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Traffic expert, police offer 7 common-sense road safety tips

Two Finnish road safety experts urge drivers to stay alert in traffic by eliminating unnecessary distractions - like watching movies.

Kuski ajaa autolla oulussa, auto, liikennevalot
Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

Have you parked in front of a pedestrian crossing only to find a parking ticket waiting for you on your windshield? Or have you perhaps run a red light late at night while nobody was looking?

Everyone makes a mistake every now and then, but it's never too late to try to improve your driving skills. Below is a list of the seven-most common mistakes drivers make - and how to avoid them.

1. Overtaking and speeding

Oulu police sergeant Markku Nygård says that drivers often do not take distances into consideration while overtaking another vehicle.

”Drivers will often drive very close to the vehicle ahead of them before overtaking. Afterwards they'll resume driving right in front of the passed car instead of driving further ahead to give the other car some space. Especially in the spring, an overtaken driver might be very annoyed by dirt flying into the windshield,” Nygård says.

And, he adds, such situations often lead to unnecessary speeding, especially if the car in front is driving within the speed limits.

Speeding ranks among the most common of traffic violations committed in Finland. Road transport expert at the Transport Safety Agency (Trafi), Mikko Räsänen hopes that drivers would have patience on the road, in particular when passing road works.

”Speeding near road construction sites is both dangerous and a workplace safety risk,” Räsänen points out.

2. Distracted driving

Even though a driver may think that changing a song on a smartphone or adjusting the car's navigator is fairly harmless, its' important to remember that every extra distraction slows down a driver’s reaction time.

”[The police] see everything on the road. For example people watching movies on a tablet while driving” Nygård says

Eating behind the wheel is also considered an unnecessary distraction.

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Nuoret koululaiset matkalla kouluun.
Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Nygård explains that while eating and drinking when behind the wheel is not against the law, any distractions should be avoided if they can be.

”That's a grey area. Eating and drinking is not exactly illegal, but if it creates an interference or a dangerous situation then it should be banned.”

3. Pedestrian crossing safety

According to Nygård, two common dangerous situations often arise at pedestrian crossings.

One instance is when a driver approaches a person waiting to cross a pedestrian crossing. The driver sees that it's safe to stop and let them pass - however - the driver in the next lane is often unable to see the crossing people because they're blocked from view behind the other car and continues to move forward.

”This can cause many dangerous situations - if the pedestrian is already crossing the road and can’t see the car next to the stopped one,” Nygård says.

Another risky scenario can arise when cars park too close to pedestrian crossings. Luckily, Nygård says, most pedestrians have learned to be vigilant when crossing the street.

”In these situations speed limits tend to be quite low so drivers have time to react to pedestrians appearing from behind a precariously parked car.”

4. Blocking entrances, emergency exits

Finding a perfect parking spot - especially in a busy city - can be difficult and oftentimes hasty decisions are made. Nygård says drivers should remember to be aware of their surroundings in these situations, too.

Auto pysäköitynä pelastustielle Alapeusonkadulla

He says cars blocking emergency exits is most common around new apartment buildings.

”In normal situations it doesn't cause any damage, maybe a spot of bother for local residents. But, if a fire broke out and emergency services were called to the scene, a wrongly-parked car would be promptly removed.”

5. Driving at night

Some cities have streets banning vehicles between certain hours of the night. This is to give residents who live on these roadways a little peace and quiet.

And Nygård says that people just might be walking on these streets during those hours.

"Drivers often take their vehicles through streets when they shouldn't, and they cause disruptions. Those road signs are not there for show, everybody has the right to a good night's sleep.”

Trafi specialist Räsänen also reminds drivers of the proper use of a vehicle's headlights at night.

”Drivers should always remember to use driving lights if circumstances make them necessary, especially if the car’s lights don't turn on automatically, ” Räsänen says.

6. Warning triangle too close

According to Nygård it's also important to check that the car boot has a warning triangle in it.

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Varoituskolmio tien laidassa, Rekka, Kuorma-auto, liikenneturvallisuus
Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

He says it's very common that drivers travel without the reflective triangles, or even know whether they own one. If a car breaks down and must be left by the side of the road, it's important to have them on hand in order to alert other drivers.

”Quite often the warning triangle is left nearby the car when in actuality it should be at least 100-200 meters behind it. If the triangle is not placed at a proper distance, drivers of oncoming vehicles do not have enough time to react.”

7. Drowsy driving

If a driver has had a bad nights sleep, or maybe a long day behind them, they should consider whether driving is absolutely necessary, according to Räsänen.

”Sleepiness is the cause of one-in-six fatal car accidents,” he warns.

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