“The weather in New York gets a bit sketchy; everyone here has hit black ice at the wrong time,” she tells Mediaplanet. “I didn’t expect to like driving, but I fell in love with it.”

The first time Straus got behind the wheel she was 13 and driving a Mazda Miata with her instructor. This year, at 19, she raced in the Pirelli World Challenge in Austin, Texas. And later this year, she’ll attend Harvard University, where she plans to study English and mechanical engineering. But today, Aurora is using her position to encourage drivers of all ages to be safer behind the wheel, starting with these 3 key points below.

1. Learn your car

In order to be adept and react quickly to changing road conditions, Straus recommends getting to know the vehicle inside-out. “The first thing I do when I get behind the wheel of a new car is go out and drift it around corners to see how it catches,” she says, noting that every car reacts differently. “The best thing you can do for yourself as a developing driver is figure out the warning signs that your car is about to lose traction. I got lucky because I learned those skills on a racetrack, but you don’t need a track. You just need an empty parking lot.”

She adds that drivers don’t need to put themselves at risk to learn this information, as most automobiles don’t need to be going more than 50 mph to drift. “Once you get used to the feeling of your car sliding, you won’t freak out as much when that moment actually happens.”

2. Prioritize your tires

Reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that tires are at least partially responsible for more than 11,000 crashes annually and that nearly 200 people die in those accidents. “The equipment you have under you is everything,” Straus urges.

From improper inflation to misaligned wheels, she believes that the importance of proper tire maintenance cannot be overstated. She continues: “Having the right set of tires is more important than any other aspect of your car.”

3. Stay focused

“The biggest thing I struggled with when I was learning how to drive a race car is the value of keeping your eyes up,” she recalls. While this is typically the first lesson a new driver learns, Straus notes that it’s often the most difficult.

It’s been estimated that 1 out of 4 car accidents in the U.S. are caused by texting while driving. “One of the biggest reasons that people crash while they’re texting is that you drive where you’re looking, even if you don’t realize it. If you’re looking down or slightly left, you’re going to drive slightly left. That’s true in a race car and a street car.”
She notes that the further you can look ahead, the better the changes at avoiding potential danger. “Even if it’s just on a back road, the further you can look ahead, the more likely you are to spot an incident as it’s happening and the less likely you are to get yourself in trouble.”