How to Drive Defensively

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How to Drive Defensively (Photo: @maginnis via Twenty20)
Defensive driving is the sum of all the habits, techniques, and attitudes that characterize a proactive driver who seeks to maximize safety and prevent accidents out on the road. This way of driving has to be learned and perfected by experience and practical knowledge of the behavior of other drivers, how road conditions affect that behavior, and what to do when your car gets caught in the middle. Here’s how to learn defensive driving and put it into practice.

Take a defensive driving course

Some people are better drivers than others, either because they have lots of experience behind the wheel or are less easily distracted and more focused on the road ahead of them. But everyone can benefit from trying to instill better driving habits on the road.
Step 1: Take a defensive driving course. The most comprehensive and informative way to learn how to drive defensively is by taking a course on the subject.
There are lots of examples of courses out there, such as Alive at 25, Coaching the Mature Driver, Attitudinal Dynamics of Defensive Driving, and plenty others tailored to specific needs.
There are also driver training schools that are especially useful for giving drivers the basics of road safety and the principles of defensive driving. Doing a little a research on these various options will reveal which course is best suited to you based on the type of driving you commonly do and other factors.
Besides the inherently worthy skills associated with defensive driving, an added benefit of courses such as these is that they can result in a car insurance discount on your monthly premium. In some states, this is even mandated by law, so you don’t have to worry about the insurance company failing to honor the courses you’ve taken.
Also, you may be able to clear or reduce the severity of any marks on your driving record by taking one of these courses. Check with the relevant authorities in your area to see what options are available to you.

Practicing the skills of a defensive driver

Step 1: Focus on the road and avoid distractions. The key to defensive driving is not necessarily found in a particular driving technique but in maintaining awareness of the situation.
There is not a one-size-fits-all way to drive defensively, so achieving the proper preparedness depends on how attuned you are to the world around you when you are driving. Missing the brake lights a few cars in front of you because you glanced out the side window makes the difference between an accident or not.
The most common distraction in our digital age is your cell phone. Even if you are not texting or emailing, talking on the phone can take you mind off the road enough to dull your responses. Simply put, keep your eyes and mind on the road.
Step 2: Maintain a safe distance from the cars in front of you. The more time you have to react to the cars in front of you, the better chances you have to avoid an accident.
A common rule here is the “4-second rule,” which holds that you should maintain a 4 second distance between you and the car in front of you. When the car in front of you passes an object, if it takes you fewer than 4 seconds to pass the same object, you are following too closely.
Step 3: Drive slower. Speed contributes to accidents in a variety of ways, so by reducing your speed even a little can help you drive more defensively.
If you are going too fast on the road or highway, then you have less time to react, your car is harder to stop, and you are overall less able to prevent an accident.
Step 4: Watch out for other drivers. More often than not, it is the other guy who causes an accident.
By knowing what other drivers are doing and anticipating their possible mistakes, you can go a long way to protecting yourself and becoming a better driver.