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How to Prevent Car Accidents, Beat the Traffic, and Stay Safe On the Road This Fall

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Traffic delays jump by 20 percent in the fall, thanks to folks back from summer breaks. To the rescue: Pros share how to stay safe (and sane!) in the lanes  

Merge like a pro by going to the front

Nearly 300,000 accidents occur every year while cars are merging. It feels counterintuitive, but when two lanes are coming together, it’s safest to drive as close as possible to the merge, then alternate with other motorists like a zipper into the open lane, says Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic. “This way, drivers don’t cause a long line before the merge.” This strategy reduces the length of both lines by 50 percent.

The trickiest places to drive are actually parking lots. To reduce your risk of a fender bender there, reverse into your spot so you can exit forward, as backing out is the most common time an accident occurs.

Tame traffic tension by staying in this lane.

Think the lane next to you is zooming along like a hare while you’re creeping like a tortoise? It’s probably just an illusion, reveals Vanderbilt, who says our brains tend to exaggerate perceived differences in speed, tricking us into thinking we’re always going the slowest. But constantly changing lanes in search of the fastest one isn’t the answer: According to a recent study, over the course of an 80-minute drive, repeatedly switching lanes saved fewer than four minutes and drove up motorists’ stress levels significantly.

An easy way to stay “centered” behind the wheel? Stick to the center lane, which maintains the most consistent speed, a kind of calming “cruise control” for your anxiety levels.

Be a Waze wiz by checking hidden options.

Chances are you already use Waze, the number-one traffic app. Think the “fastest” route is always the fastest? Not necessarily, since the app defaults to the speediest choice based on the most current traffic information. If the first option has an “accident” icon or other roadblock, it will likely soon become congested as traffic builds up due to the obstruction. So if the second or third choice says it will get you there within a few minutes but without incidents, it’s likely the better option.

Consider using Waze’s “arrive at” function to make the most of your time. It may tell you, for example, to leave 10 minutes later to arrive at your destination faster.

Zip through the DMV.

Aim for the middle of the week and the middle of the month, when there are the least number of customers, suggests time management expert Janet Bernstein. The worst times to visit the DMV? Mondays and the day after a holiday when the office has been closed.

Get fast car-rental service.

The most efficient way in and out is not to wait in line at all. Most companies (like Hertz, National, and Enterprise) offer apps that allow you to input your information in advance so you just have to show up and grab your keys!

Save time on auto repairs.

Go early in the month for the speediest repairs, says Bernstein. “Service centers fill up toward the end of the month with people who waited to get their car inspected.” Schedule your maintenance for the beginning of the month at the first time slot available.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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