22 Jan Your Best Defensive (Driving) Strategies
With the increasing scourge of distracted and aggressive drivers, it may seem that today’s highways are perilous danger zones. By adopting defensive driving techniques, you can stay safe.
Distracted drivers. Aggressive drivers. Drowsy drivers. Today’s roadways can feel like a dangerous place where you’re taking your life into your hands just by leaving your garage every day.
And, according to the statistics, this perception is a depressing fact. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 90% of all traffic collisions are the result of driver error and not a mechanical failure or environmental/weather event.
Among the most pervasive of these driver errors, a whopping 41%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are a result of driver distraction — from eating to texting. Aggressive driving is another major contributor to crashes. Allstate Insurance estimates that up to one-third of all traffic events are related to aggressive driving. And this is just two examples of the dangerous behaviors that you may encounter on any given day on the road.
This doesn’t mean that you need to keep taking your chances fatalistically driving until you eventually become yet another crash statistic. Instead, you can remain safe on the road by adopting key defensive driving strategies and making them part of your safe driving behavior.
Have a Driving Game Plan
There are a number of basic strategies that you can adopt to remain safe in the dynamic and often volatile environment of daily driving, according to Allstate, including:
- Looking ahead: While it’s important to keep your eyes on the car in front of you, scanning several vehicles ahead of you will alert you to any situations that require you to brake, stop, or change your route.
- Know the speed limit: Not only will traveling the speed limit keep you safe and improve your fuel economy, it will also help you avoid getting a ticket.
- Leave enough room: Leaving enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you — today’s rule of thumb is two to three seconds — will give you enough time to react safely if the car in front of you stops or changes direction suddenly.
- Always use your turn signals: Signaling your intentions to the drivers behind and around you is crucial to keeping you safe.
- Drive predictably: Driving consistently is one of the best ways to stay safe. If you are changing lanes frequently, erratically slowing down and speeding up, and otherwise acting unpredictably, this will eventually cause you to either get into a crash or be pulled over for reckless driving.
- Wear your seatbelt: While driving defensively will certainly cut your chances for being in a collision, it is by no means a guarantee. Adopting defensive driving strategies also means that you should be prepared for any eventuality — including a collision. Modern seatbelts are among the most effective ways to remain safe during a collision event, and it’s also the law — you could receive a citation if you’re not wearing a seatbelt even if you’re driving safely.
- Have an escape plan: If possible, always leave yourself a way out, ideally space to change lanes if the vehicle in front of you stops suddenly or loses control, or if there’s an unexpected road hazard, such as debris in the road.
Keep in mind that you may have to adapt some of these techniques based on the time of year and specific weather conditions.
For example, in snowy/icy conditions, it’s recommended to increase following distance and cut speed in half — this will help you maintain control of your vehicle, particularly in instances when you have to come to a sudden or complete stop.
That being said, the general principles of defensive driving remain the same no matter the time of year or conditions.
Have the Right Attitude
While operating your vehicle safely is crucial, defensive driving is also a state of mind. Remaining calm — no matter what other drivers are doing — being alert, and being engaged, e.g., actively scanning the road ahead and checking your review mirror regularly, are crucial to having a defensive mindset.
And most important, keep in mind that while you may be operating your vehicle in the safest way possible, other drivers may not be. Adopting the above defensive driving techniques and having the right mindset may not help you avoid all crashes, but it will make it less likely that you’ll end up a crash statistic.