As the New Year gets underway, millions of people are trying to keep those resolutions they made over the holidays. Some of the most common resolutions are health related (e.g., get in shape, quit smoking, lose weight, eat healthy). However, let me propose an alternative resolution if you haven’t picked one yet: What about learning better driving habits (especially if police recently stopped you for a Los Angeles DUI)? Becoming a safer driver could be the healthiest choice of all—because it affects not just you, but everyone around you. Here in California where good driving habits seem scarce, why not become the exception to the rule? Let’s take a look at three smart driving habits you should consider adopting this year.
1. Know When Not to Drive
Ironically, one of the most important decisions you can make as a driver is the decision to let someone else get behind the wheel. If you’ve ever been arrested for DUI, this issue should be top-of-mind. However, avoiding DUI begins long before you find yourself in a bad situation. It starts with a quality decision not to drive if you indulge in alcohol or drugs, and moves forward from there.
Knowing when not to drive means more than just hiring a designated driver during a night on the town. It’s about taking responsibility at all times for your own condition and making sure you’re in the right shape to drive, whether or not you’ve been drinking. Here are a few examples of when you should choose to let someone else drive:
〈 If you are fatigued or sleep deprived. Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as DUI, and falling asleep at the wheel is even more dangerous. The NHTSA says drowsy driving accounts for at least 100,000 accidents per year, as reported by the National Sleep Foundation.
〈 If you are on prescription medications. Recreational drugs aren’t the only substances that can impair you—so can a whole array of prescription drugs. And you can be arrested for DUI if those drugs are affecting your performance. Read the labels, talk to your pharmacist, and don’t drive if you feel drowsy or otherwise impaired.
〈 If you are not yet fully sober. Many people initially avoid driving if they drink, only to find themselves arrested for DUI because they didn’t wait long enough for the alcohol to clear their blood stream. It takes roughly 6 hours to sober up from the legal BAC limit of 0.08, but depending on how much you drink, it can take much longer. Your liver can only process about one ounce of alcohol per hour—the estimated amount in one bottle of beer, one glass of wine or one shot of whisky—so if you consume 12 drinks, you should wait at least 12 hours before getting behind the wheel again. This calculator can give you a ballpark time frame—but remember, this is only an estimate!
2. Reduce or Remove Distractions (Especially Handheld Devices)
Here in Southern California, it’s easy to feel like we live in our cars. Many people turn their vehicles into makeshift offices or reading rooms, making calls, shuffling paperwork or even reading books to pass time while stuck in traffic. However, this is a bad habit and an unsafe practice because it literally fills the vehicle with distractions.
If you’ve fallen into this snare, try establishing a new habit for 2018. Before you start the car, pack up your laptop and paperwork. Put the briefcase in the trunk to avoid temptation. Make a point of placing all possible diversions out of reach of the driver’s seat.
Most importantly—stay off your phone and put away all handheld devices while in the driver’s seat. Texting and driving has been illegal in California for years, but as of January 2017, the laws have become even stricter: Now it’s against the law to use any smartphone or handheld device for any reason while driving unless it’s in hands-free mode—even GPS units. Even so, according to Insurance Journal, dozens of studies concur that hands-free mode is no safer than the alternative. Your brain is still distracted from the road when you talk on the phone, whether or not you’re holding it. Just don’t use it. Pull over if you need to talk.
DUI gets you arrested; using your phone can get you a ticket. However, distracted driving of any type can be just as dangerous as DUI. Remember, driving a vehicle should never be part of your multi-tasking. Driving is multi-tasking in itself.
3. Learn to Drive Defensively
One of the best practices to learn as a driver is the technique of defensive driving. In a nutshell, this approach to driving is all about anticipating and avoiding problems before they happen. You assume the other driver doesn’t see you or will make a mistake, so you give him a wide berth or keep a safe distance behind him. You assume something will jump out onto the road at night, so you drive more slowly along darkened roadways. You assume the tires will slip on wet roads, so you apply the brakes earlier and more gently to allow yourself more room to stop.
Defensive driving acknowledges you’re not the only one out there making mistakes. There are thousands of other drivers who might put your safety at risk, whether by DUI, fatigue, distraction or lack of experience. By training yourself to look ahead to potential problems, you’ll learn to avoid most of them before they occur, making you a more aware and safer driver overall. The DMV offers more information on approved defensive driving courses, both in person and online.
The new year is a great time to build new habits. Replace those bad driving habits with better ones, and you’ll be on the road toward a safer, happier life. As always, if you need assistance dealing with a Los Angeles DUI charge, we are here to help. Call our office to schedule a consultation about your defense options with a Harvard Law School educated former prosecutor.