While you can’t control the actions of other drivers, there are ways you can drive that will minimize your own risk around them. This is called defensive driving, and it is a critical part of safety behind the wheel.
What Is Defensive Driving?
Most accidents can be avoided if you drive carefully and safely. However, you may wonder if this is possible. What if the accident is because of another driver’s fault or the accident is because of bad weather or it is because of reasons beyond your control?
You can minimize accidents significantly and even prevent them by practicing good situational awareness and anticipating possible actions that other drivers may take. The best way to stay safe is to be aware of your surroundings and while understanding how other people may drive. Even if you have the right of way, you can’t always count on the other driver to obey the law.
The concept of defensive driving has been around for a few years now and has enabled drivers to become safer and more proactive. Defensive driving essentially means much more than simply being cautious and slow while driving. It is an approach that enables drivers to avoid unnecessary traffic accidents on the road.
Defensive driving includes anticipating all potential dangers and risks while driving on the road and ensuring that you drive in a way that keeps both your passengers and you safe and secure. Defensive driving encourages you to stay aware, expect the unexpected, spot any risks or dangers, and take precautions to prevent accidents before they occur. Learning and understanding the principles of defensive driving intelligently can help to prevent the probability of traffic accidents.
5 Rules of Defensive Driving
According to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) statistics, over 32,700 people die in accidents every year and according to the NSC (National Safety Council), it is estimated that an average person has a chance of 1 in 113 of dying in a motor accident. And, the best way to remain safe is by following defensive driving. Here are the 5 key rules of defensive driving:
Keep a Watch on the Traffic around You
While you may be an experienced driver, people around you may not be. It is extremely important not only to pay attention to the traffic that is in front of you but also to the vehicles beside you, behind you and the ones passing you. Accidents can happen from any side and just paying attention to the vehicle in front of you means that you’re not aware of the potential dangers around.
Speeding vehicles and drivers can behave unpredictably and when you focus only on what is ahead of you, they can go unnoticed and you can land up in an accident. It is also important to check your mirrors, both the rearview and side to be aware of any potential hazards behind you and at your sides. Check your mirrors many times every minute to ensure that you are at a safe distance from the vehicles ahead of you, but also behind and side of your vehicle.
Apart from checking your side and rear view mirrors, make sure that there are no potential hazards that are hidden by the A-pillar of your vehicle. Learn all the blind spots of your vehicle and make sure to look around pillars, obstacles, etc. so that you are aware of your immediate surroundings.
Be Aware of Blind Spots
The mirrors in your vehicle, i.e. the rearview, driver’s side and passenger side mirror are the main tools that allow you to see what is behind you and to your side while driving. However, when you’re driving on the highway and a vehicle passes by you in another lane, at a particular point, you can’t see the vehicle at all. This is known as the blind spot and every vehicle has a few blind spots.
The blind spots depend on the type of vehicle you’re driving. For instance, a car has blind spots at the sides close to the rear of the vehicle. This means that even if you adjust your mirrors correctly, you will not be able to see anything in these areas. Some vehicles may not be able to see anything that is directly behind them. In the vehicles where the driver sits very high, they may not be able to see anything that is very low to the ground in the front or near the sides at the front.
It is very important that you check your mirrors once every 5-8 minutes while driving. However, it is not just enough to check your mirrors. In most cases, the blind areas on your car can be sufficiently large to hide other approaching vehicles and your mirrors may not show a vehicle, which is changing lanes. So, it is very important that you make use of your peripheral vision so that you’re able to see the oncoming traffic and determine the appropriate time to change lanes.
Follow the 3 to 4 Second Rule
By using the 3-4 second rule, you can establish and maintain a safe following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, as this will provide you sufficient time to apply the brakes of your car and stop if required.
However, this rule works only in the case of normal traffic when the weather conditions are good. If the weather is bad, it’s a good idea to increase the following distance by another second for conditions like nighttime driving, fog, rain and while following a motorcycle or a large truck.
Also, if there is a stationary object or vehicle on the side of the road, you should pass it not earlier than 3 seconds after the vehicle that’s in front of you has passed it. The 3-second rule is a key example of defensive driving that encourages optimal driving safety.
Be Extra Cautious at Intersections
Arguably, intersections are the most dangerous areas on the road because these are the points where several vehicles in various directions converge. Intersections are where most road accidents are likely to occur and the main cause of intersection collisions is when people run the red light, turn when they are not supposed to, do not pay attention to the road and sometimes are just in a hurry.
It is always a good idea to reduce the speed of your vehicle when approaching an intersection, never race a yellow light and stop when the light turns red. And, when the light turns green, check in both directions to ensure that no vehicle is running the red light and all traffic has stopped before you cross.
Keep Distractions to a Minimum
Research reveals that the most common cause of motor accidents is distracted driving. You must avoid any activity that can divert your attention from your diving such as talking to people in the car, talking on your phone or texting, eating or drinking, adjusting your navigation, entertainment or stereo system or any activity that diverts your attention away from safe driving.
According to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, texting on your mobile phone while driving can increase your odds of an accident by 23 times and texting is one of the key distractions that are responsible for motor accidents. Avoid any type of activity that distracts you from the task of driving and increases the risk of an accident.
Other Defensive Driving Tips
- Avoid tailgating. Following a vehicle very closely will prevent you from braking your car and you will end up crashing into the vehicle in front of you. Always maintain a safe following distance and leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle ahead so that you can stop your vehicle gently instead of suddenly, which can increase the risk of physical trauma, whiplash and other injuries.
- Always drive staying in a single lane. This can help to prevent unnecessary accidents because usually, most accidents occur when drivers change their lane abruptly, being rear ended.
- Don’t focus on the vehicle in front of your car completely. Try focussing on the horizon and watch the traffic ahead of your vehicle. This way, you’ll be able to notice any activity that can cause an accident, giving you sufficient time to respond before it occurs.
- Keep an eye on drivers who change lanes suddenly and frequently. Make use of all your mirrors to view all sides of your vehicle and if there is a vehicle approaching, slow down and let the vehicle pass.
- Swerve only when it’s absolutely essential and when it is impossible to prevent a crash. However, to swerve safely, you must determine if the lane you want to enter is completely empty and then immediately go back to your original lane to prevent any further issues.
Practicing defensive driving is an excellent way by which you can avoid accidents. This will enable you to become a careful and responsible driver and keep you, as well as others safe when on the road.
Benefits of Defensive Driving
Defensive driving is a skill that will serve you for life and is all about practicing safe habits when you’re behind the wheel. The point of defensive driving is that you can handle any kind of situation and you’re prepared for what to do next. Some of the advantages of defensive driving are:
Reduces Driving Risks and Improves Driving Skills
When you practice defensive driving, you can anticipate dangerous situations easily and avoid potential risks. It helps you to make quick decisions that can aid in avoiding serious consequences and enable you to become a better driver on the road.
Further, defensive driving helps to improve your driving skills because you will be following all the traffic rules and regulations conscientiously. Also, you will have a better understanding of the road rules that will enable you to be a safe driver.
One of the main advantages of defensive driving is that you’re likely to have better safety outcomes. For instance, using a defensive driving strategy such as following a vehicle at least a car length behind will give you sufficient time to react if the vehicle in front of you brakes or makes a sudden move. You can apply the brakes before you get into an accident. Defensive driving can help to handle incidents like speeding, road rage, etc. and also avoid accidents, injury and even death.
Follow Accident-Free Driving Techniques
Defensive driving lessons enable you to learn safe and accident-free driving techniques that help you avoid dangerous situations. You can drive safely without hassles, whether you’re driving at night or on the highways. The important aspect of defensive driving is to know how to recognize potential hazards, unforeseen circumstances and avoid accidents before it is too late.
Less Probability of Getting Tickets
You’re less likely to be ticketed if you practice defensive driving. Driving defensively means that you will follow the road rules, which means that you have a lesser probability of getting a ticket because of speeding or engaging in other unruly behaviors.
Defensive driving can be better for your vehicle in terms of maintenance. Good driving habits can result in fewer accidents, which means lesser expenses for repairs. Also, aggressive driving can cause wear and damage to your car parts such as the tires, brake pads, etc. It can also have an impact on the fuel efficiency and mileage of your vehicle. Defensive driving will ensure that your vehicle has fewer problems, your vehicle will last longer and you can also save money in the long run.
Save on Auto Insurance Cost
Having too many traffic violations and accidents can result in the loss of your auto insurance, which can be a huge problem if you want to continue driving your car. Practicing defensive driving can help to avoid violations and other problems, which in turn, can help to save your insurance cost.