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Defensive Driving Guide

June 08, 2015 4 min read

Accidents happen. It's a simple, but unfortunate, fact of driving. And while most fender benders don't leave permanent damage, it's always better to simply avoid getting into an accident than it is to fix what's already happened.

Of course, avoiding an accident may be easier said than done. Some accidents just can't be avoided -- but many can. In fact, it's believed that human error is to blame, at least in part, for 90% of all car crashes. And even if you're a great driver, that doesn't mean that all of the other cars around you have drivers with your skills. That's why it's important to play it safe and practice defensive driving techniques on the road. These defensive driving tips can help you become a safer driver and when practiced, may reduce your risk of being involved in an accident:

  • Predict what other drivers will do: No, you don't need psychic abilities to be a great driver (though that would help!). But developing an intuition about what you can expect other drivers to do is a smart way to stay safe. For example, that sports car zipping around other vehicles in your rear view mirror is likely to do the same to you, and that sedan in the next lane that keeps inching to the left is probably just about ready to switch into the next lane -- with or without a blinker. Watch for these and other signs that can tell you what's coming up next, even when other drivers don't clearly signal their intentions.
  • Keep an eye out for hazards: You should always be scanning the horizon and quickly checking your mirrors to look for dangers up ahead such as stopped traffic or other drivers hanging out in your blind spot. If you can identify hazards early on, you will have more time to stop and avoid them.
  • Steer clear of aggressive drivers: Everyone gets annoyed behind the wheel sometimes. It's OK to get upset, but keep your emotions in check. Don't let aggressive drivers get under your skin. Stay as far away as you can from drivers who are speeding, driving erratically, tailgating, or making frequent lane changes. It's also a good idea to move over for tailgaters so you can both get on with your lives. If you find yourself getting upset, remember it's normal to feel that way, but important to stay calm on the road. Remember that you have nothing to prove with your vehicle: all you have to do is get where you're going safely.
  • Don't drive impaired: Certainly you've heard by now that you shouldn't drink and drive or drive while under the influence of drugs. But this is important enough that it bears repeating. Just don't take a chance on this. It's never a good idea to drive after you've had too much to drink, or if you've used drugs before getting behind the wheel. Plan ahead if you know you'll be indulging and use a designated driver, call a cab, or find other ways to avoid driving while impaired. You could save yourself from being involved in a deadly accident.
  • Slow down: Speeding may get you to your destination a little faster, but the time you make up is usually hardly worth the risk. The few minutes you shave off of your travel time could prove to be deadly if you're going too fast to be safe. Leave earlier, slow down, and take your time to get there safer. It's also a good idea to slow down further in bad weather conditions, as wet and other inclement weather could make it more difficult to stop your vehicle.
  • Practice courteous driving: Give other drivers a heads up and signal your intentions by using a blinker every time you need to turn or change lanes. While it's true that some drivers will intentionally block you out when they see your blinker, most will make space for you if they notice your signal. When other drivers know you're making a move and can adjust for it, your turn or lane change will be safer. It's also a good idea to yield right of way whenever required, and in some cases, even when you don't have to. If other drivers seem pushy or aggressive, just let them go ahead as it often takes less time to just let others go than it does to jockey for a better position.
  • Give yourself time to react: It's always smart to maintain a proper following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. This will give you more time to react and slow down if there's an issue up ahead. Under normal driving conditions, you should keep at least two car lengths ahead of you. If you're driving in bad weather or following a large vehicle like an 18 wheeler, increase the distance by at least one car length.
  • Never text and drive: Distracted driving, such as texting and driving, is practically just as bad as drunk driving. Texting, surfing the web, even looking up directions can take your eyes off of the road for precious seconds and cause you to miss seeing important things on the road: pedestrians, other vehicles, and other serious accidents just waiting to happen. Make your vehicle a distraction-free zone: set your GPS route before you head out and store your phone in the back seat or your glove box to avoid being distracted while driving.
  • Always wear your seat belt: No matter how safe of a driver you are, there's always a chance you'll be involved in an accident. Wearing a seat belt can make the difference between life and death, and it's always a good idea to wear yours to help prevent injury and death in the event of an accident. If you're concerned about getting stuck in your seat belt, consider investing in a low cost vehicle emergency tool that can cut seat belts and break windows if you ever need it.

Defensive driving doesn't offer foolproof driving safety, and even with the most careful and aware drivers, accidents can happen. But by practicing better awareness, safe driving habits, showing courtesy to other drivers, and other defensive driving techniques, you can make your next drive a safer one.