When behind the wheel of a car, drivers are faced with numerous factors that could turn into potentially dangerous situations. Some of these factors are within the driver’s control, and may even be the result of the driver’s actions. Other situations are completely outside of the driver’s ability to control and could be due to other drivers or road conditions. Fortunately, there are driving behaviors that can lessen these risks and threats. Adopting those driving behaviors that help drivers to avoid dangerous situations is known as driving defensively. Defensive driving is something that every driver should master and practice when on the road.
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- NYS DMV: Defensive Driving
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When driving defensively, thinking ahead is crucial. For that reason it is important that drivers prepare ahead of time by checking weather conditions and traffic reports. This allows them to plan an alternate route that can take them clear of any potential dangers. Drivers should also be well-rested before they set out to drive any distance, short or long. In addition to rest and planning one’s route, it is just as important that people allow themselves enough time to reach their destination.
As a driver, avoiding distractions of any kind is a necessary part of driving defensively. Distractions can come in the form of a phone call, an overly active pet or child, eating, overzealous passengers, etc. Turn off the cell phone, avoid active conversations, and pull over if the distraction is one that can’t be avoided. Avoiding distractions is the best way to stay focused and alert. In addition to eliminating distractions, drivers should also watch their speed and adjust it to the driving conditions. In snowy, icy, foggy, or rainy conditions, driving fast or even at the speed limit could prove hazardous.
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While driving, people must also be aware of what is around them at all times in order to drive defensively. Drivers should look ahead and in their rear view mirrors for anything that can change driving conditions and turn them hazardous. These are typically things that will cause a driver to brake, alter their speed or change positions on the road. In surveying the road, it is important to look at least 20 seconds ahead. This means looking beyond the car that is directly in front, so that there is plenty of time to make the driving changes that are necessary to stay safe. In addition to looking straight ahead, drivers should always have their eyes in motion and be aware of their periphery. Driving distance is also crucial. People should strive to keep a minimum of two seconds between them and the vehicle that is ahead of them in the event that sudden breaking or worse occurs. Cars should be positioned in a way that there is always a way out in the event that the road should become blocked or conditions turn hazardous.
By paying close attention to other drivers, one can make note of patterns that a driver may exhibit or behaviors that may be of concern. When cars are speeding, drivers who are aware of their surroundings can safely switch lanes to allow the driver to pass. Drivers should not attempt to block a speeding driver or speed up to keep up with him or her. In general, it is safest to yield in situations where another driver is aggressive or challenging, regardless of who has the right of way. A car that is swerving or drifting into another lane may indicate that the driver is sleepy or impaired by alcohol or drugs. This may also indicate that a driver is distracted by other activities. When driving defensively around these types of drivers, leave plenty of space between the cars and do not make an attempt to pass them. Ideally, drivers should take note of the license plates of drivers who are potentially impaired and contact the police to report a suspected drunk driver when it is safe to do so. When driving around elderly drivers, one should take into consideration any limitations that they may have and make adjustments accordingly. Depending on the individual, an elderly driver may drive slower than other vehicles due to nervousness or may have slower reflexes. Again, drivers should stay alert and yield if the situation warrants.
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- New Jersey Driver Manual: Chapter Five – Defensive Driving (PDF)
Defensive driving is a safe method of driving in which drivers attempt to stay alert to current and potential dangers that are on the road. When teaching teens to drive, it is a good skill to impart from the onset. It is never too late, however, to adjust one’s driving habits and learn how to become a defensive driver. Regardless of the season or time of day, these habits give drivers an advantage that is invaluable in terms of safety.
By Ted Burgess