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Smart Answers to 5 Top Driving Questions

From new technology to tailgaters, Smart Driver teachers have the answers

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En español | Tenacious motorists who ride your rear bumper, intimidating technology and those tricky four-way stops: Some AARP Smart Driver volunteer instructors answer their students’ most common questions.

1. Who has the right-of-way at a four-way intersection if cars arrive at the same time?

Some rules of the road are tricky, and this one is especially so — which may be why a whopping 40 percent of all crashes involve intersections, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The rule: Always yield to cars that have arrived at the intersection ahead of you, of course. And if two vehicles get there at the same time, the car on the right has the right of way. It's more complicated if the two cars are facing each other: If one car is making a turn and the other car is going straight, says AARP Smart Driver instructor Marcus Vinson, 69, of Chapel, Fla., “the car going straight has the right of way because the car turning is making a more complicated maneuver.”

And don't wave another driver ahead if you have the right of way, says instructor Betty Coe de Broekert, 88, of Springfield, Ore. “It's a nice gesture, but if there's a crash as a result, you may be liable.”

2. What do I do when someone tailgates me?

You're on the interstate, and some guy is riding your bumper so close you could count the cavities in his teeth. That's scary. Maintain your composure, says Vinson. Don't get flustered, don't get upset, and most important, don't slam on your brakes — some people think that will make the person behind them back off, but it's likely to just cause an accident. Conversely, don't speed up if you feel uncomfortable. Follow the speed limit.

If it's a multilane highway and there's room to your left or right, move to allow the speed demon to pass. If you only have one lane, consider pulling over to the shoulder with your hazard light on. “If you're really intimidated by the person's behavior,” says Vinson, “put on your turn signal and at the first opportunity get off the road and re-enter at another time.”

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3. My 89-year-old father just dinged the car. Again. How can I get him to stop driving?

First of all, recognize how important driving is to your loved one. “When you give up those keys, there's often a loss of independence, something that's important to all of us,” says Vinson, who suggests maintaining your loved one's dignity by giving it a positive spin: “Instead of saying something like ‘You're no longer a good driver,’ say, ‘We want you to be safe and live for a long time.'”

Consider suggesting they make small, gradual changes in their driving routine. For example, they might stop driving at night, or only run errands between 10 in the morning and three in the afternoon (avoiding rush hours). And every once in a while, ask if you can ride shotgun. “We have an 82-year-old gentleman who has taken the course every three years since he was 60,” says instructor Nancy Aluck, 77, of Brandon, Fla. “He has his kids accompany him in the car once a month. He said, ‘If they don't think I'm capable anymore, I'm turning my keys in.'"

You could also look at this as an opportunity for your loved one to find other ways to get around, including using ride-sharing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, or a local taxi. Or maybe they could have their neighbor drive them in exchange for paying for the gas. And don't forget to point out a big positive to giving up driving: According to AAA, it costs nearly $10,000 a year, on average, to own and operate a car. Some of that savings can be put toward other means of transportation.

4. What is Adaptive Cruise Control?

Like standard cruise control, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) maintains a preset speed. But unlike its more familiar cousin, which keeps you traveling at the same speed, ACC — employing a road-scanning radar, installed behind your car's grille — automatically adjusts your car's speed to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle directly ahead of you.

"As you come up to the slower-moving vehicle — say your ACC is set at 65 and the car ahead of you is doing 55 — your car will slow down,” says instructor Tom De Long, of Huntsville, Ala. “You'll go at their speed and then when they exit the road and the coast is clear, your car will reaccelerate back to the speed it was set at.”

5. Of all the pricey tech features available, which are most important to have in my car?

Here are three tools AARP Driver Safety program instructors enthusiastically recommend:

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) systems prevent you from running into obstacles — including pedestrians — in your path. They detect an impending forward crash and alert you to take action in time to avoid an accident. If you don't respond quickly enough, the system will automatically apply the brakes. According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) safety research, vehicles that have AEB and Forward Collision Warning have 50 percent fewer front-to-rear crashes than vehicles without the systems.

A Blind Spot Monitor is a sensor device that gives drivers a visual, audible or vibrating notification that a vehicle is approaching from the side of your car, before you move into another lane. “If your car doesn't have a blind spot monitor, you can buy a blind spot detection mirror, which attaches to your side view mirror,” says Sherry Kolodziejczak, 58, another instructor in Huntsville.

Lane Departure Warning Systems notify you when you've crossed a line — literally. The mechanism, consisting of a camera that watches the line markings on the road, alerts you when your car begins to veer out of your lane (via a visual or audible warning, or a vibration), so you can snap to attention and keep your car centered. Some systems will automatically steer you back into your lane. Kolodziejczak says, “Lane Departure Warning has been life-changing for drivers who have a decrease in vision or are sleep deprived, a not uncommon reason why people get into accidents.”

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