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The key to being a safe and responsible driver is to be aware of your surroundings at all times and to be alert for potentially dangerous situations.
Know how to adjust your driving to allow for problems with your vehicle, the type of road surface, poor weather, heavy traffic, poor lighting, and your own physical, mental, and emotional condition.
You must be able to see what is to the front, sides, and rear of your vehicle. Do not load or equip your vehicle in any way that blocks what you can see. Placing stickers or other objects on your vehicle’s windows can limit your view of the road.
You will constantly make decisions every mile that you drive. A defensive driver is always aware of their surroundings and possible escape routes.
Safety belt use is mandatory in Oregon for all drivers and passengers in all available seating positions. A properly worn safety belt reduces the chance of injury in a crash. Do not leave slack in the lap or shoulder portion of the belt. Never put the shoulder strap under your arm or behind your back.
Child passengers must be restrained in approved child safety seats until they are 8 years of age or at least 4 feet-9 inches in height. Infants must ride rear-facing until they reach two-years of age.
Crashes often occur when one driver does not see another vehicle or a driver does something unexpected. You can let other drivers know what you plan to do or where you are by:
- Signaling before changing direction or lanes.
- Using your brake lights to indicate you are slowing or stopping.
- Turning on your headlights.
- Using your horn as a reasonable warning.
- Using your hazard lights when needed.
There are three things you can do to avoid or minimize the impact of a crash—stopping quickly, turning quickly, and speeding up.
If you have enough distance to stop, apply the brakes. Be sure to read your vehicle owner’s manual on how to properly use your brakes.
In most cases, you can turn the vehicle more quickly than you can stop it. Scanning the area ahead will help you identify potential escape routes. If you will not stop in time to avoid a crash, turn away from it.
Sometimes it is best to speed up to avoid a crash. This may happen when another vehicle is about to hit you from the side or from behind and there is room ahead of you to get out of danger.
Driving Off the Road
If you should drive off the road, you need to know how to safely get back on it. The wrong reaction could result in a crash.
- Don’t panic or brake hard. Slow down until you can get back on the road safely.
- Grip the steering wheel firmly and keep your vehicle on a straight course.
- Turn the front wheels just enough to get you back on the road. Do not turn sharply or you might go across the road into oncoming traffic.
If an oncoming vehicle is drifting into your lane, pull to the right as far as possible, slow down, and warn the other driver with your horn or lights. Never pull into the opposing lane, the oncoming driver may turn back sharply into that lane. In most cases, steering to the shoulder or ditch is safer than risking a head-on crash.
Animals can be unpredictable. Watch for signs warning of animal crossings and be prepared to brake or slow down as you pass an animal.
If you hit and injure a domestic animal, stop and make a reasonable effort to check injuries. What you can do may depend on traffic hazards or the animal’s behavior. Immediately report the injury to the animal’s owner. If you are unable to locate the owner you must report the incident to local law enforcement.
Stop your vehicle if a person riding on horseback or leading an animal raises a hand or it is obvious the animal is frightened, unless stopping would cause a crash. A raised hand means the animal is frightened. Do not use your horn or make other loud, sudden noises near the animal.
Driving becomes hazardous when visibility is reduced or when the road surface is wet or covered with snow or ice. Hazardous conditions require slower speeds and increased following distances.
Using headlights will help other drivers see you at all times of the day. Headlights must be turned on from sunset to sunrise. Lights also must be on at any time conditions make it difficult to see people or vehicles 1,000 feet ahead.
If using your high beams, you must dim your lights when an oncoming vehicle is within 500 feet. Dim your lights when following another vehicle within 350 feet. Headlight glare in a rearview mirror can blind another driver. When you are required to dim your headlights, other auxiliary lights such as fog lights, must be off. These extra lights make it difficult for oncoming drivers to see.
It is illegal to drive a vehicle at night or in bad weather with only the parking lights on. A vehicle stopped or parked on a road or shoulder must have parking lights on in limited visibility conditions.
At night, your response to hazards is slower because you cannot see what is beyond your headlights. You can reduce the danger if you adjust your driving habits accordingly. Following are suggestions for safe driving at night:
- Look slightly to the right of oncoming lights and watch the road edge or fog line. This will help guard against headlight glare.
- Check your headlights, taillights, and turn signal lights often to make sure they are working and lenses are clean.
- Be careful when passing at dawn or dusk. If an oncoming vehicle does not have its headlights on, you may not see it until it is too late.
- Be alert for bicycles and pedestrians as they are harder to see especially if wearing dark clothing.
Fog, Dust and Smoke
If you drive into fog, dust, smoke, or any area of low visibility, use headlights on low beam. Light from high beams will reflect back, causing glare and making it more difficult to see ahead.
As visibility decreases, slow down. Be alert for slow or stopped vehicles and other obstacles. Be prepared to pull over and stop. If you choose to pull off the road, pull as far as you can to the right and turn on your hazard lights.
Rain impairs your ability to see ahead and increases the braking distance needed to stop your vehicle. When roads are wet, apply the brakes sooner and more gently than usual. Even summer showers can cause slippery roads when rain mixes with oil and dirt.
Increase your visibility to other motorists by turning on your headlights when your windshield wipers are on. Do not use cruise control in wet conditions. Keep windows clear of moisture.
Vehicle tires sometimes hydroplane (skim or float) over a wet road surface. The ability to steer and stop can be reduced or lost. Slow down when roads are wet.
If you drive through water and the brakes get wet, gently apply the brakes while driving slowly until they begin to respond. It is best to do this as soon as you can after driving through water.
Do not drive through flooded areas. High water may cause loss of control or engine stalling.
Snow and Ice
Snow and ice also impair your ability to see ahead and increase the braking distance needed to stop your vehicle. Drive at slower speeds and leave more room between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. Keep windows clear of snow, ice and fog, and do not use cruise control.
Pay attention to weather forecasts and warnings. When police or highway officials say driving is very hazardous, stay off the road. If you must drive on snow and ice, follow these tips:
- Gently press on the gas pedal. Too much power may cause the tires to spin or the vehicle to slide.
- Gently press and release the brakes. If you slam on the brakes, your vehicle will likely skid.
- Get the “feel” of the road away from traffic when you start driving. Try your brakes lightly so you will know what to expect.
- Make turns at a reduced, steady speed to avoid a skid.
- Watch for danger spots ahead. A bridge or shaded area freezes first and may be icy when the rest of the road is free of ice.
- When you go uphill on a snow or ice-covered road, apply just enough power to maintain motion without causing the wheels to spin.
- Be aware that the road is likely to be the most slippery when the temperature is near the freezing point rather than below freezing.
Skids occur when the tires can no longer grip the road. Driving too fast for conditions causes skids. If your vehicle begins to skid:
- Stay off the brakes. Until the vehicle slows, your brakes will not be effective.
- Steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go. As soon as the vehicle begins to straighten out, turn the steering wheel back the other way. If you do not do this, your vehicle may swing around in the other direction and you could start a new skid.
- Continue to correct your steering, left and right, until the vehicle is again moving down the road under your control.
Chains and Traction Tires
You may see signs that require you to carry or use chains or traction tires.
“Chains” include link chains, cable chains or any other device that attaches to the wheel, vehicle, or outside of the tire, specifically designed to increase traction on snow and ice.
“Traction tires” are studded tires, retractable studded tires or other tires that meet the tire industry definition as suitable for use in severe snow conditions. Tires designated by the tire industry display a mountain/snowflake emblem on the tire sidewall like the illustration to the right.
Studded tires are generally allowed in Oregon only from November 1 through March 31. Because of the damage caused by studded tires, drivers are encouraged to use alternates such as chains or other traction tires.
Information on chain and traction tire requirements is available from the ODOT website at
Driving requires your full attention. There are many distractions that may prevent you from focusing on driving. Your mental and emotional state, as well as your physical health, affects the way you drive. Your overall health, fatigue, and even emotions, such as anger or worry, are a few of the conditions that can make you an unsafe driver. If you find yourself just going through the motions of driving, without really being aware of what you are doing or what is happening around you, it is time to stop for a rest or maybe quit for the day.
Being alert is an essential part of safe driving. Pay close attention to your surroundings, be aware and always on the lookout for other users of the road. Avoid the following distractions:
- It is illegal for drivers under 18 years of age to use a cell phone or other mobile electronic device while operating a vehicle. Turn it off or put it in the back seat and ignore it.
- Drivers 18 years of age or older must use a hands-free accessory to use a cell phone or other mobile electronic device. The hands-free accessory must only require minimal use of a finger to activate or deactivate the device. Consider assigning your passenger to be in charge of the device.
- It is illegal to have a TV, tablet or other video display visible to the driver.
- It is illegal to play a radio or other sound system so loud it can be heard 50 feet away from your vehicle. It is important to be able to hear horns, screeching tires and sirens.
- It is dangerous to do any activity that takes your eyes off the road while driving such as removing clothing, applying makeup, reading, eating or drinking.
- Do not hold a person, pet, or package in your lap or arms.
- Do not take your eyes off the road to turn around to deal with the needs of passengers, children or pets. If you must give attention to passengers or animals, pull over to the side of the road and park your vehicle.
Angry or aggressive behavior by other drivers is often called “road rage.” These behaviors may include driving in an illegal, unsafe
or threatening manner, shouting and rude gestures. If you see an aggressive driver, stay out of the way. Do not challenge them by increasing your speed or trying to outmaneuver them.
Fatigue and Drowsy Driving
Constant yawning, head nodding, heavy eyelids, blurred vision and weaving while driving are some of the warning signs that you may be falling asleep at the wheel. When tired or sleepy, you are slower to react, likely to make poor decisions, and less aware of changing road and traffic conditions. Be sure you are alert and well rested before and during travel.
Suggestions that may help you stay awake:
- Never try to push through to your destination. Find a safe place to stop and rest.
- Talk with your passenger to stay alert.
- Take turns driving to allow each driver to rest.
- Beware of medications that can make you drowsy.
Health and Hearing
Physical health can impact your ability to drive safely. If you are sick or recovering from an illness, consider if you really feel up to
driving, especially on a long trip. Some medical conditions may cause serious problems that impact safe driving, such as loss of muscle control, decreased reaction time, confusion, or an unpredictable loss of consciousness. Talk to your doctor about the effect your condition may have on driving.
Hearing plays an important role when driving. A change in the sound coming from your tires warns you of road surface changes. A difference in the sound of your engine may warn you of a problem. Sound also can tell you when another vehicle may be in your blind spot or of an approaching emergency vehicle. Avoid the use of headphones that may reduce your hearing.
Never get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol or using other impairing drugs. Leave the driving to someone else.
Alcohol is the most common intoxicant involved when drivers are impaired. Marijuana is an increasing cause for impairment. “Intoxicants” include a wide range of inhalants and drugs, both legal and illegal. You may be arrested for driving under the influence of these drugs and inhalants, the same as for alcohol or marijuana.
Both prescription and over-the-counter medications may impair your driving ability. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects and how they could impact your ability to drive safely.
Oregon’s Implied Consent law means that by driving a motor vehicle you have agreed that you will take a breath, blood, or urine test when asked by a police officer if you are arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII).
- If you are under 21, you will fail the test if you have a blood alcohol content reading of any amount. Oregon has a zero tolerance law.
- If you are 21 or over, you will fail the test if your blood alcohol content reading is 0.08 percent or more.
Under Oregon’s Open Container law it is illegal to drink alcohol or have an open bottle or other container with alcohol in it while you are in a vehicle on any road. Any open bottles or containers should be in the trunk.
Anyone, regardless of age, should not ride in a pickup bed or on any external part of the vehicle. Oregon law prohibits anyone under 18 years of age from riding on the hood, fender, running board, or other external part of a vehicle, including a pickup bed.
You cannot carry a dog on an external part of a vehicle, including a pickup bed, unless the dog is protected by a framework, carrier, or other device to keep it from falling from the vehicle. Do not hold an animal in your lap or arms when driving.
Most equipment failures can be avoided with good maintenance. An unmaintained vehicle can become unsafe to drive. Check your vehicle owner’s manual for maintenance information.
There may be times when equipment fails, resulting in a driving emergency that calls for you to take fast action.
If a front tire blows, steering will be difficult and there may be a strong pull to the side. A rear blowout causes the back of the vehicle to weave or sway. If you have a blowout:
- Grip the steering wheel firmly.
- Slow down gradually.
- Pull off the road.
If your brakes stop working:
- Pump the brakes. This may build up enough pressure to get them working again.
- Shift to a lower gear so the engine can help slow you down.
- Slowly apply the parking brake.
- Use your horn or lights to warn others that you are out of control.
- Once you have slowed, ease onto the shoulder.
Headlights Go Out
If your headlights stop working:
- Turn the headlight switch off and on.
- Try other lights such as high beams, driving lights or hazard lights.This may give you enough light to guide you off the road.
- Slow down and ease onto the shoulder.
Power Steering Fails
If your power steering stops working:
- Grip the steering wheel firmly. Steering will be difficult.
- Slow down and ease onto the shoulder.
If your accelerator sticks:
- Search for an escape path.
- Shift the vehicle to neutral. Use an open palm to avoid shifting into another gear.
- Steer smoothly while braking.
- Pull off the road when it is safe to do so.
Drivers can improve gas mileage or save fuel by using these techniques:
- Drive steadily and avoid exceeding posted speed limits.
- Avoid rapid starts and sudden stops.
- Avoid unnecessary idling.
- Combine errands into a single trip.
- Properly maintain your vehicle.
For more helpful tips go to:
It is illegal to have fog lights on when you are:
- required to dim your headlights.
- using them to see through fog.
- using your high beam headlights.
A driver has three tools to use to avoid a crash.
- Slow down, check your mirrors, stop.
- Stop quickly, turn quickly, speed up.
- Speed up, honk your horn, change lanes.
Oregon’s Open Container law:
- does not apply to anyone over the age of 21.
- requires any open bottles or containers to be in the trunk.
- allows only passengers to have open containers.
You are driving and receive a text on your cell phone. What do you do?
- Read and respond to the text.
- Ignore the text until you stop in a safe parking area.
- Slow down and read and respond while keeping one eye on the road.