By Sean Miller

Portland has rolled out its Vision Zero Action Plan in order to engineer reduced speeds into city roads. The plan hopes to accomplish this through lower posted speed limits, better road design, and increased automated enforcement. City officials are optimistic that Vision Zero may reduce crashes by up to 30 percent.

A key part of the plan is the message, communicated to drivers in strategic locations, that Twenty Is Plenty. In a recent study, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that, in a crash involving a vehicle and a pedestrian, the risk of severe injury or death goes down significantly when the vehicle involved is going less than 20 miles per hour.

The study found that 20 mph turns out to be a tipping point. At that speed, the risk for a pedestrial of severe injury or death is 7%. At 25 mph, it rises to 12%. Thereafter, the curve measuring fatality rates rises steeply, with the risk of death to a pedestrian hit by a vehicle traveling 55 mph reaching 86%.

In usual driving conditions, a posted speed limit may feel slow. Many drivers don’t fully appreciate that posted speed limits are there to reduce the risk of crashes in unusual driving conditions.

If suddenly confronted by a road hazard, by respecting the posted limit speed, a driver has time to respond – to slow down and avoid the hazard. The systems most modern vehicles have to protect the occupants, such as crumple zones and alert sensors, work best when drivers observe posted speed limits.

There is only so much that smart road design and driver-assist technologies can do to prevent crashes. Ultimately, the responsibility to avoid crashes rests squarely in the hands of drivers.

Here are things you, as a driver, can do to reduce the risk of a crash:

First and foremost, when driving, respect the fact that you’re controlling what is effectively a deadly weapon weighing several tons, hurtling at superhuman speeds.

Pay attention. The two biggest causes of crashes are driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) and distracted driving. Driving, like many events in life, is an opportunity to practice being fully present.

Stop Signs

On residential streets, many drivers resort to incomplete stops before proceeding, or they stop with the nose of the vehicle out into the intersection. Part of this can be chalked up to confusion over the meaning of a stop sign. Stop signs indicate that a driver must stop, but a stop sign doesn’t show a driver where to stop.

To determine where to stop, look for the white band on the pavement stretching out from the curb. If there’s no white band, the legal stop is a marked crosswalk or the nearest edge of the nearby sidewalk. If there’s no sidewalk, the legal stop is the curb or the edge of the road.

Yielding to Pedestrians

It is every driver’s legal obligation to yield to pedestrians intending to cross the road at an intersection. Most drivers don’t realize that, even if there’s no marked crosswalk or no crossing signal, there is an implied crosswalk at every intersection and the obligation still holds to yield to a pedestrian.

The Point of No Return

Sometimes, when the signal turns yellow, drivers aren’t sure what to do. They have to make a split-second decision whether to stop.

A helpful way to deal with this situation is to make the point of no return 2 seconds. If you have less than 2 seconds before you reach the intersection, you don’t have time to stop safely. Maintain speed and proceed cautiously. If you have more than 2 seconds, you have time to stop safely. It’s your legal obligation to do so.

Unprotected Left Turns

You may often see vehicles sitting out in the middle of an intersection waiting for the path to clear so they can make a left turn. This is a poor driving practice. You may even get a citation for it.

Vehicles must not block intersections, even temporarily. Wait behind the legal stop before making an unprotected left turn. If unprotected left turns are difficult to complete at a particular intersection because traffic is heavy, take a different route.

Find an intersection where you can make a protected left turn from a designated left turn lane where there’s a signal light with a green left turn arrow.

Backing Out of Driveways

Backing out of a driveway can be a risky maneuver, especially in residential neighborhoods where small children run around. A rearview camera is a great tool to see obstacles in the large blind spot behind a vehicle, but, when in motion, look where you’re going.

Use the rearview camera to scan for obstacles, then turn your head over your right shoulder and keep your eyes on where you plan to go. You notice more with your own eyes than you do looking at the same scene through a screen.

If you embrace these safe driving habits, you’ll not only feel less stress when driving, you’ll reduce the risk of hurting yourself, your passengers, and your fellow citizens.

Sean Miller is Chief Technology Officer at Drivers by Design. He teaches teen driver ed at Portland Community College.

sean@driversbydesign.com