The National Safety Council defines defensive driving as "driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others."
Driving defensively is a crucial skill to learn. To drive defensively entails that you are driving and taking into consideration your safety and the safety of others on the road. Defensive driving means that you are paying attention to your driving conditions and ensuring that you are always one step ahead to make sure that you avoid any potential hazards and are able to maintain control of your vehicle. Defensive driving also means that you are being respectful and mindful of other drivers. With instruction from American Champions Driving School, our students are equipped with the skills necessary to drive defensively and safely in all situations.
The following are some tips to drive defensively:
1. Always be prepared.
Always be ready to take on preventative actions to avoid any collision.
This will require you to sit straight (instead of slouching), keep both hands on the steering wheel, stay aware and keep your focus on vehicles and road conditions. If you see a hazard, take actions such as slow down, safely change lanes or take other safe, preventative actions to avoid a collision and keep your current driving environment safer.
2. Keep your focus on the road and your driving.
Make sure that you are not distracted and stay focused on your driving by doing the following:
3. Always scan far ahead and keep an eye on your surroundings.
Do not just focus on the car in front of you; emphasize your focus farther ahead and on your surroundings for possible hazards. Using your mirrors, keep checking behind you for possible hazards.
4. Try to predict a risk, so you can take the safest action to avoid it.
As you are aware of your surroundings and scanning the road and other drivers, you need to be able to spot a hazard or traffic risk and make a prediction of what can happen if you do not take any actions – or, if you take an action, if it will cause another hazard.
Example: If you notice an open-bed truck on the highway in front of you carrying construction materials that can become loose at any moment, you need to be able to sense this risk. Safely change lanes away from the truck and if you predict that the truck is a high risk for other drivers, pull over to the nearest exit, and call the highway patrol and report the hazard.
5. Have a safe plan and good strategy when you notice a risk.
If you see a hazard, do not stare at it; instead, have a strategy to avoid an accident.
Example: If you're scanning far ahead and you see a ladder on your path ahead, take proper actions such as slow down safely and change the lane away from the path of the hazard.
6. Stay a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.
Follow the three-second rule, meaning you should have at least 3 seconds of driving time based on your current speed between you and the vehicle in front of you. Make sure you and other drivers have enough room to maneuver around you.
You will need to allow more distance than the three-second rule in the following situations:
Vehicle to your sides.
Vehicle to your back
7. Do not drive in another vehicle's blind spot.
Some drivers can be tired, distracted, forgetful or just lazy checking their blind spot before changing lanes, so never drive in the blind spot of another vehicle.
8. Do not expect that other drivers will drive the way you like them to drive.
Pay attention to what you can control, which is your own driving. Do not expect other drivers to follow certain driving practices that you like.
Example: If you notice a driver that is driving slower than the traffic flow in the left lane, do not tailgate the driver, thinking that you will make him/her to go faster.
9. Let the other drivers know when you are maneuvering through traffic.
Let other drivers know what you'll be doing next by communicating with turn signals, hand signals, and your vehicle's lights.
10. Try to stay in a safe lane of the highways.
The far right lane is for exiting and entering the highways, and the far left lane is for passing the other cars, so try not to drive in those lanes as a long-distance driving choice.
11. Don't keep changing lanes.
Changing lanes unnecessarily and slipping between cars will increase the chances of getting into accidents.
12. Watch out for drivers who keep changing lanes or slip between cars.
If you notice a car that is dangerously speeding and maneuvering between traffic and slipping between cars, slow down and give the speeding driver enough space to maneuver around you.
13. Be careful at intersections and watch out for drivers that go through red lights.
If you are at an intersection and the light turns green, do not assume that the other drivers who have the red light are stopping.
Unfortunately, there are many drivers that try to make it through a yellow light when it is already red and if you are the first driver on the intersection, you will be the target for those drivers. So, if you are at an intersection and the light turns green, check for cars that may run the red light and hit you from the side before proceeding to the intersection.
14. Watch out for drunk, tired or bad drivers and keep your distance from them.
If you notice a driver is drifting in and out of the lanes, driving on the center lane or lane marker, driving too fast or too slow, or tailgating, keep a good distance away from those type of drivers.
15. Stay away from road rage situations.
If you notice a driver is driving recklessly or is upset at your driving and honks at you, do not engage with the driver in any way or with eye contact; slow down and let the driver speed away.
16. Avoid braking suddenly.
Unless you have no other choice, avoid braking suddenly. Watch the brake lights of vehicles ahead. If several vehicles begin braking or slowing, brake early to avoid a sudden stop. Warn drivers behind you by tapping your brakes several times.
Click on the following links to learn more about how to drive defensively: