Driving a car has proven to be the most dangerous and deadliest everyday activity Americans partake in.
Just last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high: an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021.
You can never predict the actions or decision-making of another driver, so it’s important to take steps in your own driving habits to mitigate the risk of accidents.
We recommend defensive driving as the number one way to keep yourself safe on the road.
Defensive driving is a set of tactics used to mitigate accident risk, anticipate dangerous situations, and generally make better decisions when driving.
Defensive driving skills revolve around identifying risks and hazards, teaching oneself how to stay focused behind the wheel, and learning how to stay aware despite the many distractions present in the current driving environment.
There are defensive driving courses offered across the country, but even reading blogs, watching videos, and being generally aware of defensive driving tips can inform your driving decisions. Defensive driver courses are especially helpful to older drivers and oftentimes come with an insurance discount.
Understanding and implementing the points of defensive driving can help keep you and your loved ones safe and avoid car accidents.
Defensive driving techniques can be put into practice in every driving situation. From busy interstate highways and arterial roads, to local neighborhood and city grocery store trips, defensive driving skills are widely applicable.
Below are a list of actionable defensive driving techniques you can implement:
Before you begin a long road trip or a simple drive to the grocery store, you should always plan ahead. Planning your trips can help you avoid bad weather conditions, routes where danger presents itself, and other factors that lead to accidents. Bad road conditions are a common cause of car crashes.
Even normal driving conditions on busy roads can be incredibly dangerous. Plan ahead and choose a route that will allow you to arrive safely, even if it increases your total driving time.
Scanning the road around you can help see potential hazards before they become a problem. Keep an eye on the road ahead of you, shoulders, sidewalks, pedestrians, animals, and anything else that could be a potential danger.
Scanning your surroundings also means becoming comfortable with check your car's blind spots. One of the most common causes of car accidents are blind spot collisions.
Especially if you’re on a busy highway and see red brake lights in the distance, always brake early and come to a gradual stop rather than waiting until the last minute. Braking properly in different situations, such as when approaching a yellow light or red light, stopped traffic, or on slippery roads, can mitigate the risk of accidents.
When a driver brakes suddenly, it makes it difficult to keep a safe following distance, encourages others to switch lanes erratically, and increases the risk of traffic crashes.
You can’t always influence drivers behind you to drive as cautiously and aware as you do, but you can influence their decision making by braking early, slowing down at a gradual pace, and giving other drivers in your vicinity enough space.
Try to implement the three second rule: leave three seconds of space between you and the car in front of you, helping maintain a safe distance.
Too often, when danger presents itself, drivers will panic and start driving recklessly. Road rage has become an increasingly prevalent cause of car crashes.
This is the opposite of the mindset required when faced with uncertain situations on the road. It is best to stay calm and focused, brake early like mentioned before, stay in the right hand lane unless passing, and approach every potentially dangerous situation with complete caution.
Staying calm can help drivers make good decisions and avoid collisions. It can be hard to stay calm when put into stressful situations, such as when you’re running late or dealing with rude drivers. Take a deep breath and recognize that the danger you put yourself in by driving dangerously is not worth the minute you arrive earlier.
It’s better to lose a second of your life than to lose your life in a second.
Distracted driving is one of the most common causes of fatal crashes on the road. Distractions such as cellphones, passengers, navigation systems, music, and others can make it difficult to focus on the task of driving.
Avoid distractions at all costs, no matter where you’re driving. Stay focused on the road, keep your eyes up and your hands on the steering wheel. Paying attention and keeping off your cell phone is guaranteed to make you a safer driver.
One of the first lessons taught in Driver’s Education is to not trust other drivers to make good decisions. Along with scanning the road and staying calm, you can better judge other drivers’ behavior and maintain your distance if you notice them driving erratically or dangerously.
Steering clear of confrontation and conflict with other vehicles on the road will help you avoid getting into an accident.
It's also important to mention the danger of drunk drivers. Drunk driving is a leading cause of fatal crashes. Steer clear of areas and times when more drunk drivers are likely to be on the road. Read about what to do if you're in an accident with a drunk driver here.
Similar to staying calm and collected behind the wheel, understand that being courteous to other drivers will help keep you and your passengers safe. Especially in high traffic areas, be helpful to other vehicles changing lanes, entering the roadway and leaving the roadway.
Along with treating other drivers with respect, follow the rules of the road. Use your turn signals, follow the posted speed limit, stay alert for other vehicle's lights and motorcyclists' hand signals, and do everything within your power to drive safely and drive defensively.
Many insurance companies, government agencies, schools, and other institutions offer defensive driving courses to those interested. Some do cost money, but others are free to enroll in.
Some defensive driving courses are available to be taken online:
The National Safety Council offers an online defensive driving course that can be completed in a few hours.
AARP’s Smart Driver course is online and offers a potential auto insurance discount upon completion.
SafetyServe provides a list of defensive driving courses in each state.
Defensive driving courses typically take hours or a few days to complete, and students are given a certificate of completion to give to their insurance company in order to receive discounts.
Defensive driving courses vary based on the provider, but typically there are detailed run-downs on what to do in certain traffic situations, how to approach hazards safely, crash prevention tips, readings on state-by-state traffic laws and safety equipment for motor vehicles, and more.
Defensive driving courses can be extremely valuable to people who are not used to high traffic situations, those who have been in accidents and are apprehensive about getting back behind the wheel, older drivers whose skills need sharpened, and any other driver looking to keep safe on the road.
If you're involved in a car wreck, take the following steps to keep you and your passengers safe, as well as ensuring you have adequate standing for a car accident legal claim if necessary:
Do not leave the scene of the accident.
If it is an emergency, immediately call 911 to alert authorities and receive medical attention. If there are no injuries and the accident is not blocking traffic, call the non-emergency number of the local police department to report the accident.
Follow any instructions given to you by the police. If told to move to a safe location or the next exit on the highway, do so.
Be polite to all individuals, including the police, but do not admit fault at any point.
Collect any evidence of the scene: pictures, videos, contact information of individuals involved, and the name and badge number of responding law enforcement.
Keep track of all costs associated with your accident including medical bills and vehicle repairs.
No matter what safe driving tips you implement, there's sometimes the potential for negligent or distracted drivers to cause accidents.
In the case that you're involved in a car crash at no fault of your own, contact a car accident lawyer at TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.
Check out the following online resources for more defensive driving tips and techniques:
The National Safety Council's Defensive Driving Safety Training: first conceived in 1964, the NSC's defensive driving techniques aim to reduce crash numbers and fatalities on the road.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): this road safety resources page has many informational pages on how to keep yourself and others safe behind the wheel.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA): this governmental agency is responsible for establishing standards for large truck and commercial vehicle safety.
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