Driving has become a casual affair, but it is important to stress the attention and precaution that needs to be put in place while driving on the Commonwealth’s often beautiful, but dangerous, roads. We need to be fully focused from the time we leave the house until we get to our destination.
Operating an automobile is one of the most dangerous tasks most of us do every single day, and it is extra risky in Kentucky. The Commonwealth has a fatality rate of 12.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. This far exceeds the national rate of 7.0 deaths and makes Kentucky the 9th deadliest state to drive in.
Residents of Kentucky can help make our roads safer by knowing the Commonwealth’s laws regarding driving and making an effort to practice safe driving. Help protect your family by staying informed.
This 2017 Kentucky Driver’s Safety guide will provide information about the rules of the road in our state, as well as advice on how to act purposefully to protect yourself and others while driving each day.
Kentucky’s Laws of the Road
While traffic laws are meant to keep drivers safe, they depend on everyone abiding by them. The more people that follow local, state, and federal traffic laws, the safer our roads become.
Learn more about some of Kentucky’s most fundamental automobile laws below.
Seat Belt Laws
Since seat belts were required by federal law in 1968 they have saved countless lives, but they are still not used by everyone. Since Kentucky passed its seat-belt law in 2006, seat belt use has gone up by 12% as of 2010.
In 2014, there were 672 fatalities on Kentucky roads. An alarming 521 of these were not wearing their seatbelts at the time of the collision. Whether on a highway or a neighborhood road, seat belts are a necessity to staying safe while driving. Most fatalities on the road actually occur under 25 miles from home while traveling under 40 mph.
Primary Seat Belt Law
Kentucky’s primary seat belt law dictates that drivers can be fined if any person in the car is not wearing a seat belt, including those in the back seat. It is important for the driver of a vehicle to take responsibility and enforce the law when driving.
Impaired Driving Laws
People driving while impaired is one of the biggest reasons for fatalities and injuries on our nation’s roads, and Kentucky is no exception.
In 2015, Kentucky had a total of 761 fatalities due to car wrecks, and 192 of these fatalities involved a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
To combat these statistics, Kentucky has established multiple laws to decrease impaired driving and protect drivers across the state.
Kentucky has different laws regarding BAC depending on the individual. For people under the age of 21, the state’s legal limit is 0.02 due to the Zero Alcohol Tolerance rule. The legal limit for adults over the age of 21 is 0.08, except for commercial drivers, whose limit is 0.04.
For those caught driving while impaired, the consequences are severe. First time offenders will see their license suspended for 30 – 120 days, could get two to 30 days of jail time, and could get sentenced with fines, community labor, and required substance abuse treatment. The punishments continue to increase (within a 10 year period). The fourth offense in this time would result in a Class D Felony, one year of substance abuse treatment, a minimum of 120 days spent in jail, and the suspension of your driver’s license for 60 months.
Refusing to take an alcohol or other tests from an officer can also result in penalties, mostly license suspensions. The first offense results in a license suspension of 30 – 120 days and continues to rise for each new refusal within the next five years.
Besides alcohol, it is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or other substances that impair the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. If you pass a drunk or reckless driver on the road, inform the police by calling 911.
Kentucky passed its Move-Over Law in 2003 to help protect drivers of emergency or public safety vehicles and those around them. The law instructs drivers to move parallel and as close as possible to the curb of the road, and not to block intersections. The official law can be read here but includes some of the following provisions:
- Drivers may not follow the emergency vehicle within 500 feet of it passing.
- Vehicles may not drive on any unprotected fire department hose unless an official from the fire department states otherwise.
- When traveling towards a stationary emergency or public safety automobile with their lights on, move to a lane that is not adjacent to the still vehicle. If that is not possible slow down to a safe speed and pass cautiously.
These laws are crucial to protecting everyone around the scene and on the path to an emergency. Abiding by these rules protects our police officers, medical personnel, firefighters, and other drivers. Not abiding by these rules will result in a fine and possible jail time.
Laws Regarding Cell Phones
Cell phones are a wonderful invention, but have created a lot of trouble on the road, both in Kentucky and on a national level. There has been a large increase in injuries and fatalities due to distracted drivers which has led most states, including Kentucky, to pass laws to prevent this increase from continuing.
All Drivers Are Banned From Texting
As long as the vehicle is moving, all drivers on Kentucky roads are not allowed to read or write anything text related. This includes texting, emails, and chats. Drivers are fined $25 for the first offense and $50 after that.
Bus Drivers and Drivers Under 18
The rules are stricter for bus drivers and drivers under 18. For these cases, any use of the cell phone is prohibited unless it is a medical emergency or there is a need to call law enforcement.
Limit the Distractions
Speaking on the cell phone while driving is not illegal in Kentucky, but drivers still need to exercise great caution while on the road. Hands-free calls can be equally as distracting and harmful as texting or emails, and both can create symptoms that are similar to driving under the influence.
While not legally required, drivers should attempt to limit every use of technology while operating a vehicle. Stay focused on the road and only use your electronic device in an emergency.
Overtaking Vehicle Laws
Most people think they are clear on the rules when it comes to traveling on the interstate in Kentucky. One law that may surprise people involves driving in the left lane – it is illegal to drive in the left lane unless you are passing a car. This is to prevent slower drivers from reducing the speed of traffic. Vehicles need to also be a reasonable distance ahead of the car they just passed before switching back over.
Safety in Work Zones
In the United States there is a work zone fatality every 13 hours and an injury in a work zone every 13 minutes. This is unacceptable and can be greatly improved if drivers take precautions while traveling through construction. Pay attention to signs – they let you know when you are in a double fine (aka construction zone). Also, notice and cooperate with workers guiding traffic. Many drivers tend to think you can stay at the same speed if you are careful, but this is not the case. Slow down or pay a fine.
Safe Driving on the Road
While knowing and following the law is important, it is required to go beyond just the law to be a truly safe driver. Most accidents on our roads are preventable and could have been avoided if simple tips were followed.
There’s an old saying in football – the best offense is a good defense. They same could be said for driving. Drive defensively and look out for others and you have increased your chances of arriving to your destination without an accident.
The National Safety Council defines defensive driving as “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.” To paraphrase, be aware of things going on around you and react accordingly to decrease your chances of crashing and keeping those around you safe.
Situational awareness, or knowing what is happening around your vehicle, is the most crucial requirement to defensive driving. There are many different steps to keeping situational awareness.
- Prevent zoning out by consistently moving your eyes around the road and not focusing on one specific spot for too long.
- While traveling on the interstate, pay attention to the on-ramps you pass and make room for oncoming cars.
- Always use headlights. Cars with headlights on are significantly easier to see – even during the day.
- Be aware of blind spots when changing lanes and take time to make sure the lane you are switching to is clear.
- Help eliminate blind spots by adjusting side-view mirrors to where you can’t see your car. This puts all of the mirror view towards the road and decreases blind spots.
- Pay attention to your mirrors often. Look every 6 to 8 seconds for continuous updates on what is happening around you.
- Look in every direction before continuing after stopping at a stop light or sign.
Assuming the role of a defensive driver requires that drivers are anticipating and prepared for various dangerous situations, including other drivers. While it is easy to do, it is not safe to assume that other drivers will behave normally. Don’t assume anything about another car – even the most basic tasks like stopping at a light. Here is some good advice to help anticipate upcoming situations:
- Follow the three-second rule. Allow the car in front of you to have three seconds of space between you. This provides you with the proper amount of time to slow down in case something happens. Double this rule during inclement weather.
- Start slowing down as soon as the car in front of you does.
Safe Driving Tactics
Besides defensive driving, it is important that we always have control of our own vehicles and are exercising caution while on the road. Here are some tips to assist you in improving your safe driving:
- Semi-trucks – While we share the same roads, these should not be treat like normal cars. Be extra careful around larger trucks. If you are behind a semi-truck, check to see if you can see the driver in their mirrors. If you can’t see them, then they probably don’t see you either. Don’t spend too much time driving immediately next to a truck either. Staying back or driving past when the time is right will give you and the truck more space and make driving a smoother experience.
- Hydroplaning – During wet weather reduce your speed to below 55 mph. This will decrease the risk of your car sliding out of control. If you do hydroplane don’t slam on your breaks; instead gradually slow down. If you are losing control of your car, don’t turn too hard in the other direction, as that could make matters worse. Steady the wheel and slowly turn back to the normal direction.
- Animals – When an animal jumps in front of our car, a basic human reaction is to swerve to avoid hitting it. While that may save the animal’s life, it greatly increases the chance of you hurting yourself or someone else. Instead of swerving, slam on your brakes, honk your horn, and prepare for impact in case that does not work.
After an Accident
Unfortunately no matter how careful we are, accidents do happen. Even if you are doing everything right and staying aware of other drivers and your surroundings, it can be impossible to avoid at times. According to the National Safety Council, nearly 4.6 million people needed medical treatment after a crash in 2016 alone. If you are involved with an accident it is important that you know how to handle the situation. Here are some helpful steps:
- Be prepared. If you have rehearsed a plan it will become way quicker and easier to perform when the situation actually occurs.
- Contact 911 – whether it is for medical assistance or to report the accident, this needs to be one of the first things you do.
- Check to see if you are injured.
- If you can move your car further off the road, do it. If you are not able to move your car over, make it visible by using your flashers or flares/cones if you have any.
- Check with the other vehicle and see if anyone needs assistance.
- If any witnesses stopped, get their contact information before they leave. It could be helpful in the future.
- Take pictures and videos of all relevant parts of the scene.
- Exchange information with the other driver. This includes names, addresses, contact information, license number, plate number, and insurance information.
- Talk to police once they arrive and give an accurate report.
Even after the actual moment of the crash there are important things to remember. This includes:
- Visit a physician after the wreck. Some injuries might not show until after the accident.
- Notify your insurance company not too long after the incident occurs. It is important not to wait too long so your policy is honored.
- While not all cases need an attorney, it would be wise to reach out to your lawyer to get a basic feel for your situation and to be prepared in case something does happen.
While being involved in a wreck is never pleasant, it is a lot easier when you are informed and prepared for how to handle it.