Learning how to drive defensively can help you avoid unsafe conditions and reduce your risk of accidents. When drivers are more aware of and adopt defensive driving techniques, it keeps our streets and highways safer and everyone on the road benefits. Plus, because some insurers allow you to take defensive driving courses to lower your premiums or reduce points on your license, adopting these safe driving techniques could wind up saving you money.

What is defensive driving?

Defense driving involves operating a vehicle with a heightened awareness of your surroundings, anticipating and avoiding dangerous scenarios, and staying focused on the task at hand. It means being watchful and careful, predicting potential problems, controlling your emotions, and avoiding mentally shifting to autopilot.

The National Safety Council gives a basic description of what it means to drive defensively: “Defensive driving is driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.”

The goal of defensive driving is to:

  • Make driving decisions that are legal and safe.
  • Maintain a mindful, stress-free driving atmosphere in and around your vehicle.
  • Drive to your destination safely, without a ticket, an accident, or compromising others’ safety.

How can I become a more defensive driver?

There are a lot of basic techniques you can adopt to drive more defensively. Make a commitment to use these tips every time you get behind the wheel:

  • Follow the rules of the road.
  • Leave sufficient space between your car and other cars/objects so that you can escape dangerous situations.
  • Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you by following the “three-second rule.” com explains: “To determine the right following distance, first select a fixed object on the road ahead such as a sign, tree or overpass. When the vehicle ahead of you passes the object, slowly count ‘one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand.'” (Increase this amount of time when driving through rain or snow.)
  • Maintain a safe speed on the road. If the road or lighting conditions are poor, slow down to a safe speed.
  • Keep your eyes, hands, and mind on driving while you are behind the wheel. Never use your phone behind the wheel.
  • Check your mirrors frequently.
  • Continually scan your surroundings. Stay aware of what is happening around you – to your left, your right, behind you, as far as possible in front of you, and in your blind spots.
  • Assume other drivers might make mistakes, like running red lights or pulling out suddenly in front of you, and be prepared to react swiftly.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, while you are tired, or if you are overly stressed.
  • Make sure you and your passengers buckle up.
  • Be watchful and respectful of others on the road.
  • Do not drive aggressively, nor engage with or antagonize aggressive drivers.
  • Always use turn signals and never make unexpected moves.
  • Try to make eye contact with other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. That way, you know they see you.
  • Do not get angry when another driver makes a mistake. Giving into your emotions can make you a dangerous driver. Simply let it go and continue focusing on keeping yourself and other drivers safe.
  • Be especially cautious when approaching intersections.
  • Expect the unexpected.

Let us consider an example. A driver to your right swerves into your lane to pass a slow-moving car. You were daydreaming and did not see the driver until it was too late. If you had been paying attention, you could have safely moved out of the way or braked quickly to avoid colliding with the other vehicle.

Where can I learn more about defensive driving?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA<), over 90 percent of all traffic accidents result from human error. These include errors in decision-making (like driving too fast for conditions or too fast around a curve), recognition (driver inattention and inadequate surveillance), and performance (overcompensation, poor directional control, etc.). In other words, most accident injuries and deaths are completely preventable. Do your part to keep yourself and others safe. Drive defensively.

Call your local AAA, your state’s Department or Bureau of Motor Vehicles, or driving schools to inquire about defensive driving and other safety classes. DefensiveDriving.org’s online guides are helpful, too. If you reside in Ohio, you can also peruse the NSC’s Driver Safety Training Catalog for upcoming classes.

For more traffic safety information, check out our blog.