People have been driving cars for well over 100 years, but it seems we still haven't mastered how to drive them safely.1
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) reports that in 2015, there were 35,092 people killed in car crashes - a 7.2 percent increase from the year before.2
Why the spike? Drivers today report they routinely text and check email while driving, and even admit to hitting the road after having a few drinks or not getting enough sleep.3
Even though modern cars are more adept at protecting occupants in a crash than ever before, and many new cars have advanced driver assistance systems that can step in and help prevent a crash, there's still no substitute for an able and aware driver. That's where you and your defensive driving skills come in.What Is Defensive Driving?
Defensive driving is a set of skills that you can use to reduce your risk of a crash. At its heart, defensive driving is made up of practices you can - and should - use every time you get behind the wheel.4
To practice defensive driving, follow these tips:1. Take a wide view:
Always give yourself time and space to react to risks. Look far down the road ahead of you to see what's coming well in advance. Don't forget to look behind you as well. Your car has mirrors for a reason, and they'll let you see risks early to help you avoid them - like a speeding driver approaching a little too fast behind you.2. Identify risks and plan your reaction:
As you look far ahead, scan for hazards
. This can include things like an upcoming work zone, a merge area, a driver behaving erratically, a truck with unsecured cargo, or even children playing near the road. When you see a potential hazard, plan for how you’ll deal with it. For example, if you see a merge area ahead, you can change lanes or adjust your speed to give merging cars more space.3. Slow down:
When you drive too fast, you have less time and space to deal with risks. Slowing down gives you more time to safely react. Keep an eye out for speed limit signs and follow them.4. Maintain your space:
Your car is heavy and it needs a lot of space to stop or change direction. Maintain a safe following distance from the car in front of you at all times, typically an interval of at least two seconds. Constantly pay attention to the cars next to or behind you on the highway so know where you can move to safely if you need to suddenly change lanes or stop.
To make sure you have a safe following distance, watch as the car in front of you passes a fixed object on the road, like a sign or telephone pole. Then slowly count "one-Mississippi-two-Mississippi." If your car passes the object before you finish counting, back off - you're following too closely.
5. Expect mistakes from other drivers:
Drivers on the road are distracted, sleepy and otherwise impaired — and that’s just the stuff they admit to.5
By recognizing the signs of impaired or unsafe drivers
, you can avoid them. Scanning far down the road ahead allows you to also see risks before other drivers, and avoid being caught in the path of their unsafe reactions.6. Respect road conditions:
When roads are wet and snowy, slow down. When bright sun decreases visibility, slow down and give other drivers more space. Road conditions are rarely going to be ideal, so be prepared to adjust your driving accordingly.7. Maintain your car:
All the driving skill in the world won't help you avoid a crash if your car has bald tires, windshield wipers
that can't clear rain, warped brake rotors, or other issues that cause emergency symbols to light up
on your dashboard. Routine car maintenance
keeps your car running smoothly, and can also help you avoid a crash.
Should I Take a Defensive Driving Course?
Most defensive driving techniques were probably covered when you took driver's ed, but brushing up never hurts. Defensive driving courses can be especially helpful for new drivers
. Liberty Mutual's teenSMART driving program is an online defensive driving course that takes teens through simulations to help them improve their defensive driving skills.6
Using defensive driving techniques can reduce your risk of being in a crash. As safe as modern cars are, the crash that's easiest to walk away from is the one that never happens. As a bonus, using defensive driving techniques to avoid those situations altogether may save you money over time. The fewer accidents you have, the lower your car insurance rate
will be too.