April 28, 2006Defensive driving means that you’re on guard and ready for what might happen — cautious, yet ready to take action and not put your fate in the hands of other irresponsible drivers. According to National Safety Council data, 77 percent of all accidents are attributed to driver error. If you become a good, defensive driver, you can cut that percentage significantly.
Here are some important elements of defensive driving:
Allow enough space ahead. Four out of ten accidents involve rear-end collisions, many of which could have been avoided by simply following at a safe distance rather than tailgating. You should allow at least two seconds between your vehicle and the car ahead of you. That gap should be lengthened to three seconds at highway speeds and four or more in rain or other poor weather conditions.
Look ahead. Scan the road and the surrounding area at least a few hundred yards ahead for potential road hazards. Look around on both sides, and keep your eyes open for approaching vehicles, pedestrians, or animals that might enter your path.
Have an escape route. Check your mirrors every few seconds to see what’s beside and behind you. Taking into account the position of the cars around you and the road ahead, decide where you could maneuver safely to avoid an accident. Having an avoidance route is essential. If you don’t — say, if the road is narrow and there’s no shoulder — you need to increase your following distance.
Don’t depend on other drivers. Be considerate of others, but look out for yourself. Don’t assume that another driver is going to move out of the way or allow you to merge. Plan your movements anticipating the worst-case scenario.
Keep your speed down. Remember that the posted speed limit applies to ideal conditions. You’re responsible for decreasing your speed to match the conditions.
Adjust for hazards. By slowing down or speeding up only slightly, or by moving to a different lane position, you may avoid a potentially hazardous situation.
Avoid frequent lane changes. Try to maintain a speed near that of the flow of nearby traffic. Remember your lane discipline and keep right unless passing. Remember to check the blind spot before making a lane change, too.
Use lights and signals. Turn your headlights on in dim daylight, rain, or other low-visibility weather conditions, and remember to always use turn signals. For expressway driving, we also believe that — when still at a distance — a quick blink of the flash-to-pass feature on your headlights is far safer than the tailgating or the aggressive right-lane passing that often otherwise results. If you’re in town, direct eye contact and gentle gestures might help clear any doubts over who has the right of way.
Keep a proper driving position. Maintain a comfortable, upright driving position, with both hands on the steering wheel (preferably at the nine- and three-o’clock positions). This will put you in a better position to make sudden avoidance maneuvers.
Wear your seat belt. It’s still the best thing you can do to protect yourself in case the unexpected happens. It’s hard to believe there are still those who don’t buckle up, even though seatbelt use rates have never been higher.
Cut out distraction. Any time you become preoccupied with distractions, you’re letting your defenses up. As always, minimize your eating, drinking, CD-changing, and cell phone conversations. Save them for when you’re stopped in a safe place.
It’s all about the attitude! Although defensive driving includes all of the above considerations, it’s better described as a realization that driving is a privilege that you share with many others, that there are real people in other vehicles — possibly even family, co-workers, or loved ones — and that aggressive, irresponsible driving on your part could put your life and the lives of others in danger. Defend your life.
For more information, ask your insurance company or state licensing bureau about enrolling in a defensive driving course. Depending on the state, they can be given by either the public or private organizations. Twenty-eight states now allow license point breaks for those who take such a course, while insurance companies in some states give a premium reduction for approved defensive driving courses.
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