a hand jump starting a car

How to Use a Portable Jump Starter

Getting stranded in a dark parking lot or on the side of the road—a common trope in horror movies—can be terrifying. Roadside assistance and cell service aren’t always available. If you want to avoid being the star of a scary story, some basic preparation is necessary.

In addition to knowing how to change a tire and having emergency items in your vehicle, it’s a good idea to purchase and know how to use a portable jump starter (aka emergency battery booster or jump box). With a charged jump starter in your trunk, you’ll never have to worry about getting stranded with a dead battery.

Normally, when jump starting a vehicle, you would need to connect your dead battery to the working battery of a separate vehicle. But it can be frightening and risky to depend on the charity of a stranger to jump your car. First of all, not many people will stop; second of all, they may have ulterior motives.

With a portable jump starter kit, however, you can get your car running again without relying on a stranger’s help. To close out National Preparedness Month, let’s discuss how to use a portable jump starter.

Things to Look for in a Portable Jump Starter

In addition to jump starting a dead battery, portable battery jump starters also come with USB connections to charge all of your devices, important for emergencies and keeping the kids entertained. Some are even equipped with built-in air compressors to fill up tires that are low on air.

Here are some additional features to look out for:

  • Radios
  • Emergency Lights
  • 12-Volt Outlets/Receptacles
  • USB Chargers
  • Air Compressors
  • Inverters

Today’s jump starters function as compact charging stations for batteries, phones, laptops, and anything else that requires a charge. Keep in mind that this will drain the battery power. Remember to periodically charge your portable jump starter.

Is Your Battery Dead?

There are many signs of a weak battery—dim lights, electrical component issues, battery warning light—but if your engine won’t turn on at all, your battery is probably dead. This often happens when headlights or the ignition switch is left on while the car is not running.

The tell-tale sign that you have a dead battery is if the car makes a clicking noise when you turn the ignition, but it won’t start.

To make sure the battery is the culprit, inspect the headlights. If the headlights are dim or don’t turn on at all, the battery is probably dead. Bright headlights usually signify that something else is the problem.

If your radio, lights, windows, and other electrical components work perfectly, then the problem is usually with the starter, not the battery.

Still, dead batteries have some charge. If the dashboard lights don’t flicker or come on at all, your problem might be with the ignition switch.

It’s pretty easy to tell if you have a dead alternator versus a dead battery. Try jump starting the car and if the car dies again soon after, it’s probably the alternator.

Battery Chargers vs. Portable Jump Starters

It’s important to know the difference between battery chargers and portable jump starters. Vehicle battery chargers normally plug into a household outlet (110-120 volt AC) in order to recharge a battery. They normally take several hours to two days to get a full charge.

Although the alternator in your vehicle has the job of charging your battery, sometimes an additional battery charger is necessary. This can be important to have if you use your vehicle sporadically or only during certain times of the year. While pretty useless in the event of a roadside breakdown, they are able to charge up your battery when you get home, saving you money and inconvenience down the road.

Unlike a charger, portable jump starters (aka battery boosters, emergency boosters, battery jumpers, and jump boxes) can be used anywhere. They don’t need to be plugged into an outlet. They also don’t re-charge your battery, but rather provide the necessary amperage to crank the engine and start the vehicle. Once the engine is on, the alternator will charge the battery and power the electrical system.

We recommend having a portable jump starter so you can make it to your destination safely, but a plug-in type at home to fully recharge it. If you are only going to have one, get a portable unit; however, an at-home plug-in unit can be useful and cost effective.

How to Use a Portable Jump Starter

First, make sure your portable jump starter is fully charged.

Jump starters rely on a battery as their power source. As a result, they must be periodically recharged. Always recharge your portable jump starter/battery booster pack after each use and at least once every 6 months. These jump starter batteries will lose their charge more quickly if left in the car during hot and cold weather. We recommend charging your battery booster packs before going on a long trip.

Usually an indicator light on the jump starter tells you when a recharge is necessary. Simply insert the power adapter into an outlet and charge the battery until the light indicates a complete charge. Check the manufacturer instructions for specifics, including what the light indicator colors mean (usually red/orange for charging and green for completed charge).

What you need to use a portable jump starter:

  • Protective Clothing
  • Eye Protection
  • Owner’s Manual
  • Car Battery
  • Portable Jump Starter (aka Jump Box)
  • Jumper Cables (usually permanently connected to the jump starter)

WARNING: Jump starting a car can be very dangerous. If you are not 100% certain what you are doing, call roadside assistance or a towing service. And always read your owner’s manual first!

The steps for jump starting a car using a portable jump starter are very similar to using traditional jumper cables and a second car:

  1. Always read the owner’s manual! In the highly unlikely event that your vehicle has a positive ground (very rare), the jump starting instructions will be different. Also, some manufacturers do not allow jump-starts.
  2. Wear protective clothing and eye protection.
  3. Turn the car off and remove the keys from the ignition.
  4. Remove jewelry and never put your face near the battery.
  5. Make sure the vehicle is not near any flammable liquids or gases, including what may be on your hands.
  6. Keep the charger as far away from the battery as the lengths of the cables allow.
  7. Look up your battery charger’s voltage in the owner’s manual. Make sure it matches the jump starter’s output voltage. This is normally a 12-volt supply.
  8. Identify the positive (look for the “P,” “POS,” or “+” symbol) and negative terminals (look for the “N,” “NEG,” or “-“ symbol) on your car battery. Remove any excessive corrosion before attaching the cables.
  9. Identify the positive and negative clamps/clips on the portable jump starter. The positive charger clamp is red and the negative charger clamp is black.
  10. Make sure the jump starter is “off” before attempting to connect the jumper clamps to the vehicle’s battery.
  11. Do not allow positive and negative clamps to come into contact with each other.
  12. With both the car and jump starter turned off, connect the jumper cables to the appropriate terminals.
    • First connect the red clamp to the positive terminal on the battery.
    • Then, connect the black clamp to a clean, unpainted, and non-moving metal part. Choose an area on the car’s frame or engine block, far away from the battery, carburetor and fuel lines. Never use fuel lines, engine rocker covers, or the intake manifold as grounding points!
    • Make sure the clamps are solidly connected so they don’t get shaken loose.
  13. Once the jumper cables are firmly in place, you can turn on the portable jump starter.
  14. Now, you can try to turn the car on.
  15. Do not crank the engine for more than 5 seconds. If the car won’t turn on after the first attempt, wait around 2-3 minutes to try again. You may need a new battery if the car won’t start after 4 or 5 attempts.
  16. If you have to readjust the jumper clamps, turn the car and jump starter off first. Only then should you try to improve the connection.
  17. After the engine starts, turn the jump starter off.
  18. Then, remove the negative (black) clamp followed by the positive (red) clamp. Now, safely store the portable jump starter.
  19. You can remove those embarrassing protective glasses now.
  20. After the clamps have been removed, allow the vehicle to idle for several minutes before taking off. Now you can go home to safety.
  21. When you arrive back home, it’s important to recharge the jump starter as soon as you can. Most portable jump starters will plug directly into an AC outlet. Recharge the unit for at least 3 hours. Some units will require 12-24 hours for a complete charge.
  22. It’s also a good idea to have your vehicle battery checked by a local battery centers to see if a new battery is necessary and how long your battery can probably last.

Again, always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use.

How to charge a vehicle with a plug-in battery charger:

  1. Always read the owner’s manual and manufacturer instructions first!
  2. Turn the car off.
  3. Make sure the battery charger is off and unplugged.
  4. Connect the red clamp to the positive terminal.
  5. Connect the black clamp to a grounded metal, the car’s frame or engine block.
  6. Once both clamps are connected, plug in the charger to an outlet.
  7. Turn on the plug-in vehicle battery charger.
  8. The battery will start charging. Leave the charger on overnight.
  9. In the morning, turn off the charger.
  10. Turn on the car to see if it works.
  11. If the car still won’t turn on, you may need to replace the battery.

When charging your battery, make sure it isn’t at too high a rate. Always read the manufacturer instructions for proper use. If the battery is overheating, stop charging until it has had time to cool off. Overheating the battery can be dangerous and damaging.

Be extra careful and make sure the jumper cables are connected to the right areas! There is a risk of electrocution and battery explosions. Red = positive. Black = negative.

Related Resources:

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to speak with one of our car experts at Auto Simple:

Chattanooga, TN – (423) 551-3600

Cleveland, TN – (423) 472-2000

Dayton, TN – (423) 775-4600

Dalton, GA – (706) 217-2277

Follow us on social media for more useful information on buying, selling, and maintaining cars: FacebookTwitterYouTube, and Google+.

a salesman talking to a couple at a dealership

How to Buy, Title & Register a Vehicle in Tennessee

We’ve already written up guides for how to buy a used vehicle, how to buy a used vehicle with bad or no credit, and what to do after buying a car. But since there are a lot of specifics unique to each state, today we’re discussing what you need to know about buying, titling, and registering a vehicle in Tennessee.

How to Buy a Vehicle in Tennessee

If you are purchasing a vehicle in Tennessee, you will need to know some specific information for the proper transfer of ownership into your name.

Instructions for buying a vehicle in Tennessee differ depending on if you are purchasing from a dealership or a private seller.

While it can be more expensive to buy a car from a dealership, it is a much safer and easier process. It can also be cheaper to purchase from a dealership depending on the private seller and common private seller scams. Still, there are many steps to take before you sign the final papers. Read our Car Buyer’s Guide and do your homework first.

Purchasing from a Dealership

If you are purchasing a vehicle from a dealership, here is what you’ll need to successfully transfer ownership in one go:

  • Government issued photo ID, such as a valid driver’s license.
  • Proof of income, proof of residence, and proof of insurance. Contact the dealership before you go for specific requirements.
  • If a trade-in is in order, don’t forget your vehicle’s title (or payoff information), valid and current vehicle registration, and all keys/remotes. Learn more about selling or trading in your used vehicle to a dealership.

The dealership will provide you with:

  • A Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO), only if the vehicle hasn’t yet been titled in Tennessee. This won’t apply if you are purchasing a used vehicle.
  • Current title, only if the vehicle is used and has already been titled.
  • Invoice from the dealer that shows the total purchase price, which is used to determine sales tax.

Buying a used vehicle from a dealership is a lot easier and less time-consuming than purchasing from a private seller. When you deal with a dealership such as Auto Simple, we will handle all of the DMV-related paperwork including title transfers, registration, and any related fees.

After all questions are answered and the paperwork is signed, you will receive the keys and copies of all the documents. You simply drive away in your new certified pre-owned vehicle, with all the important documents in the glove box.

Purchasing from a Private Seller 

Before you think about purchasing a car from a private seller, make sure you are aware of all the risks.

You will need certain documents and assurances from the private seller before you can properly transfer ownership.

Here are the TN Department of Revenue (DOR) requirements for titling and registering your vehicle after purchase:

Never purchase a vehicle from a private seller if they don’t have a title. If they don’t have a title, they must apply for a new title by completing a Duplicate Title Application (Form RV-F1321801).

For more information on transferring title information, read the DMV Guide to Title Transfer in Tennessee.

How to Transfer a Title in Tennessee

Here are the steps for transferring a title from a private seller (via DMV.org):

If you are new to the state of Tennessee, you will need to title and register your car with the Vehicle Services Division (DVS) at your local county clerk’s office.

Make sure you bring:

  • Current out-of-state registration.
  • Out-of-state title certificate.
    • If you are making payments on your car, and have a lien hold, you must provide your lender’s name and address.
  • Emissions test certificate (if applicable).
  • Proof of identification and residency.
  • Payment for the title transfer fee (varies by county).

How to Register a Vehicle in Tennessee

Registering your vehicle is necessary whenever you purchase a vehicle or move to a new state, such as Tennessee. If you are purchasing from a dealership, they should be able to title and register your car for you.

Requirements for registering a new vehicle:

  • Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin.
  • Your new car’s invoice.
  • Copy of your current registration (if you are transferring license plates from your previous car).
  • Proof of identification.
  • Proof of residency.
  • Payment for your titling fees (vary by county).

Requirements for registering a used vehicle:

  • Title
  • Proof of identity and residency
  • Odometer Disclosure Statement (if purchased from a private seller)
  • Payment for registration fees
  • Some counties require an emissions inspection BEFORE registration

If you are transferring a vehicle title from a private Tennessee seller, visit your local county clerk with the following information:

Note: If you are purchasing your vehicle from a private seller and the vehicle is up for registration renewal, then you will want to have the car inspected and give the paperwork to the buyer before purchase. Or have them get the car inspected themselves.

Don’t Buy a Lemon!

Never purchase a vehicle from a private seller or used car dealership without obtaining a vehicle history report (CarFax) first. This document will tell you all the information you need to make sure the car isn’t a clunker.

How to Renew Your Vehicle’s Registration

Residents of Tennessee who already have a registration should check out the registration renewal page.

Visit DMV.org for more information on title transfers and registrations in Tennessee.

You May Not Have to Leave Home!

You may be able to complete many of these tasks without leaving the comfort of your home. Visit the Tennessee DOS online services page for more information.

Remember, the Tennessee Department of Revenue (DOR) is the place to go to complete most processes that involve your car, truck, or motorcycle:

Looking to sell your used vehicle? Check out our guide for selling your used vehicle to a dealership.

If you have any questions about the requirements for titles, registration, license plates, and more, contact the Tennessee Department of Safety and Tennessee Department of Revenue:

TN DOS Contact Info

Main Office: (615) 251-5166

Mailing address:

Tennessee Department of Safety
P.O. Box 945
Nashville, TN 37202

TN DOR Contact Info:

  • State-wide, toll free: (888) 871-3171
  • Nashville area and out-of-state: (615) 741-3101

Mailing address:

Department of Revenue
Vehicle Services Division
44 Vantage Way, Suite 160
Nashville, TN 37243

Auto Simple makes it easy to buy, title, and register your new Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle in Tennessee (and a new location in Dalton, GA).

We carry a large selection of hand-picked used vehicles, all of which come with a 6 month/6,000-mile powertrain warranty. We also own a private track for test driving!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to speak with one of our Online Specialists or give us a call:

Chattanooga, TN – (423) 551-3600

Cleveland, TN – (423) 476-4600

Dayton, TN – (423) 775-4600

Dalton, GA – (706) 217-CARS (2277)

Follow us for more useful information on buying, selling, and maintaining cars: FacebookTwitterYouTube, and Google+.

image of an open truck bed

How to Load a Pickup Truck | Truck Bed Safety & Packing Tips

Moving is stressful—it takes a lot of mental and physical energy. Don’t make it worse by haphazardly loading the back of your pickup. You can make transporting cargo a lot quicker, easier, and safer by learning the proper procedures for how to load a pickup truck bed.

How to Load a Pickup Truck

  1. Consider Pickup Truck Accessories & Add-Ons

Depending on the job, you may want to add some rails or added anchoring systems for extra support and protection.

Bed Rails & Rail Caps – You may want to install bed rails or rail caps on the rails of the truck to protect it from dings and dents. They can help you prevent damage, preserve resale value, and improve functionality.

Tie-Down Anchors – Truck rails and racks can be uses to tie down and secure items, but you may also need tie-down anchors that get secured to the bed floor. If you need to drill into the original metal of your truck, however, it may devalue the vehicle and encourage rust.

Bed Slides – Truck bed slides make hauling cargo more convenient. Instead of climbing inside your truck bed every time you want to retrieve something, a bed slide allows you to slide the cargo out easily.

Bed Racks – Bed rails and extenders can help with some loads, but a truck bed rack allows safe transport of long cargo such as ladders, piping, and lumber. If you are transporting a lot of lengthy objects, bed racks significantly increase your truck’s hauling capacity.

Bed Mats & Liner – Mats and liners are great ways to maintain your truck’s factory finish and prevent scratches, scrapes, and dings to the paint and metal of your truck bed. Not only will this prevent unsightly scratches, it can also prevent rusting and other problems associated with exposed metal.

Bed Extenders – If you want to increase the hauling capacity of your pickup truck, you don’t have to buy a new truck for more bed room. Instead, consider bed extenders, so you can leave the tailgate down while having the support necessary to keep the load from falling out.

Cargo Nets & Covers – Instead of using ratchet straps and bungee cords every time you are transporting a load, consider a truck bed cargo net, which can keep all of your luggage securely in place. Besides effective performance, truck nets and covers are also easier to install and uninstall, saving you time and frustration when moving things. Cargo covers can offer durable and weather-resistant protection.

Tool Boxes & Bed Organizers – For those who frequently haul groceries or need to store tools for the long-term, tools boxes and bed organizers that lock are the way to go. While cargo nets and covers are good for protecting and tying down items, if you are looking for more protection and permanent storage, upgrade your truck with permanent boxes and storage space.

Other Things You’ll Probably Need:

  • Tarp and plastic wrap
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Packing tape
  • Moving blankets
  • Ratchet straps and bungee cords
  1. Weight Restrictions

The first thing you want to do is check the weight (“payload”) limits of your truck. If you are only hauling small amount of weight, you can ignore this step, but when moving any significant amount of weight, you should always check to make sure your truck can handle all the weight.

How to check payload limits:

The maximum payload (GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) will be printed on the factory label, normally on the inside door sill on the driver’s side. The sticker label may also be found inside your glovebox. If you cannot find the label in either of these two places, check your owner’s manual.

Make sure that the amount of weight you are transporting is under the payload limit. Making multiple trips a lot better than damaging your shocks, suspension system, and risking a blowout or accident.

You can tell if you’ve overloaded the truck if the steering wheel becomes heavier as you try to turn and maintain handling.

  1. Move Heavier Items Near the Cab

When moving lots of heavy items, such as boxes of books and masonry, move them to the back of the truck bed, near the cab. If there is too much weight on the back axle, the front axle may not have enough weight to make solid contact with the road.

By moving heavier items near the center of the truck, weight will be more evenly distributed. This take weight off of the rear axle, which can cause poor handling and potential damage to the drivetrain and suspension systems. Secure the weight near the cab with ratchet straps.

  1. Place Large Items on Their Side, on the Sides

If you are moving large pieces of furniture, such as tables and mirrors, make sure you turn them on their sides and securely wrap any fragile materials securely. The key is to make everything as stable and secure as possible. Load your largest items near the bed rails, away from the center.

How to pack glass and fragile items:

In order to make sure glass items are protected, wrap them in packing paper and secure them with tape before wrapping the glass with bubble wrap. If you have a telescopic box (wide and thin), use it. If not, you can create a makeshift box using the cardboard from smaller boxes. Simply bend the cardboard around your glass (you may need multiple cardboard pieces) and tape it together. Label the box “Fragile” on all sides and be extra careful during handling.

Make sure any glass items are securely wrapped and placed in such a way that they cannot move. You want your glass, pictures, and other fragile items to be as snug as possible.

  1. Load Boxes and Smaller Items in Between the Large Items

Once you have loaded your largest items and placed them securely on the sides of the truck bed, the next step is to load boxes and smaller items in the middle. If you are stacking boxes, place the larger, heavier boxes at the bottom—smaller, lighter items should go on top.

What you are trying to do by placing larger items on both sides of the truck bed (with boxes in the middle) is maintain weight balance and protect all of your cargo.

  1. Tie Your Items Down

Even if you have a cargo net or cover, you should always use quality ratchet straps to tie down your large items. Make sure that your cargo is tied down from at least two sides. You can also tie items down in an X-shape.

Make sure you safely store your ratchet straps away from the elements (sunlight, rain, dirt, etc.).

Shop around for a high-quality cargo cover for added protection, such as protection from rain and weather, improved aerodynamics, and added security. They are an investment, but a worthy one. Most of these covers will attach to the underside of your truck bed or come with attachment anchors for your rails and sides.

After securing the large items with ratchet straps, use tarp, cargo nets, or covers to cover the entire load. You don’t want things flying out on the freeway. Always use cargo nets and covers for light materials, such as landscaping trash and materials.

For a cheaper solution, you can use an appropriately sized tarp with integral snaps, or use bungee cords to tie it down.

  1. Plan a Safe Route from A to B

When transporting cargo in your pickup truck, you want to choose the smoothest route, avoiding high winds, rough roads, and sharp turns. If you are driving on the freeway, drive on the right side of the road and

  1. Prevent Theft

Items left out in the open are vulnerable to theft. Do everything necessary to limit this risk.

How to prevent theft while moving cargo:

  • Keep valuable tools and items in locked truck bed boxes or in the cab to keep them out of sight and away from the weather. Lock the box and truck doors to keep these items as safe as possible.
  • Try to keep your items covered, either with tarps/covers or in some container.
  • Park in a safe, public, and well-lit area if possible.
  • Minimize your stops. Try to travel directly from point A to point B without stopping to prevent weather and theft-related risks.

Give yourself a pat on the back and admire a job well done! By properly loading and transporting your cargo, you’ve prevented accidents, hassles, and wasted time and money.

Read Transporting Cargo Safely [pdf] from the Tennessee Commercial Driver’s license Manual for more information on inspecting cargo, cargo weight/balance, securing cargo, and cargo needing special attention.

More Driving Safety Tips:

Tired of renting U-Hauls? Need a new truck? Shop our online inventory of Certified Pre-Owned pickup trucks, SUVs, and much more. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions:

Chattanooga, TN – (423) 551-3600

Cleveland, TN – (423) 476-4600

Dayton, TN – (423) 775-4600

Dalton, GA – (706) 217-CARS (2277)

Follow us for more useful information on buying, selling, and maintaining cars: FacebookTwitterYouTube, and Google+.

a family and a young kid taking a picture at a dealership

Safety Tips You Can Learn from Self-Driving Cars

Car technology is moving at a pace we’ve never seen before. Self-driving cars will inevitably take over the roads, but not for a while. In the interim, we can learn important safety tips from self-driving cars to make our world a lot safer.

There are many reasons why self-driving cars are safer than humans behind the wheel. We text, talk on the phone, get distracted, let emotions take over, nod off, fail to signal, drink alcohol, take prescriptions, and much more.

Since cars were first invented, we have added safety features that help reduce the chance of accidents, injuries, and fatalities—seat belts, anti-lock brakes, air bags, etc.

But no matter how safe we make cars, the least safe variable is always the driver.

Over the last two decades or so, engineers, scientists, and car manufacturers have focused on removing the human element completely.

In doing so, we can learn many tips for improved driver safety.

The Problem

1.3 million people die on the world’s roads every single day. That’s equivalent to over 8 commercial jet airliners (Boeing 747s) crashing every single day and killing everyone on board. In the United States alone, 37,000 people die in road crashes every year (ASIRT).

Traffic is also a huge problem. It’s substantially worse than it was just 10 years ago. According to 2014 Census data (The Washington Post), American workers spend 29.6 billion hours commuting every year. That’s a collective 3.4 million years driving to and from work. Wow!

Google’s self-driving car project, now called Waymo, has published reports based on its tests of over 3 million miles of self-driving vehicles on real roads in cities like Mountain View (CA), Austin (TX), Kickland (WA), and Phoenix (AZ). This is in addition to the billions of miles driven in simulation.

Source: Waymo/Google

The millions of miles driven on real city streets have taught Google a lot about driverless vehicles and have taught us a lot about how drivers can improve their driving habits for increased safety on the roads.

This technology will come to market soon. Watch this video to learn what a driverless world could look like:

Self-driving cars will make the world a safer place, but it will be a long time before prices drop low enough for the majority of people to be able to afford one.

Luckily, there has been a lot of information gathered from driverless cars that can make our own driving behaviors a lot safer.

How does a self-driving car see the world?

Self-driving vehicles create a rich, logic-filled map of their surrounding area using 360-degree sensor systems, including lidar (laser and radar), GPS, odometry, and cameras. They not only see what’s around them, they also anticipate what’s going to happen.

How a self-driving car sees the world (Google Waymo)

“The two red rectangles are cyclists; the red trails behind them indicate the path they’ve just traveled. The cyclist on the left had entered the left turn lane, but veered back into our path to continue straight across the intersection. At the same time, the cyclist on the right entered the intersection, traveling against the flow of traffic. That cyclist then took a sudden left turn, coming directly at us in our lane. Our car was able to predict that cyclist’s path of travel (turquoise line with circles) so we stopped and yielded. This happened at night, when it would have been very difficult for a human driver to see what was unfolding.”

Source: Waymo Team/Medium

This map not only knows where things are at the moment, it also works with other complicated parts of the car to predict what might happen in the near future.

It’s extremely complicated how these pieces of machinery can detect different types of objects—cars, bikes, cones, debris on the road—and anticipate and react to what’s going to happen 1 second, 3 second, 10 seconds from now.

Not only does the self-driving car need to know about the lane change up ahead and what the truck in front is going to do (quickly merge), it also needs to know about the goings on of everything else.

After taking everything around it into account, the car then needs to know how to act—which trajectory to take, how slow or how fast it should move. Then, the car must make the executive decision to steer left or right, press on the brake or hit the gas.

Driving Safety Tips Learned from Self-Driving Cars

  1. Anticipate the behavior of other drivers

While you don’t have the amazing ability to detect objects in a 360-degree radius, you still have an amazing amount of computing power in your head. Use it to keep track of the objects around you and what they are going to do.

For instance, a vehicle inching out of a driveway may not be able to see you. A vehicle at high speeds is approaching a red light—you can guess that it will barrel through the light.

Despite what’s supposed to happen, you can tell what actually is happening and prevent an accident by anticipating future actions.

Forget about what’s supposed to happen, anticipate what actually is happening.

  • Pay attention to everything around you. Predict future movements based on the unique circumstances around you, such as construction zones, pot holes, objects in the road, distracted motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, school zones, etc.
  • Drive conservatively around cyclists. If there is a cyclist up ahead, keep in mind that they may need to swerve into your lane to avoid doors (aka dooring), glass or other obstacles in the road. Leave plenty of room for these sudden movements. Learn more driving safety tips when sharing the road with cyclists.
  • Look at the driver as well as the vehicle. If the driver is paying more attention to their phone than the road ahead, you can exercise extra caution. Pay attention to distracted drivers—they are more common than ever.
  • Before you make a lane change, use your mirrors and look over your shoulder to see what the cars around you are doing. Someone else may be trying to merge at the same time. Look at the driver for clues as to what they may do.
  • Don’t trust turn signals. Some people learn this the hard way when they start driving in a different area of the country. You may live in a town that has great drivers who reliably use their turn signals, but move to a different town or city and you’ll be in for a rude awakening. Not everybody does. A driverless car doesn’t trust turn signals for reliable predictions of future movement and neither should you. If you are at a stop sign and see a car coming towards you with their right turn signal on, do NOT assume they are making that right turn. Wait until they commit to their turn before you commit to your next move. Use turn signals whenever turning/merging and watch for them, but NEVER trust them.
  • Don’t tailgate. You The DMV handbook says to use the “three-second rule”—look at the vehicle ahead pass a specific point in the road and then count a full three seconds. If you reach that point before the three seconds are up, you are too close. Use the four-second rule during adverse conditions, such as rain, snow, darkness, gravel roads, and metal surfaces. Extra room should also be given if you are being tailgated from behind, a driver wants to pass you, towing a large load (extra weight makes it harder to stop), following large vehicles that block your view, a driver wants to pass you, or when merging onto a freeway.
  1. Admit that other drivers are fallible and so are you—prioritize safety

This isn’t a judgement of how good or bad you drive—we all make mistakes. Driverless cars assume this as fact and so should you.

For at least the next decade, most drivers will still be human and like you, they want to arrive at their destination as fast as possible. Mistakes will be made.

  • Don’t let your emotions cloud your better judgment. This relates to the former point about tailgating. Just because you don’t want anyone cutting in front of you doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t leave a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. This not only slows down traffic, but can also cause an accident. And it’s usually because of emotion and your belief in fairness and the ethics of line-cutting. Driverless cars don’t have this problem and you should do your best to avoid it. Let the driver pass you and leave enough room to do it safely.
  • Yield to the right of way, but be aware that others might not. Knowing when to yield can save you from countless accidents. Chances of a collision increase dramatically at intersections. If another vehicle fails to yield, however, let them. Better safe than trying to prove something and cause an accident. Learn right of way rules on the DMV website, but don’t assume others have this knowledge. Like a self-driving car, look for behaviors and intent; don’t assume knowledge and execution of the rules.
  • Make up for the fact that your vision is inferior. While you have the very helpful ability of object permanence, you cannot see in all directions at once like a self-driving car. This is why you should constantly be checking your mirrors, at least every five seconds (including rearview and side mirrors). This gives you a much better understanding of everything going on around you. It’s also a good idea to scan the road and periodically check the left and right of your vehicle. This can help you identify a person running a red light, stop sign, or a kid running into the street. Using your mirrors properly and scanning the road will help you spot a potential accident before it happens. You can be like the future-seeing precogs from Minority Report.
  • Always prioritize safety. Self-driving cars don’t have egos, emotions, or amygdalas like us fallible humans. Yes, they will have Emotional AI to make the automotive experience more pleasant for humans, but this won’t affect their driving habits. While humans may make a risky move to cut down on travel time, self-driving cars will always prioritize safety. You can learn from this. Many drivers hate slow drivers who drive the speed limit, slow down when kids are around, and make other “grandma” moves. This is the kind of attitude that causes accidents. Self-driving cars are like “grandma” drivers—they drive the speed limit, don’t accelerate quickly, and are overly cautious when it comes to merging and intersections. 

You are a human, not a robot. Emotions are deeply imbedded into your decision-making process. But, prioritize your emotions of fear over aggression, and love over anger. Learn from self-driving cars and always rank safety over timeliness in your algorithm. Cutting a few minutes off your commute or trying to beat the GPS’s estimated arrival time is never worth the potential ramifications of a deadly or injurious accident.

  1. Collect data from the roads

  • Know your route before you start driving. Self-driving cars plot their trajectories well in advance. Get in the habit of looking at directions before heading out on the road. This allows you to have more confidence on the road and stay on the side of the freeway where your exit is.
  • Glance at GPS for traffic updates. Google, Waze, and other GPS apps tell you about upcoming traffic, construction zones, and other useful information. Even if you know your rout by heart, you can increase your road knowledge by mounting a GPS in an easy-to-view area near your dashboard. Glance at it like you would your odometer, and take note of any upcoming road warnings. Of course you’ll never have access to the rich, data-filled maps of self-driving cars, at least you’ll know the basics. And you may even save time by finding a better alternative route home.
  • Take different routes. Have you ever forgotten what happened on your commute? When you take the same route every day, you start to go into autopilot mode and tune out your surroundings. The more familiar your world, the less you remember and the quicker time seems to pass. That’s why time seems to fly by as we get older and why taking the same route every day can lead to accidents. Switch things up, change your route, and increase your powers of observation. Try leaving 10 minutes early and taking the scenic route instead. You’ll discover new things, increase your happiness, and reduce the risk of an accident.

More Driving Safety Tips:

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