Just when you think you’ve seen it all on the highway — texting, eating, reading the newspaper, applying makeup — another motorist seems to go above and beyond in the bad driving department. Staying safe on the road entails more than just practicing good driving habits. It also involves watching out for other people’s poor choices.
What is defensive driving?
When you drive defensively, you’re prepared physically and mentally for the unexpected. You’re not in a panicked state, but you’re being careful. You’re ready to act should something out of the ordinary occur. You leave enough space between you and other vehicles, and you make sure you can see everything going on around you.
Practicing defensive driving reduces the chances that you’ll be involved in an accident. Here are some practical steps you can take to drive defensively.
Be in the moment
Did you ever reach your destination only to realize you didn’t remember driving there? For most people, driving becomes automatic. To drive defensively, you need to stay focused and watchful. Driving is the most dangerous activity most of us ever do, and it requires our full attention, AAA notes.
When you’re driving, you should be scanning surroundings for any changes or possible hazardous conditions. Distractions like using your cell phone, eating or chatting with passengers put you and others at risk.
AAA reports that rear-end collisions are involved in a full 30 percent of all vehicle crashes. To drive defensively, allow at least two seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you, the Texas Department of Insurance advises. In bad weather, double the distance. The space gives you time to react to hazards.
Know your exit strategy
To drive defensively, you should try to maintain a position where other motorists can see you and you can see them. You should check your mirrors routinely to keep abreast of vehicles behind you and beside you. In the event of a crash, knowing what’s around you could save your life as you move to avoid the hazard. Keeping speed at a reasonable level also is important when a dangerous situation happens: You have enough time to react and make a decision about your avoidance strategy.
Make your intentions clear
Other drivers need to know what you’re doing at all times. Defensive drivers signal and look around them before changing lanes. They don’t cut other drivers off, and they don’t make risky, last-minute maneuvers that can endanger others on the roadway.
In addition to helping you avoid an accident, defensive driving also can save you money. Carchex notes that taking a course with a defensive driving school may help significantly reduce the cost of your car insurance. Learning defensive driving strategies — leaving plenty of space, being aware of your surroundings, avoiding distractions, planning an exit route and communicating clearly with other drivers — is an invaluable investment in yourself and others on the roads.