Defensive Driving 101

Defensive driving 101
Featured image credit: Olga Kurbatova/iStockphoto.com

It is not easy to be a good driver. Even after driving for years, you might still be unsure whether your behind-the-wheel skills are up to snuff. It is even harder to be a defensive driver!

The term distracted driving has been around for years. However, over the last decade, due to the increased use of smartphones, the number of road accidents due to distracted driving have multiplied.

Here are some hard stats:

  • There are more than 3,000 deaths a year as a result of distracted driving. (Source: NHTSA)
  • Nine Americans are killed each day by distracted driving accidents. (Source: CDC)
  • Every day, more than 1,100 people are injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver. (Source: CDC)
  • In 2011, 10% of the fatal crashes and 17% of the  injury crashes were distraction-affected. (Source: NHTSA)
  • In 12% of the distraction-affected crashes in 2011, drivers were using a cell phone at the time of the crash. (Source: NHTSA)

So, whether we use a smartphone, change music, check emails, or look at Facebook, we often tend to ignore our responsibilities as drivers. In fact, distracted drivers might even be a greater threat on the roads than drunk drivers.

The good news is that distracted driving is preventable. You just have to learn to drive defensively.

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What is Defensive Driving?

It is an approach based on the notion that roads are a dangerous place to be and, as a responsible driver, you must be aware of potential threats to avoid a collision.

According to a research, defensive driving requires the driver to engage in a series of cognitive tasks, which get impaired when drivers divert from driving. The research has identified and described the cognitive process through the SPIDER model. SPIDER is an acronym that stands for:

  • Scanning for potential risks
  • Predicting the source of those risks
  • Identifying actual risks
  • Deciding whether to act and what action to take
  • Executing the right response and action

When drivers engage in secondary activities that are unrelated to driving, SPIDER-related processes get impaired, situation awareness is reduced, and the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is compromised.

To practice defensive driving, you must understand that other drivers might make mistakes and engage in aggressive driving which may result in crashes. To avoid these crashes, you have to be prepared to handle the other drivers’ mistakes.

For instance, when you approach an intersection, you cannot take your eyes off the other cars, expecting them to stop for their red light signal, even if you have the green light. Also, when you are driving through an intersection and see pedestrians, you cannot assume that they will see you coming and stop if they are looking at their phones. When pedestrians or other drivers look at their phones, they cannot scan, identify, and avoid potential hazards.

So, you must ultimately be vigilant and commit to driving defensively to protect yourself from bad drivers.

Two cars collided at an intersection due to aggressive driving
Image credit: igartist/iStockphoto.com

Elements of Defensive Driving

The basic elements of defensive driving are the following:

  • Space: Keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the car in front. This will give you time to react and reduce your risk of getting injured when a collision occurs in front of you or beside you.
  • Visibility: When changing lanes, keep an eye on your mirrors to be sure that there is nobody in your blind spot. You must also be careful of driving in other drivers’ blind spots to help them avoid crashing into you.
  • Communication: Always use turn signals to communicate your intent to merge or change lanes. Also, respect other drivers when they signal and allow them to turn, change lanes, and merge safely.

Defensive Driving Tips

Awareness and proactiveness are key to defensive driving. To avoid accidents, a defensive driver should always pay attention to the actions of the other drivers. Anticipating hazards and always looking 10 seconds ahead will give you time to react and help reduce collisions. Here are some other tips:

Do Not Assume or Trust

When you are on the road, you are never entirely by yourself and you are susceptible to the actions of the other drivers. Still, the biggest mistake most drivers make is trusting other drivers to be as careful on the roads as they are.

For instance, just because the car in front of you is indicating right does not mean that it will actually turn right. Unless you can physically see the vehicle turning, do not presume. Also, drivers are sometimes unaware that their indicators or on.

So, you can reduce the risk of a collision by expecting others to make mistakes, while you stay conscious enough to react appropriately. Your safety is your responsibility and the less you assume, the safer you will be.

When Feeling Unsafe, Pull Over

If the driver behind you is engaging in road rage or another unsafe practice, pull over and let them pass. Never put yourself in a risky situation. You cannot control what other drivers do, but you can keep yourself as safe as possible behind the wheel. Never get drawn into aggressive driving practices, such as overtaking or tailgating. Such unsafe driving practices only increase the risk of an accident. Defensive driving reduces (if not eliminates) the chance of you being in a collision.

Commercial trucks on highway adhering to defensive driving
Image credit: Milos-Muller/iStockphoto.com

Do Not Drink and Drive

Even an over-the-counter flu medication can impair your judgment and increase your response time. So, it is wise to assess your health honestly before deciding to drive. The average body can only digest one drink per hour, which is roughly 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. If you are under the influence of alcohol, stay away from the wheel.

Say no to driving while on alcohol
Image credit: Irina Vodneva/iStockphoto.com

Maintain a Safe Distance from Other Vehicles

To avoid a collision, you need to have ample room to react to risky situations. The best way to do this is to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. This will also give you sufficient stopping distance if the driver in front of you applies his or her brakes suddenly. For ideal driving conditions, allow at least three seconds of space between you and the car in front of you. In bad weather conditions, that distance should be increased.

Take a Defensive Driving Course

If you really want to learn more tips and tricks of defensive driving, you could take a certified defensive driving course. The course may vary from state to state because they are tailored for local traffic laws, but taking a defensive driving course will significantly improve your driving skills and you will feel more mindful about the driving-related risks. The National Safety Council (NSC) offers defensive driving courses and have trained over 75 million drivers in all 50 states as well as globally.

Conclusion

Better safe than sorry! Practicing defensive driving is one of many ways to ensure driver safety. If you start practicing the tips mentioned above daily, they will become habits and once defensive driving has become second nature, you will be a safe driver.

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