More important than knowing how to handle a crash is knowing how to avoid one in the first place. This chapter will deal with how to keep yourself (and those around you) safe so that you don’t have to deal with the aftermath of a crash.
The keys to avoiding a crash are let other drivers know what you plan to do, avoid hazardous situations, and drive defensively.
If you are in a crash, you may not legally be at fault. However, you may be morally at fault if you could have prevented the crash but didn’t. You can prevent most crashes by driving defensively.
Defensive driving is safe driving. Someone in the United States is injured in a vehicle crash every 10 seconds. Implementing a defensive driving strategy can reduce the risk of being involved in a crash by 20%. You may need to alter your driving to fit various conditions: weather, mood, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers.
The strategies of defensive driving will help you to avoid crashes and recognize potential hazards before it’s too late. Defensive driving equips you with the skills to anticipate different scenarios and allow you to make safe, well-informed decisions based on road and environmental conditions.
Defensive Driving Skills
Defensive driving reduces the risk of highway accidents and increases driver safety. A defensive driver follows certain rules and avoids bad driving habits. Defensive driving involves constant awareness of other drivers and their bad habits.
Driving defensively can be one of the best ways to prevent accidents. Sometimes hazardous driving on the part of others makes it difficult to take evasive action to avoid collisions. But defensive driving can significantly lower the risk of accidents.
Believe it or not, there are actually techniques for defensive driving. Some of them may be obvious. But awareness of what to keep in mind is always a good idea.
Here are the top ten defensive driving techniques that go a long way to avoiding accidents:
LEAVE ROOM FOR ERROR
Defensive drivers consciously leave room for error, accounting for the negligence and bad driving of others on the road. This is the best driving skill. It reduces the risk of an accident by allowing distance between other vehicles. This allows for more reaction time to stop or slow down when needed.
Leaving space between vehicles can prevent the driver from crashing into someone in bad weather or stop-and-go traffic. Adequate space also prevents the driver from crashing into the car in front if they were to be rear-ended with great force.
Unfortunately, none of us can predict what traffic or other drivers are going to do and we can’t force other drivers to use turn signals to provide us with a warning. So, it is foreseeable that a driver may fail to use these driving tools, causing a collision if another driver follows too closely. To stay safe, we must always prepare for the worst and leave room for error.
A defensive driver always waits for everyone in the vehicle to be securely buckled before beginning to drive. If an accident occurs, the risk of injury and the severity of possible injuries is greatly reduced if seat belts are worn. Being prepared for a motor vehicle accident to occur, and minimizing risks of injuries if an accident occurs is a key factor in defensive driving.
REDUCE SPEED FOR ROAD CONDITIONS
Part of being a safe and cautious driver is adjusting the speed of travel to ensure safety during changes in the weather and road conditions, or at night to adjust to a shorter range of view ahead and possible wildlife that could be entering a driver’s path of travel.
Defensive drivers always plan for bad weather or road conditions and provide themselves with extra travel time for where they need to go and when they need to arrive. Rushing and speeding are dangerous and put all surrounding vehicles at risk. When drivers are rushing, they are much more likely to be forgetful and fail to use blinkers and take other safety measures, as well as drive more aggressively.
FOLLOW SPEED LIMITS
Highway officials set speed limits based on research. Speed limits take into account factors such as merging traffic, neighborhood conditions, sharp corners, and heavy traffic. The limit reflects the highest speed at which a vehicle can safely pass without incident.
Defensive drivers follow posted speed limits, aware that regardless of how late they may be running, the most important thing is to arrive safely. Drivers choosing to speed put their safety and that of others on the highway at risk. According to the NHTSA, speeding causes approximately 30% of all accidents. If all drivers kept within posted speed limits thousands of accidents, injuries, and fatalities caused by speeding would be avoided.
BE ATTENTIVE, AWARE, AND FOCUSED
Defensive drivers know optimal performance requires they be alert, focused, aware, and overly cautious at all times. While focused and alert, drivers are better prepared for pedestrians, emergency vehicles, bicyclists, animals, or other drivers making unsafe driving decisions. When not being aware of your complete surroundings on the road, accidents are more likely to occur.
Additionally, defensive drivers always know what’s happening ahead. Some drivers only watch the vehicle in front of them, but if a driver is able to see that the cars ahead of the vehicle in front of them is braking, then they will be able to expect the vehicle in front of them to brake next, which provides a warning to the driver and makes them less likely to rear-end another vehicle. Being alert, focused, and aware of what is ahead puts the driver in control of their own safety and allows them to account for other drivers’ hazardous driving.
AVOID DISTRACTED DRIVING
Driving defensively includes avoiding all distractions behind the wheel. Distractions that could endanger lives and cause an accident include talking on the phone or texting, eating or drinking while driving, and taking your eyes off the road to look at your passengers, the radio, or the GPS. Defensive drivers avoid engaging in distracting activities and focus solely on the road. Thousands of accidents can be prevented each year if drivers choose to put down their phones and food, and keep two hands on the wheel at all times.
Defensive drivers do their best to stay centered in their lanes. When distracted with other activities, drivers tend to swerve and could possibly crash into another neighboring vehicle. Being attentive and staying within the lane in which you are traveling helps keep others safe.
ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
Defensive drivers know that other drivers tailgate and often have to stop quickly, so they will have and use their backup plan to quickly change lanes to avoid a rear-end collision. The driver must be aware of openings in neighboring lanes at all times to know which way to turn if in need of a backup route. Prepare for the unexpected at all times, causing the unexpected to be entirely expected.
DRIVE ONLY WHEN ALERT AND SOBER
Defensive drivers make responsible decisions and only get behind the wheel in the best condition. Always refrain from driving while under the influence of heavy medication, drugs, alcohol, or lack of sleep. When drivers drive impaired, they lack control of their motor skills, and their reaction time is severely slowed, so reacting in time to prevent an accident is less likely.
Impaired driving includes driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, medications, or lack of sleep. Defensive drivers always do all they can to travel as safely as possible, so they avoid driving impaired.
RESIST ROAD RAGE
Road rage is a major cause of accidents. Drivers develop road rage when other vehicles drive too slowly in the passing lane, or if the driver is stuck in an area where unable to pass. When this happens some drivers become frustrated or aggressive and engage in dangerous activity such as tailgating. Many drivers will respond to tailgating by “brake-checking” the tailgater or something equally dangerous in an attempt to “police” the other driver.
Part of being a defensive driver is being the better driver and resisting the urge to react to aggressive drivers. Hitting the brakes quickly can cause a collision, which “teaches” no one anything.
If unable to simply ignore aggressive drivers, respond with courtesy and simply pull over and allow the road rage driver to pass as soon as there is a safe option to move over. Although we cannot control how other people drive, we can all do our best to be cautious, careful, and courteous. This way, when someone chooses to drive aggressively, a defensive driver can assist in making the situation safer by allowing them to pass, and not engaging in any reckless and dangerous driving to try to prove a point. We are not on the roads to police other drivers, all we can do is our best to follow the rules and drive defensively to do our part in making our roads safer for our community and children.
USE YOUR MIRRORS
Safe driving requires full awareness of all surroundings. The use of all rear-view mirrors is the best way to ensure that a collision won’t be caused due to an unsafe lane change. Checking mirrors frequently allows the driver to always have an escape route to safely exit a potentially dangerous situation. Defensive drivers know that before braking, they must always check their rear-view mirror to make sure there is not a vehicle following too closely that may cause a rear-end collision.
A major part of properly checking the mirrors goes beyond looking for other motorists. Bicyclists are difficult to see, but when using the vehicle’s mirrors, the driver can keep track of where the bicyclist is located and can be sure that all areas are clear before making a turn that could be in a bicyclist’s path of travel.
DEFENSIVE DRIVING REQUIRES CONSTANT ATTENTION
These are ten common-sense practices recommended by experts for all motor vehicle drivers. If everyone followed the rules, the number of highway accidents would be greatly reduced.