Living in a time where cars feature side curtain airbags or distance-sensitive cruise control, it can be easy to dismiss the need for knowing a wide range of defensive driving tips. Yet, in spite of all the advancements over the past couple decades with safety technology, the fundamentals of driving remain the same–and techno-wizardry won’t always cover for potential dangers on the road. Following the tips below to not only make you a safer driver, but also likely make driving a less stressful experience.
- Assume the worst in other drivers: Much of defensive driving involves your preparedness for worst-case scenarios. And although you’d hope that those around you are attentive and careful, you wouldn’t want to bet your life on that assumption. Always be mindful of the human error factor–not only in yourself, but also in others. When you’re unsure whether others see you, assume that they don’t. For example, don’t make lane changes in another vehicle’s blind spot thinking that they’ll spot you. Tailgating the car in front of you and assuming they’ll rationally move out of the way can have hazardous consequences as well.
- Leave adequate space between other cars: While on the subject of tailgating, it’s important to leave space not only in front of your car, but also to the sides. The three-second rule works well for following cars in front of you (use some marker on the road and count how long it takes for it to cross from the rear of the other car to the front of yours). Allowing for three seconds of space not only prevents rear-end accidents, but also saves gas by preventing continual braking and accelerating. Lateral space is also critical for preventing accidents. Stagger your vehicle so that cars are never directly next to yours. In addition, make sure you’re not in any car’s blind spot (your two o’clock or ten o’clock). Having space to the sides gives you that much more maneuvering room in case of an emergency.
- Find the right speed: The maximum speed limit isn’t always the right speed to go–although you don’t ever want to exceed it. Especially in cases of poor weather conditions such as fog or rain, slow down appropriately to where you feel safe. Also, use caution when your lane is going considerably faster than adjacent lanes, as cars may be inclined to suddenly merge into yours. And if the flow of traffic is slower than what you’re comfortable with, don’t weave in and out of traffic; you don’t save much time and you’re much more prone to getting into a wreck.
- Communicate with other vehicles: Just as much as you’d want to anticipate and be aware what other cars are doing, you also want to let others know what you’re doing as well. In some cities it can be tempting to not use your turn signal, as it can have the reverse effect of others speeding up and not letting you in. Nevertheless, you’d still want to use the signal, as you can eventually find somebody that will yield–and sudden cuts into lanes can create ripple effects that bog down traffic. In addition to turn signals, your brakes are also another communication tool. If you see traffic coming to a sudden halt in front, tap on the brakes early on to signal to drivers behind you that they should be prepared to stop.
Finally, always be alert when driving. If you find yourself getting tired, pull over and find some resting area where you can recover enough to continue driving. And while we all may think of ourselves as safe drivers, it never hurts to apply defensive driving techniques in our day-to-day driving.