Before you get behind the wheel of that two-ton frame of glass and steel, here are some tips to help you stay in control
Stay focused. Driving is primarily a thinking task, and you have a lot of things to think about when you’re behind the wheel: road conditions, your speed and position, observing traffic laws, signs, signals, road markings, following directions, being aware of the cars around you, checking your mirrors – the list goes on. Staying focused on driving – and only driving – is critical to safe driving.
Distractions, like talking on the phone or eating, make a driver less able to see potential problems and properly react to them. It’s not just teen drivers who are at fault: People who have been driving for a while can get overconfident in their driving abilities and let their driving skills get sloppy. All drivers need to remind themselves to stay focused.
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As a defensive driver, you can avoid crashes and help lower your risk behind the wheel.
If you’ve been out on the roads, you know that not everyone drives well – but most people think they do. Some drivers speed aggressively. Others wander into another lane because they aren’t paying attention. Drivers may follow too closely, make sudden turns without signaling, or weave in and out of traffic.
Several government agencies, non profit organizations, and private schools have launched specialty courses that improve the public’s driving skills. In the United States a few of the familiar courses in defensive driving include Alive at 25, DDC or Defensive Driving Course, Coaching the Mature Driver, Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving, Professional Truck Driving, and DDC for Instructors. In relation to this, the government has launched active air bag and seat belt safety campaigns that encourage high visibility enforcement.
Being alert (not sleepy or under the influence) allows you to react quickly to potential problems – like when the driver in the car ahead slams on the brakes at the last minute. Obviously, alcohol or drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter drugs) affect a driver’s reaction time and judgment. Driving while drowsy has the same effect and is one of the leading causes of crashes. So rest up before your road trip.
Watch out for the other guy
Part of staying in control is being aware of other drivers and roadway users around you (and what they may suddenly do) so you’re less likely to be caught off guard. For example, if a car speeds past you on the highway but there’s not much space between the car and a slow-moving truck in the same lane, it’s a pretty sure bet the driver will try to pull into your lane directly in front of you. Anticipating what another driver might do and making the appropriate adjustment helps reduce your risk.
The 2009 U.S. Census reported 33,808 fatalities due to speeding. The faster you travel, the longer it takes to stop, and the bigger the impact when you crash. But do travel along with the flow of traffic, as long as it does not exceed recommended limits.
Take advantage of safety devices
Find a car with a high safety rating and large number of air bags. Invest in the right child restraints and seat belt adjusters for your family, and don’t forget to use them. According to the CDC, “Placing children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats reduces serious and fatal injuries by more than half.”
Always, always, always buckle up
Many car accident fatalities could be prevented each year, by simply wearing a seat belt. The National Safety Council says that seat belts reduce your risk of injury in a crash by 50 percent, and that 75,000 lives were saved by seat belts between 2004 and 2008. Those least likely to buckle up are teens, rural drivers, intoxicated drivers, and commercial truck drivers.
If you aren’t certain who has the right of way, err on the side of caution. If you know you have the right of way, but another motorist seems to disagree, give in. Better to lose a bit of time than to get caught in a collision. According the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, men have a harder time yielding the right of way, with a ratio of 1.5 to 1 for ‘failure to yield’ violations.
The leading cause of intersection collisions is running the red light. Sometimes it’s a lack of attention to the road. Sometimes it’s glare from the setting sun. Sometimes it’s just plain hurry. The best practice is to slow down before each intersection, and evaluate the situation. Never race the yellow light.
Confusion is the enemy of safe driving. Make your lane changes and turns predictable and smooth, and always signal in advance. “Nationwide, neglected or improper turn signals cause 2 million car accidents a year,” says Richard Ponziani, who conducted a recent study for the Society of Automotive Engineers. Failure to signal can invalidate your insurance claim after an accident, which means you will be financially responsible for any damage caused.
Road rage is not just an urban myth. Since you don’t know who might be behind the wheel of that vehicle that just cut you off, it’s safest to back away and overlook the offense. Road rage has led to murder over trivial offenses in all 50 states. Getting even could get you killed, not to mention the innocent drivers in your vicinity. If you suspect that another driver may be drunk, stay away, and alert the authorities as soon as it is safe to do so.
I still struggle with this one.
Avoiding aggressive and inattentive driving tendencies yourself will put you in a stronger position to deal with other people’s bad driving. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front. Always lock your doors and wear your seatbelt to protect you from being thrown from the car in a crash.
Check your mirrors frequently and scan conditions 20 to 30 seconds ahead of you. Keep your eyes moving. If a vehicle is showing signs of aggressive driving, slow down or pull over to avoid it. If the driver is driving so dangerously that you’re worried, try to get off the roadway by turning right or taking the next exit if it’s safe to do so. Also, keep an eye on pedestrians, bicyclists, and pets along the road.
Since the greatest chance of a collision is in front of you, using the 3- to 4-second rule will help you establish and maintain a safe following distance and provide adequate time for you to brake to a stop if necessary. But this rule only works in normal traffic under good weather conditions. In bad weather, increase your following distance an additional second for each condition such as rain, fog, nighttime driving, or following a large truck or motorcycle.
A distraction is any activity that diverts your attention from the task of driving. Driving deserves your full attention – so stay focused on the driving task.
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Each driving school is different, so be sure to research!
Have an escape route
In all driving situations, the best way to avoid potential dangers is to position your vehicle where you have the best chance of seeing and being seen. Having an alternate path of travel also is essential, so always leave yourself an out – a place to move your vehicle if your immediate path of travel is suddenly blocked.
Follow basic traffic laws. Drive at or below the speed limit, come to complete stops at stop signs, and follow proper merging procedures. The concept of Defensive Driving encourages drivers to understand that traffic laws are in place to protect motorists. Following these regulations is a first line of defense against accidents.
Many drivers have heard of the Three Second Rule. This safe driving tip suggests that your vehicle should pass a stationary object on the side of the road no earlier than three seconds after the vehicle driving in front of you has passed it. While many drivers are familiar with this rule, they do not realize that this is a prime example of the types of precautions that Defensive Driving encourages for optimal safety.
Be knowledgeable. The key concept of Defensive Driving is being informed. Defensive Driving courses are great for all types of drivers: commuters, elderly drivers, new drivers, even car-poolers. Acquiring more information on efficient, safe driving will contribute to a decreased chance of auto accidents and a more pleasant driving experiences.
Yield to aggressive drivers. Tailgaters, swervers, and drivers keen on giving you the finger should be avoided at all cost. No good will come from antagonizing these types of drivers, or even participating in their antics. If you ever find yourself in a situation with an aggressive driver, slow down and allow them to drive away from you.
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All information and advice contained within this website is to be taken at your own risk. Nothing contained within this website should be misconstrued as professional driving instruction.