Defensive driving is a recurring theme of driver safety courses and traffic enforcement everywhere because it can help prevent serious car accidents from occurring. In this article, we’ll discuss a few of the less obvious tips and suggestions for handling tricky situations while on the road.
First, let’s try to change the negative stereotype that is commonly associated with defensive drivers. A defensive driver is not an overly worrisome driver who drives 10mph below the posted speed limit. Defensive driving indicates a driver is alert at all times. Paying attention and anticipating danger or uncertainty requires sharp mental processing and habitual familiarization. However, it can become second nature to any driver willing to put forth the effort.
3 “Best Practices” for Effective Defensive Driving
1. Don’t Tailgate: It is important to avoid following too closely and discourage other drivers from following too closely behind you. In flowing traffic, give yourself a full 2-second count in distance between you and the car in front of you. Be sure to remain calm if you are behind a driver who is driving well below the speed limit. First, slow down and give that driver a cushion, then begin preparing to pass the car once it’s safe to do so. If you have a tailgater behind you, temporarily ease off the accelerator and allow your speed to drop 5-10 mph temporarily. The tailgating driver will likely pass you ASAP. Keep looking ahead, but anticipate that he/she will likely pass you with haste. Let them do it. In all cases, never use your brakes to discourage, warn, or intimidate a tailgater.
2. Take in the Big Picture: While it is important to look forward, you want to utilize your peripheral vision while looking down the road. Don’t solely focus on the car directly in front of you. If you’re behind a truck or SUV and cannot see past it, it might be a good idea to signal and change lanes as soon as it’s safe to do so. Try to scan at least several car-lengths ahead of you. Often times, you can look through the windows of the car in front of you and still see what is in front of that car. This can help you to better prepare to stop, as you may see cars or objects in front of the other driver at the same time he/she sees them.
3. Stay Out of Blind Spots: Always be sure to check over your shoulder so you can see your blind spot before changing lanes and keep your car out of other drivers’ blind spots. It may seem safe for you to make a lane change, but be sure to look just slightly ahead and two lanes over.Are you going to be changing lanes and moving right into another driver’s blind spot? Avoid this at all costs.
If you are passing slower moving cars in adjacent lanes, minimize your time in that car’s blind spot. Speed up so the front of you vehicle passes through the blind spot and is at least even with the other car’s front wheels. This should place your car within the other driver’s peripheral vision, but you may still want to look over at the other driver briefly to determine if your presence has registered. Accelerate safely to avoid riding alongside a potentially distracted driver.
Alert & Aware Driving
The 3 preceding tips cover a broad range of specific defensive driving tactics and examples. Additionally, it is important to keep the simple basic in mind. These include looking before you turn, signaling single turn and lane change, and checking your rear/side view mirrors once every 30-60 seconds. These basic items, along with the practices listed above, can help to prevent at least 50% of the immediate causes of traffic accidents. Defensive driving takes practice and discipline, but these habits can help keep drivers of all types safe an alert.