6 Tips to Be a Defensive Driver

By Tara Baukus Mello

Want to make the roads safer, while protecting you, your loved ones and your car? Take the first step by honing your defensive driving skills. These six tips can help you become more fully engaged in your journeys and stay safe behind the wheel.

Be Present

It may seem overly basic, but one of the best ways to keep yourself and your fellow drivers safe out on the roads is simply to be aware of what is going on around you. Remind yourself to check your rear- and side-view mirrors every five to 10 seconds until it becomes second nature. Do the same before making a turn or changing lanes. Stay conscious of what is going on along the roadside and/or in the adjacent lane as well. Keep an eye out for any potential obstacles or obstructions at least a quarter mile — roughly a city block — down the road. If you’re driving a larger vehicle, like an RV, you’ll want to do even more scanning. Check out our tips for developing spatial awareness in an RV for more information.

No Cellphones, Please

Though text messages and cellphone calls are an ever-present part of everyday life, you, your loved ones, and the other drivers with whom you share the road will all be much better off if you resist using them — regardless of whether your state laws outlaw cell phone use while driving or not. Numerous studies have found that talking on a cell phone — even hands-free — is more distracting than a conversation with a passenger and increases your risk for an accident.

D Is for Driving, Not Distraction

Cell phones are not, of course, the only source of driver distraction. Everything from a little extra cold air to loud kids in the backseat can take your attention away from the road. Maintaining that all-important situational awareness will be much easier with a little pre-planning. For example, set climate controls and select your music preferences before pulling out of the driveway. If you use an app while on the road to monitor traffic or for navigation, set it up before you start driving and then use the audio functions to monitor it hands-free. Avoid eating while driving by making time for detours to rest stops or restaurants. Got kiddos? Consider filling a bag with quiet activities to keep them busy and to reduce fighting or just general boisterousness. These are just a few ideas — take some time to think about what distractions come up most frequently during your own excursions and brainstorm workable solutions.

Rest Is Essential

It's best not to drive if you are short on sleep. On road trips, plan to stop every few hours to give yourself a chance to recharge your batteries and trade shifts with another driver if possible.

It’s “Time” to Readjust Your Steering Wheel Grip

You should still think of your steering wheel as a clock when getting a grip, but the “time” has changed from the long-standing “ten and two” to “nine and three” — and for good reason. If you are in an accident and the airbag deploys, your hands will be much less likely to be injured (or cause injury) in the latter position while still ensuring you possess the range of motion necessary to turn and react safely.

Expect the Unexpected

Give yourself time to react to unforeseen situations and incidents by following the "three-second rule" — that is, maintaining “three seconds” worth of distance between your vehicle and those in front of you. In difficult driving conditions and bad weather, it's smart to increase it to five seconds. It is also wise to leave yourself space on the other three sides of your car. If you are being tailgated, change lanes. And avoid driving directly next to other cars. Whether you’re exploring the countryside with your best pal or merely driving your kids to school, your car can be a gateway to lots of memorable moments. These simple precautions can help ensure you enjoy the ride — as well as the destination.


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Related Topics: Car Safety , On The Road , Safe Driving