Allstate Seniors’ Guide: The New Rules of Safe Driving

  • By Sean

Remember the basics from driver’s education? Keep your hands at 10 and 2 o’clock, pump your brakes to keep your wheels from locking in a panic stop and turn in the direction of a skid to regain control. It turns out that those rules aren’t always the best way to avoid an accident anymore. New automotive safety technology is keeping everyone on the road safer, but it can only do its job if you know how to use it properly.

New Tech and New Skills

The cars that a lot of baby boomers and older drivers learned to drive in had basic braking systems, no airbags and few computerized parts. New cars today have all that technology and then some. Whenever you get behind the wheel of a new or unfamiliar car, pay attention to what safety technology it has so you can make sure to drive in a way that allows those high-tech systems to do their jobs.

Anti-lock brakes: Anti-lock brakes are not new, but many people who learned to drive before they were common don’t know the proper way to use them. Anti-lock brakes do the pumping automatically. If your car has anti-lock brakes and you pump the brake pedal during a panic stop, all you’re doing is applying braking power intermittently. Instead, apply firm, consistent pressure to the brake pedal during panic stops, and don’t be surprised if you feel a pulsing or shimmying sensation coming from the pedal. Being familiar with how anti-lock brakes feel can make you less likely to panic and let up on the brakes in an accident.

Airbags: Airbags have been credited with saving thousands of lives and preventing millions of injuries. As a system that activates after a crash, you may think that airbags don’t have any impact on the way you should drive. That’s incorrect. While you may have been taught that the best place for your hands on the steering wheel are at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, hands that are at 10 and 2 may actually interfere with airbag deployment.

Airbags explode out of the steering wheel, and hands in the 10 and 2 position can get caught in the airbag deployment. That can result in mild burns to your hands, but the bigger risk is that your hands and arms will fly back toward your chest and get between your torso and the airbag. That can cause extensive injuries not only to your arms but also your chest. Stay safe by lowering your hands on the steering wheel. The 9 and 3 o’clock positions are best for maintaining control of the car and also staying safe with airbags.

Electronic Stability Control: Older driver’s education classes focused a lot on how to recover from a skid, in part because older cars didn’t have the ability to avoid skids and traction losses on their own. Today’s cars are much better at keeping the driver in control. Electronic stability control, which is required on all 2012 and newer cars, uses a sensor under the car to tell when a loss of traction is imminent. The sensor tracks the car’s movement and the driver’s steering, braking and accelerating inputs to determine where the driver intends the car to go. Then, the system brakes or gives power to individual car wheels to keep the car on its intended path.

The car needs you to continue to drive so it can read conditions and determine where you’re trying to go. Just keep your movements controlled.

If you want to keep up with the latest driving skills, organizations like AARP and even some car insurance companies offer refresher courses. Devoting a few hours to learning the newest driving techniques can pay off down the road by keeping you accident-free.

For helpful hints about vehicle maintenance, check out the Tools and Resources section on