One of the biggest but often underrated threats we face each and every day is when we’re behind the wheel. You have to be mindful yourself of everything you’re doing, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed because you can’t control how other people drive. For example, there are often reckless, distracted, or even drunk drivers on the roadways. While you can’t avoid that altogether, and sharing the road comes with inherent risks, defensive driving tips can help reduce your risk and may even save your life or the life of someone else. 

So what exactly is defensive driving, and how can you put it into practice?

The Basics of Defensive Driving

Defensive driving means that you’re using strategies that help you predict what other people will do and deal with their actions accordingly. You’re proactively and pre-emptively addressing potential hazards. 

Defensive driving goes beyond the strategies you would learn for basic driving. 

For example, with defensive driving, there’s a focus on making decisions behind the wheel that are safe and also well-informed. 

These decisions are based on ongoing evaluations of what’s happening on the roadway at any given time, and assessing environmental conditions. 

If you’ve been in an accident or gotten a ticket and you have points on your license, you can also reduce your insurance rates by taking an official defensive driving course. 

If you were to take a defensive driving course, some of the information that might be covered includes:

  • Details about traffic crashes and the impact these can have psychologically, financially, and personally. A good defensive driving course is one that will help you understand how to reduce the risk of being in an accident through a combination of caution and judgment. 
  • Driving has a lot of psychological factors involved with it. Defensive driving courses will often give guidance on how to overcome stress, emotional distress, road rage, and fatigue, all of which can be dangerous when you’re behind the wheel. 
  • Defensive driving courses frequently go over the role of drugs and alcohol not only on your own driving ability but on roadways in general. Topics often covered in a defensive driving course include how your motor skills, judgment, and inhibitions are affected by varying levels of drugs and alcohol. 
  • How crashes happen might be something talked about in a defensive driving course. There are typically a series of events that occur, and that makes many accidents preventable if you understand these events and how they interact with one another. 
  • Many deaths from roadway crashes could have been avoided if the victim wore their seatbelt correctly, and defensive driving may cover this and also other safety equipment and how it should be used, such as child safety seats and airbags. 
  • Some defensive driving curricula go over state traffic laws. 

General Defensive Driving Practices

The following are some of the core practices to follow if you want to be a defensive driver:

  • Safety should always be a top priority, from the time you get behind the wheel to when you arrive back home. You should never be distracted, fatigued or aggressive. Your goal is to drive well yourself while also focusing on the potential mistakes of other drivers. Always be thinking about the consequences of poor driving or being in an accident. 
  • Be conscious of your surroundings at all times. Check your mirrors often and scan the roadway for hazards in front of you. Don’t focus on one spot with your eyes, which leads to tunnel vision. Instead, your eyes should be moving. 
  • Never depend on anyone on the road. Don’t assume another driver is going to get out of your way or let you merge. Assume the worst of all other drivers. 
  • Critical to defensive driving is following the three- or four-second rule. You should have a distance of three to four seconds between your vehicle at the one in front of you. You may need to have even more distance if the weather is bad, you’re behind a truck or motorcycle, or your visibility is impaired in any way. 
  • Follow the posted speed limit, and in bad weather or hazardous conditions, go below it. 
  • Always have an eye out for how you can escape if there’s a hazard.

Other Strategies

The following are other important strategies for defensive drivers to follow.  

  • Use the available safety features on your car. 
  • If you ever face doubt in a situation, yield. For example, if you find yourself in a scenario where you aren’t sure who has the right of way, don’t try to fight it. Just give in and yield. It’s much better to take a few more seconds to do something than to get into an accident. 
  • Stop on red. The biggest cause of collisions at intersections is running a red light. Slow down as you approach an intersection, assess the situation, and don’t try to beat the yellow light. 
  • Use your blinkers. When there’s confusion in any way on the roadways, that can impact safe driving. If you’re going to change lanes or turn, make this very apparent with your blinker, and do it well in advance of your move. Not using turn signals or using them improperly leads to around two million car accidents a year. You may also be financially responsible for damage caused by an accident if you didn’t signal. 
  • This has been touched on with the three- to four-second rule, but it’s so important to never tailgate. Around 1/3 of all accidents are caused by tailgating, according to the NHTSA. 
  • Continuously monitor your blind spot, and avoid being in other people’s. If you can’t see a truck driver in their mirror, then they can’t see you. 
  • Keep your vehicle well-maintained with fluid checks and oil changes. 

Finally, let things go. If you get angry on the road, it can lead to road rage, and that can put you at risk in multiple ways. It’s much better not to worry about the little things and remain focused on being a good driver than it is to try and fight back in any way.