use. Using two or more drugs together, including alcohol, can amplify each drug's impairing effects.

Click on the button to see information about the effects of drugs on driving.

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Effects of Drugs - NIH (Click to enlarge.)
  • Some prescription drugs can induce drowsiness, cause nausea, affect judgment, and lessen coordination, all of which can prove fatal when driving.
  • Over-the-counter drugs may cause drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, irregular heartbeat, or shakiness. Users should avoid operating motor vehicles if they are experiencing any side effects from the medication.
  • Prescription drugs such as opioids, sedatives, muscle relaxants, and some antidepressants have increased crash risk.
  • A medication may not impair you on its own. However, if taken with a second medication or with alcohol, it may cause impairment.

Violating state DUI laws that make it illegal to drive impaired by any substance can result in arrest. This includes prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

Impaired drivers can't accurately assess their own impairment – which is why no one should drive after using any impairing substances. Remember: If you feel different, you drive differently.

To learn more about the perils of impaired driving, visit NHTSA's Drug-Impaired Driving website.

7. Which drug is, by far, the most commonly used by drivers today?

a. Methamphetamines
b. Sedatives
c. Cocaine
d. Marijuana

Seat Belts

Wear seatbelts in the back seat too!

For drivers and passengers, seat belt use is one of the most effective ways to save lives and reduce crash injuries. Yet millions do not buckle up on every trip.


Road crashes are the leading cause of death in the country, resulting in more than 38,000 people losing their lives each year. More than half of the fatalities on our nation's highways were not buckled up at the time of the crash. As the video emphasizes, many drivers and passengers are injured or killed in a crash when struck by others sitting behind who are not wearing seat belts.


More than 2.2 million drivers and passengers were treated in emergency departments due to being injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2018. Young adult drivers and passengers (18-24) have the highest crash-related non-fatal injury rates of all adults.

The Consequences

The consequences of failing to properly wear seat belts can not only be tragic for the victims; they can be horrific for those who witness the consequences. Click on the button to see list of consequences and a video showing what can happen instantly to those now wearing seat belts. (Caution: The video is graphic)

What happens when you don't take 3 seconds to put on a seat belt. (Click "YouTube" to enlarge.)

The consequences of not wearing, or improperly wearing, a seat belt are clear:

  1. Not buckling up can result in occupants being totally ejected from the vehicle in a crash, which is almost always deadly. Occupants ejected in non-rollover crashes are nearly twice as likely to die. Those who are ejected in rollover crashes are four times more likely to die (NHTSA, 2010).
  2. Airbags are not enough to protect occupants; in fact, the force of an airbag can seriously injure or even kill if occupants are not buckled up.
  3. Improperly wearing a seat belt, such as putting the strap below the arm, puts occupants at risk of increased injury in a crash.

For more information about the use of seat belts in your state, see the CDC's Buckle Up: Restraint Use State Fact Sheets.

8. Which of the following is TRUE regarding fatalities on our nation's highways?

a. All fatalities are due to failure to use seat belts
b. Over half of the fatalities were not wearing seat belts
c. More fatalities occur in the back seat
d. Most fatalities occur in head-on accidents

Next Section

Hazardous Road Conditions

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Slow down and live.

Driving your vehicle in hazardous conditions, such as snow, heavy rain, or thick fog, is a matter of preparation, practice, and caution. And just because it is not a blizzard does not mean conditions are not hazardous.

  • With the oils and exhaust that accumulate on highways, only a small amount of precipitation can cause the roadway to become slick, especially if it has not rained in a long time.
  • A fog bank or dust storm can suddenly reduce your visibility to zero.
  • Other hazardous conditions drivers may encounter, such as strong winds that down tree limbs or power lines, require extra caution from motorists.

Click the button to see more examples of other hazardous road conditions you may encounter.

Other types of hazardous road conditions include:

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Slow down in work zones.
  • Fixed objects on the road: Examples include utility poles, fallen trees, uncovered water drains, etc.
  • Isolated spots of ice: These slick, frozen surfaces can make you spin or slide. Puddles of water can freeze to create this hazard.
  • Dangerous intersections: Intersections on narrow roads or around sharp turns prevent you from seeing oncoming vehicles.
  • Oil on the road: This can get slippery and dangerous.
  • Poor guidelines: Over time, painted lines become worn and hard to see.
  • Shoulder Drop-Off: If the space to the right of the road past the solid white line drops more than two inches from the road's surface, it can cause an accident:
  • "Slippery When Wet" roads: These roads are proven to be slick and unsafe when they are wet.
  • Wheel Ruts: Grooves where studded snow tires often go dig into the road and make it uneven and unsafe.
  • Work Zones: There can be confusing directional signs and unpredictable changes in work zones. Go Slow!
  • Potholes: Roads where asphalt has been removed, create holes that can damage tires, make cars swerve, and cause collisions.
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Dangerous situation

Winter Driving Hazards

Driving safely in winter weather can be a challenge for even the most experienced driver. It’s easy to forget after months of mild conditions that snow and ice demand careful driving and special preparation for your vehicle. Many vehicle crashes occur during winter conditions, especially while driving on black ice at night, on bridges, and shady areas. Many multiple-vehicle accidents occur as vehicles approach accident scenes (especially dangerous on highways), lack of visibility, and loss of control.

Click on the button to see a list of dangerous winter driving situations you may encounter.

Dangerous situations you may encounter during winter driving include:

  • putting traction devices on tires;
  • removing snow from vehicle windows and rooftops;
  • extreme weather conditions - extreme temperatures, white-outs, and heavy snowfall;
  • sudden decreased control of the vehicle affecting steering and stopping;
  • rf123 photo
    Danger ahead!
  • driving up to a sharp curve and you cannot see oncoming vehicles;
  • driving in active hazardous work zones;
  • you're stranded in a vehicle out in an isolated location;
  • a vehicle is buried by snow and unseen by others;
  • driving on snow-covered roads with unseen ice below;
  • digging out when the vehicle is stuck in snow; and
  • passing pedestrians walking on the side of the road.

9. When is black ice is more likely to be present?

a. When driving after a snow storms
b. When driving on bridges and in shaded areas
c. When driving through standing water
d. When traveling at high rates of speeds

Check your Work

Click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and recheck your answers.



Take a look at this great video by Smart Test Drive on ten defensive driving tips.

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