Being a Defensive Driver

When it comes to driving, today’s drivers are often taught ineffective strategies and techniques that work in a classroom, but that don’t yield very practical results in the real world. Unfortunately, this sets young drivers up for failure and leads to dangerous situations where thousands of people are ill-prepared for the challenges of the road. Proper education around the topic of defensive driving can change all of this.

What is Defensive Driving?

“Defensive driving is essentially driving in a manner that utilizes safe driving strategies to enable motorists to address identified hazards in a predictable manner,” explains. “These strategies go well beyond instruction on basic traffic laws and procedures.”

While often mandated in situations where drivers have egregious traffic violations on their records, defensive driving classes can be taken by anyone who wants to lower the risks of driving and increase the safety of themselves and those around them.

5 Defensive Driving Tips

You’ll get the most benefit from attending an accredited defensive driving class – and may even be able to lower your auto insurance rates in the process – but in the meantime, here are some practical tips and principles to be aware of:

1. Prepare Your Vehicle

Defensive driving starts with preparing your vehicle for the road. Your brakes should be in tip-top shape. All lights – including turn signals and brake lights – should be operational. Mirrors need to be adjusted properly so there are minimal blind spots. The more you can do to optimize your vehicle, the fewer adverse variables will be in play.

2. Block Out Distractions

Don’t let phones, radio, air conditioning, kids in the backseat, or a heated discussion with your spouse distract you from your job as the driver,” Ryan Hanley writes for TrustedChoice. “Always pay attention to the road and your vehicle.”

There’s enough going on outside the vehicle that you can’t afford to be distracted by what’s happening inside. Be smart about which distractions you allow to be factors in your vehicle. Proactively eliminate as many as possible.

3. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Though it’s important to block out distractions, you can’t be so laser-focused that you forget to account for all of the other drivers on the road. In fact, defensive driving is all about anticipating what others will do and how you will respond. In particular, be on the lookout for aggressive and distracted drivers.

“Someone who is driving aggressively might be speeding, changing lanes suddenly and without warning, following too closely, failing to stop at a red light or stop sign, not using a turn signal, exhibiting road rage, cutting off a driver and then reducing speed or slamming on the brakes, and a number of other unnecessary and unsafe driving practices,” Dickson Kohan & Bablove explains.

Distracted drivers exhibit many of the same signs. They’ll often follow a repetitive pattern of drifting into other lanes and sharply correcting. They may also excessively tap their brakes and unpredictably change speeds.

When you spot an aggressive or distracted driver, it’s best to get as far away from the situation as possible. Change lanes and either drop back or pull ahead (whichever is safest).

4. Don’t Depend on Other Drivers

Never assume that another driver is going to make the smart choice or do something to keep you safe – always expect the worst.

For example, never assume that a driver’s turn signal means he’s actually turning. It’s possible that the turn signal was inadvertently turned on. By staying alert, you’ll avoid putting yourself in a position where assumptions cost you your life.

5. Follow the Four-Second Rule

As a general rule of thumb, you should remain roughly four seconds behind the car in front of you. This gives you ample time to respond should there be an issue. Always remember that you’re responsible for the car in front of you. If you rear end a vehicle, it’s your fault.

Adding it All Up

Defensive driving isn’t “weak” driving. If you’re going to attach a word to it, the best word would be “smart.” Defensive driving has been shown to lower the risk of accidents and traffic tickets, while avoiding dangerous situations that could potentially lead to undue harm. Whether you’re 16 or 66, applying these principles to your own driving habits will help you become a smarter motorist.