By Jayne O’Donnell

Want your children to grow up to be skilled, safe drivers? Point them in the right direction by setting a good example. Whether your kids are tots or teens, the driving habits they see in you may someday become their own.

Teach “no tailgating.” Tailgating is one of the easiest—and most destructive—bad habits to fall into, especially in the stop-and-go, slow-go traffic that typifies both city and suburb. Try to develop a formula for determining a safe distance between yourself and the vehicle just ahead. One simple measure: Pick out a landmark, like a billboard or an overpass, on the road ahead. Wait for the car ahead to pass it. You should be able to count off three seconds before you go by.

Watch yourself in lots. The folks who create lab-rat mazes have nothing on the designers of modern mall parking lots. The temptation to cut across lanes and dart in and out of the traffic pattern seems irresistible. But don’t. Drive slowly, stay patient, and be extra alert to the pedestrians and other drivers who surround you.

Yield at yield; stop at yellow. You probably learned both of these rules way back in Driver’s Ed. And you probably forget to observe them every so often. But the results could be disastrous, especially if you slide through a yellow light and get T-boned by a T. rex-sized sport-utility vehicle jumping the gun at the other light.

On the right path. If you’re driving below—or even just at—the speed limit, the right-hand lane is the best place for you. It seems more drivers than ever are busting speed limits and weaving in and out of traffic to get past those who aren’t. Driving the limit, while legal, can cause traffic jams, frayed tempers, and uncontrolled bouts of hyperactive lane-changing by the speeders behind you. Leave the left lane (and the troopers) to them.

Forward, drive! Unless you absolutely have to (backing out of a parking space, for example), don’t drive in reverse. It’s too easy to lose control of your car and have it spin out if you go too far or too fast backwards. If you miss a turn, keep going forward, turn, and circle back when it’s safe.

Pay attention. Driver distraction, which includes everything from talking on a car phone to fiddling with the CD player, is a huge traffic safety issue. In fact, studies have shown a correlation between car phone chat-ups and accidents. Keep your mind and eyes on the road, and that means, with the exception of emergencies, staying off cell phones. If you need to make a call, or change that CD, wait until you find a safe place to pull over.

ClubMom’s AutoPro, Jayne O’Donnell, is a Washington, D.C.-based reporter (and new mom!) whose automotive expertise and investigative reporting skills have helped break some of the biggest auto-safety stories of the past several years.

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