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Defensive Driving Tips: How To Stay Safer on the Road

News » Defensive Driving Tips: How To Stay Safer on the Road

Driving a car is proven to be the most dangerous everyday activity that Americans partake in, with more deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes than by almost any other type of accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high in 2021, with an estimated 42,915 deaths in motor vehicle crashes during that year.

Although that number went down somewhat in 2022, car accidents remain a leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States.

Since most of us cannot avoid driving regularly, we must find ways to improve safety on the road and reduce our chances of getting in an accident.

You also cannot control the actions of other drivers, so that leaves nothing but your own decision-making and driving habits to mitigate the risk of a crash.

The best way to keep yourself safe on the road is by learning defensive driving techniques.

What is Defensive Driving? 

Defensive driving is a set of tactics used to anticipate dangerous situations and make generally better decisions in order to reduce your risk of a car accident.

Driving defensively not only makes you safer — it improves the safety of those around you and can also reduce your legal liability if an accident occurs.

Defensive driving skills revolve around identifying risks and hazards, teaching yourself how to stay focused behind the wheel, and learning how to stay aware despite the many

distractions present in the driving environment.

Learning these techniques is the first step, but you can only perfect them with practice over time.

Defensive Driving Techniques

Techniques for defensive driving can be used in any scenario.

From busy interstate highways and arterial roads, to local neighborhood driving and trips to the grocery store — driving defensively is always the safer way to go.

Here is an overview of defensive driving techniques you can implement right away.

Plan Ahead

Before you begin a long road trip or even a simple drive to the store, you should always plan ahead.

Planning your trips can help you avoid bad weather conditions, routes that might be dangerous, and other factors that can lead to accidents.

Bad road conditions are a common contributor to car crashes, and even normal conditions on busy roads can be incredibly dangerous.

Learn the biggest risks along your route and plan ahead to avoid them, even if it means an alternative route that might increase your drive time.

Stay Aware of Your Surroundings

Of course you’ve heard the instruction to “keep your eyes on the road,” but also scanning the surroundings can help you see potential hazards before they become a problem.

It is possible to watch the road ahead but also to glance around and see the shoulders, sidewalks, and intersections where pedestrians, animals, or other vehicles could present a risk.

In addition to seeing everything that’s in front of you, you should become comfortable with checking your car’s mirrors and blind spots.

Many crashes happen while drivers are changing lanes, so it’s important to learn your blind spots and how to check them quickly without losing your focus on the road ahead.

Brake Early

You should always brake early — as soon as you’re aware of an obstacle ahead — and come to a gradual stop, rather than waiting until the last minute.

This means slowing down as soon as you see brake lights in the distance, especially when traveling on a busy highway.

Defensive driving means always implementing the Three Second Rule:

Keeping three seconds’ worth of space between you and the car in front of you.

This maintains a safe following distance under regular driving conditions.

In adverse conditions such as wet roads or low visibility, you should increase that distance to four or five seconds, or more.

If everyone followed the Three Second Rule, our roads would be much safer and traffic would actually flow more smoothly, with less abrupt start and stop.

Though you can’t make everyone drive as safely as you do, you can influence their decision-making by braking early, slowing down at a gradual pace, and giving other drivers in your vicinity enough space.

Stay Calm

One critical aspect of driving defensively is avoiding the temptation to drive recklessly.

Whether it’s a sudden danger that causes you to panic, or another driver that causes road rage, keeping cool in a tense situation is key to staying safe.

Reckless driving is a top cause of automobile accidents, but this should be preventable.

Instead of getting worked up, you can drive defensively by staying calm and focused, going the speed limit, remaining in the right-hand lane unless passing, and avoiding aggressive maneuvers.

Whenever you feel the urge to drive recklessly, just take a deep breath and recognize that the danger to yourself and others is not worth the minute you might arrive earlier.

Remember: It’s better to lose a second of your life than to lose your life in a second.

Avoid Distractions

Distracted driving is an increasingly common cause of car crashes and fatalities.

Many things like cell phones, passengers, navigation systems, music, and more can make it difficult to focus on the task of driving and therefore put you in danger.

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 phone is guaranteed to make you a safer driver.

Watch Out for Other Drivers

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 learn to judge other drivers’ behavior and keep 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 certain areas and times of the night when more drunk drivers are likely to be on the road.

Be a More Courteous Driver

Simply being courteous to other drivers can help keep you and your passengers safe.

Especially in high-traffic areas, you can help everyone’s safety by allowing other vehicles to change lanes, and by yielding to those entering or exiting the roadway.

Along with treating other drivers with respect, you should simply follow the rules of the road to stay safe.

Always use your turn signals, follow the posted speed limit, stay alert for other vehicles’ lights or motorcyclists’ hand signals, and remember your safe following distance.

To further improve your skills for defensive driving, you could even consider taking a defensive driving course.

What Is a Defensive Driving Course?

Many insurance companies, government agencies, schools, and other institutions offer defensive driving courses to those interested.

Some cost money, but others are free to enroll in.

You may even be able to save money on your insurance premiums after completing a course.

These courses vary based on the provider, but they typically give detailed run-downs on what to do in certain traffic situations, how to approach hazards safely, crash prevention tips, readings on traffic laws for your state, safety equipment for motor vehicles, and more.

The courses may take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete, and come with a certificate upon completion.

How To Take a Defensive Driving Course

You should first check with your auto insurance provider to see what defensive driving courses, if any, can save you money on your payments.

You can also search online for popular courses and find out the benefits of each.

Here are just a few defensive driving courses you can take online:

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 to be sharpened, and any other drivers looking to keep safe on the road.

It is important to remember, however, that even with the best defensive driving skills, accidents can still happen.

What To Do if You're Involved in a Car Accident

How To Take a Defensive Driving Course

You should first check with your auto insurance provider to see what defensive driving courses, if any, can save you money on your payments.

You can also search online for popular courses and find out the benefits of each.

Here are just a few defensive driving courses you can take online:

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 to be sharpened, and any other drivers looking to keep safe on the road.

It is important to remember, however, that even with the best defensive driving skills, accidents can still happen.

If you are not at fault for the accident, you should receive some amount of compensation through the other driver’s insurance.

However, claims do not always go as expected.

You want to make sure that you receive the full sum you are entitled to, and an attorney can help.

If you are involved in an accident through no fault of your own, contact a car accident lawyer at TorHoerman Law for a free consultation.

Additional Defensive Driving Advice and Safe Driving Resources

Check out the following online resources for more defensive driving tips and techniques:

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a governmental agency that establishes standards for commercial vehicle safety and provides information for businesses.

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