You’ve probably heard the term “defensive driving.” But you may not really understand what it is or how defensive driving can keep you safe on the road.
As explained by the Oklahoma Division of Capital Assets Management, defensive driving can save time, money and lives. It helps protect us from poor road conditions, bad drivers and even our own bad behavior. Being a defensive driver means you’re able to quickly respond to physical and mental “roadblocks.”
One of the keys to defensive driving is remembering that you should never trust other drivers. Among other things, this means putting plenty of time and space between you and other vehicles, as well as resisting the urge to tailgate. Experts recommend leaving a three-second gap between you and any vehicle you’re following, in case that vehicle must stop suddenly.
“It does not matter how good of a driver we think we are. All that matters is how bad of a driver we know everyone else is,” says Jeff Payne, a defensive-driving teacher in Las Vegas.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, nearly 40,000 people died in U.S. car crashes in 2017. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 4 through 24.
How defensive-driving keeps you safe on the road
The Oklahoma Division of Capital Assets Management says that defensive driving can keep you safe by:
- Making safe, legal decisions behind the wheel.
- Getting from point A to point B without crashing your car, getting a traffic ticket or harming the safety of other drivers.
- Creating a “safe, stress-free personal driving space” both inside your car and around it.
- Practicing common sense, courtesy and cooperation.
- Recognizing the risks of hazardous driving behavior and conditions.
Most people learn how to drive from a driver’s education course or a parent. However, the knowledge and skills you gained when you first learned the rules of the road might have faded since then.
Taking a defensive-driving course, either in person or online, can sharpen your driving skills. These courses are offered by organizations such as AARP, DriversEd.com, nonprofit programs and even comedy clubs. They teach you how defensive driving can keep you safe by:
- Preventing a crash. Around 94 percent of car accidents in the U.S. are caused by human error.
- Following another car at a safe distance.
- Controlling your emotions when you’re behind the wheel.
- Recognizing when you and other drivers might be impaired, fatigued or aggressive.
- Preventing distraction (such as not texting while driving).
- Navigating roadways in hazardous conditions, such as bad weather or traffic jams.
- Making right and left turns correctly.
- Yielding the right-of-way to other vehicles.
- Using seat belts and other vehicle safety devices properly.
- Passing other vehicles safely.
Additional benefits of defensive-driving
While completing a defensive-driving course can make you a better driver, it also can lead to the dismissal of a traffic ticket, reduction of points on your driving record or even a discount on your car insurance.
Of course, the primary objective of a defensive-driving course is to become a better driver. One study suggests defensive-driving courses work.
A 2003 study by the Colorado State Patrol found that among 1,000 graduates of the Alive at 25 defensive-driving program, 92 percent said they thought the class helped improve their driving knowledge and skills.
“The more time drivers spend behind the wheel, the greater their exposure to risks on the roadway,” says David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Longer time behind the wheel could lead to issues such as fatigue, distraction and impatience for drivers, which are all contributing factors for vehicle crashes. Drivers need to stay alert and focused on the key task at hand — driving. This can save your life and the lives of your passengers and people with whom you share the road.”
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