7 Valuable Lessons Learned in Defensive Driving

Defensive driving is a skill you develop over time. The more crazy stuff you see on the road, the better you become at anticipating potential accidents due to erratic, reckless drivers or changing road conditions. Whether you just got your driver's license or you've driven across the country too many times to count, taking time to review what it means to be a good defensive driver will help you stay safe and enjoy the time you spend behind the wheel.

  1. Eliminate distractions:

    You can't drive defensively if your attention isn't fully on the road. In 2010, more than 3,000 people were killed and an estimated 416,000 injured in automobile crashes involving a distracted driver. It's one thing to be distracted while driving by the sight of a hot jogger. It's a whole other thing to be distracted because you're busy typing out a text message, looking to see what track is playing on your mp3 player, and holding a cup of steaming hot coffee in between your knees. Cell phone use, personal grooming, and reading a road map are all cognitive tasks that prevent you from giving the task at hand — driving safely — your full attention.

  2. Be aware of your surroundings:

    OK, so you turned off your cell phone, applied your lipstick, gelled your hair, and told your buddies in the back seat to shut up before you even keyed your car's ignition. Good for you. Now once you hit the road, make it a point to be as aware of your surroundings as possible, especially other drivers approximately 30 seconds ahead of you. Look out for drivers who are speeding, switching lanes without signaling, or otherwise driving recklessly. Keep an eye out for upcoming road construction that might call for you to slow down quickly. Look around and ahead for situations that may require you to react quickly.

  3. Follow the 3-to-4-second rule:

    Going back to that reckless driver ahead of you, if you tailgate that driver, and they suddenly slam on their brakes after spilling hot coffee in their lap, you'll have no time to react and avoid rear-ending them. Allowing for space between you and that driver, about 3 to 4 seconds worth, will give you the time you need to slow down and brake if the situation calls for it.

  4. Obey speed limits:

    Posted speed limits are meant for ideal road conditions, and your job as a defensive driver is to be sure your speed matches those conditions. So if it's pouring rain, and visibility is terrible, you and your fellow drivers should drive a little bit below the speed limit. If there are blizzard conditions with ice on the road, you should to drive much, much slower than what's posted. However, studies show that drivers most likely to have an accident are those driving 10 mph or lower below the speed limit. In ideal conditions, sunshine and dry roads, you should try to match your speed with that of your fellow drivers.

  5. Don't let your emotions control your driving:

    Being in control of how you react to your emotions is key to safe, defensive driving. You may feel angry when someone cuts you off and, just for good measure, flips you the bird. But you don't even have to react to this scenario, and you certainly should never use your car as a tool to express your anger. When you're calm and not feeling pressured to get to a destination, this advice seems obvious, but sometimes, especially while driving, emotions get the better of us. No matter what kind of day you're having, don't take it out on your fellow drivers with your car. Remember to breathe, stay cool, and remain aware of your surroundings.

  6. Yield:

    There are times you need to yield because it's the law, and there are times when you must yield because if you don't, some idiot is going to plow into your car. Good defensive drivers understand that even when they have the right of way, exiting a freeway onto a service road for example, that another driver may decide to be a jerk and ignore the rule. Being ready to yield, even in situations where you clearly have the right of way, will help you avoid an accident.

  7. Drive awake:

    Another seemingly obvious point, but according to The National Highway and Traffic Administration, more than 56,000 crashes annually are caused by drowsy, half-awake drivers. As a good defensive driver, you're going to want to hit the road only when you're wide awake and well rested. You want to be fully aware of your surroundings when you hit the road. If while driving you find your mind drifting and eyelids closing, pull over and rest. Even a short nap can revitalize your body and give you the alertness you need to drive safe.

Leave a comment