Defensive driving, or proactively anticipating potential driving hazards, is a great way to stay safe on the road. Rather than just reacting to dangerous situations as they arrive, you can use specific techniques to avoid those situations in the first place. Many of these techniques are easy to incorporate into your daily routine, and they can go a long way toward protecting you and those you love.
12 Defensive Driving Techniques to Keep You Safe
The most helpful safe driving techniques are ones you will actually use as you drive. The following tips are simple and effective, and you can easily make them part of your regular driving habits.
Check Your Tires Before You Drive
You can start your defensive driving before you even get behind the wheel. As you're preparing to take your car out, give your tires a quick check. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire problems were a contributing factor in nine percent of all traffic accidents. You can avoid being part of this group by periodically checking your tire pressure and simply keeping an eye on the tread wear and condition of your tires.
Here's how you can incorporate this tip into your regular routine:
- Every time you walk up to your car, take a glance at the tires to make sure they are properly inflated.
- Every time you change your oil, have the garage check your tire pressure and tire condition.
Check your tire pressure before every major trip.
Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
As you head out on the road, it pays to be especially observant. Watch what is happening on all sides of your vehicle, not just in front. A great defensive driver is always aware about what is happening on all sides of the car. You can make this awareness a habit in the following ways:
- Each time you stop at a light, quiz yourself about the color of the car behind you. Check your guess by looking in the rearview mirror.
- Think about what you see in your peripheral vision as you drive. This will include cars on your left or right, as well as the shoulder of the road.
- Scan ahead for hazards, including deer, pedestrians, and other vehicles. Don't just focus on the car ahead of you.
- Be aware of the road surface, including whether it is slippery or dry.
Be Prepared for Road Conditions
As most drivers know, the condition of the roads can make a huge difference in how you drive. Driving in the rain, snow, sleet, or fog means slowing down and leaving more room between cars. Implement winter driving safety tips or other practical measures as necessary.
Stay Focused and Alert
While everyone knows that driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous and illegal, many people are not aware of how dramatically their level of alertness can affect their safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is the cause of more than 100,000 accidents each year. Fortunately, you can take steps to stay alert when you drive:
- Avoid driving near or after the time you usually go to bed. Your body is used to sleeping at this time, so you will not be as alert.
- If you're sleep-deprived for any reason, stay off the road if at all possible.
- When you find yourself feeling sleepy behind the wheel, pull over and take a short nap or a brisk walk to wake yourself up.
- If you need to get focused, drink a hot beverage to increase your body temperature. According a 2002 study, an increased body temperature helped subject perform better even when they were tired.
Leave Plenty of Space
Leaving enough space between cars is essential for being a defensive driver. Think of this extra space as a safety buffer around your vehicle. If something happens ahead of you, you will have that safety buffer to react to the event. According to the SmartMotorist.com, you'll need a minimum of three seconds between the car ahead of you and your vehicle. This means that you should leave as much space as it takes you to count three seconds. If you're driving at high speeds or in adverse conditions, you should lengthen this distance.
Think Two Steps Ahead
Defensive driving is about strategy, just like playing chess or football. If you think of the other drivers as your opponents and try to anticipate their next moves, you'll be ready for almost any situation. You can integrate this type of thinking in the following simple ways:
- Don't just watch the car ahead of you. Watch the car ahead of it. That way, you'll be hitting your breaks when that car does, rather than counting on the reaction time of the driver in between.
- Watch cars at intersections and assume that they might decide to drive when it isn't their turn. They are stopped now, but their next move might be to shoot out in front of you.
- When you see a car with a turn signal on, think about how you will react if they turn, as well as how you'll react if they don't. Sometimes drivers forget to turn off a turn signal or change their minds at the last moment.
Keep Your Wheels Straight at a Stop
Sometimes, accidents occur when a car is stopped with its wheels turned. If the vehicle is rear-ended, it can get pushed into oncoming traffic. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation recommends that all drivers keep their wheels going straightforward when waiting to turn. This simple defensive driving technique could save your life.
Look Left Twice
It's common practice to look both ways before you pull out into traffic. However, in some situations, this may not be sufficient. For instance, if are making a left turn, you'll look left first and see that the lane is clear. Then you'll look right to check for cars, and you may need to wait a moment for that lane to be clear. In the time you were waiting, a car may have come around a curve or over a hill from the left. If you pull out after only looking left once, you'll get in an accident.
It's best to get into the habit of looking left, then right, then left again before pulling out. Simply make this part of your regular driving routine every time you turn left or cross an intersection.
Stay in Your Lane
When you're in a hurry, it's tempting to change lanes or pass other cars to get where you need to go more quickly. However, changing lanes is dangerous. According to a PDF report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, lane changes are a contributing factor in more than 200,000 car crashes each year.
You can minimize your risk by minimizing lane changes. If you need to change lanes, do so very carefully after looking all around your vehicle and paying special attention to your blind spots.
Watch Out for Others' Blind Spots
As a driver, you are probably already aware of your blind spots. Typically these are located behind your car on both sides. However, you also have to be aware of the blind spots of other drivers. You can incorporate this habit in the following ways:
- When driving on a freeway or four-lane highway, speed up or slow down to stay out of the blind spot of the car next to you. That way, if they change lanes without look properly, you won't be in the way.
- If you're merging on the highway, try to enter before or after a car, rather than waiting in the car's blind spot for a chance to merge.
- Keep in mind that long vehicles, such as semi trucks, have longer, larger blind spots.
Deal with Your Emotions
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that a substantial number of car crashes are directly caused by aggressive driving. There's no doubt that road rage or aggressive driving is dangerous, but it's easy to slip into this type of emotional driving without realizing it. Being aware of your emotional state can help you avoid this dangerous driving practice. As a defensive driver, you can even use steps to calm yourself down.
- Pay attention to how you feel. If you find yourself getting angry behind the wheel, take a deep breath to calm down.
- If you can't relax, pull over and wait for your feelings to pass.
- Never allow yourself to make the situation worse by confronting another driver on the road. If you must do something, write down the license plate number and send a letter to your local police department.
Allow Dangerous Drivers to Pass
You can act as a defensive driver by keeping an eye out for dangerous drivers and then keeping your distance from these motorists. Watch for cars that are swerving or driving erratically and for drivers who seem to be especially aggressive. Then, if at all possible, wait for these drivers to pass you. If you can't get out of the situation by waiting, pull over and allow the other car to go by. Staying away from these drivers will help you stay alive.
Reduce Your Risk
Safe driving is about more than just knowing the rules of the road. It's also about being proactive. If you keep defensive driving techniques in mind and incorporate these habits into your life, you can dramatically reduce your risk of an accident.