Safe driving begins with proper defensive driving. If you’re a teen driver, one thing you’ll quickly learn is that people can be very unpredictable when driving. Other drivers on the roadway will do things you just won’t understand, and oftentimes drivers get emotional behind the wheel making them very dangerous.
In other cases, you might encounter a distracted driver, fatigued driver, drunk driver, or someone suffering from a medical condition.
You never know what you’ll encounter on the road. That’s party what makes driving a car so dangerous. These defensive driving safety tips should help to make you a more proactive defensive driver.
1. Look Ahead While Driving
One of the first things I’d teach to my driving students was to look further ahead while driving. I wish more driving schools would focus on this.
People don’t mean to, but it’s natural human instinct to look directly at the vehicle in front of us or right at the pavement lines. This is especially true during turns and cornering.
These habits are tough to break and most people never realize they are doing it! So just how far ahead should you look when driving? And, how should you deal with being tailgated?
2. Never Assume Others Will Give You The Right-Of-Way
Back when I was a driver’s ed student, one of my driving instructors said something that has always stuck with me…
“Hospitals and morgues are filled with people who had the right-of-way.”
Just because you have the right-of-way, don’t assume it’s safe. You should always clear intersections by scanning for cross-traffic who might not stop. When you cross a railroad track, don’t assume the isn’t a train coming just because the crossing lights aren’t activated. Look and listen for a train anytime you are about to cross the tracks.
Right-of-way laws are pretty straightforward and easy to understand, but a huge number of accidents happen because someone failed to give way.
3. Get Up To Speed Early When Merging
A big reason we have traffic congestion on expressways is due to improper merging. Many people accelerate too slowly and merge into traffic slower than the normal traffic flow. This causes a chain reaction of braking and lane changes, which leads to a dangerous situation. Do all of those you share the roadway with a favor and increase to traffic speed as quickly as possible, and find a gap to fit into early in your merge.
4. Don’t Block The Passing Lane
On expressways, the furthest left lane is usually reserved for passing. Some people call it the “fast lane” but that’s actually inaccurate. Even if you’re going “fast”, you should only use the left lane for passing in the majority of cases.
The left lane can also be used if you have a left-handed exit, are avoiding road debris, are moving over for construction or emergency vehicles, or some other unique situations. But during normal driving, you should stay out of the left lane unless you’re passing.
Driving in the left lane, also called being a “left lane hog” is actually a dangerous driving habit. By having cars in a uniform lane when not passing, it avoids cars making constant lane changes left and right. Lane changes are one of the leading causes of accidents on highways, so only change lanes when necessary and stay right unless you are passing.
5. Never Drive On The Shoulder Of The Road Unless Permitted
You will often see people driving on the shoulder of the road to avoid traffic or left turning vehicles. In some cases, you are allowed to drive on the shoulder briefly if it is clearly marked. However, you typically are not allowed to use the shoulder if it is unpaved or has a solid line, even if you just want to quickly get around a turning vehicle. Using the shoulder leads to many accidents every year, plus the shoulder of the road is often littered with nails, glass, and sharp debris.
6. Give Trucks Room
Large trucks and busses are very dangerous to drive next to. In city driving conditions, these vehicles make wide turns and need more room to maneuver. There are many aspects of large vehicles you might not even think about or have any reason to know about.
For example, if you ever see a tanker truck that might be carrying liquid, remember that liquid is sloshing around. If a tanker truck needs to stop quickly, that liquid will slosh forwards, then to the rear of the trailer, then forwards again (like water sloshing around in a bathtub), which can lurch the truck forward causing a rear-end collision. That’s one reason why you should never pull in front of a truck before a red light. They might need that distance to stop safely.
On highways, trucks are even more dangerous. Tire blowouts are common which can send them into your lane unexpectedly, and the large slabs or rubber can cause serious damage to your windshield or other parts of your vehicle, sending you out of control.
The point here is, however much room you think a truck needs, give them more.
7. Aim High in Steering
Many times, you’ll hear this driving tip referred to as “aiming high in steering.” What they mean, is, don’t make your steering adjustments based on what is directly in front of you. Instead, look way down the road. If the road is winding to the right, for example, look as far into the turn as possible. You’ll notice your turns are not only smoother, but you’re being safer, too!
If you don’t recognize a danger or potential hazard early enough, you’ll never be able to avoid the hazard in the first place. Scanning the road 1/2 mile to a full mile ahead goes completely against our natural human response, yet it’s necessary for safe driving. Our bodies weren’t designed to travel at 50mph. We were designed for speeds of less than 10mph. You need to learn to consciously break that natural instinct and focus farther ahead.
8. Planning Ahead While Scanning Ahead
Since our peripheral vision works well at a close distance, we need to focus our main line of vision outward. Always look as far ahead as possible and observe what is happening. Has the next traffic light been green for a while? What about the next light beyond that one? Is it likely the lights will change to red soon? Are their brake lights up ahead when it appears they shouldn’t be stopping? What might be happening? Are there kids playing basketball in the driveway ahead? Is a dog running loose? Proper safe driving requires that you constantly ask and answer questions in your head. But remember, don’t ever fixate on one thing. Always keep your eyes moving and shifting!
Many ordinary events could turn into a roadway hazard. If you notice the potential hazards ahead of time, you will be prepared for the situation. Scanning ahead will also cause you to drive smoother. You’ll find there are less sudden stops and hard braking during your drives because you aren’t taken by surprise as often. However, if you aren’t looking ahead, those hazards will take you by surprise, and could lead to a very dangerous situation. Not to mention the added abuse to your vehicle. Brakes are expensive! These driving safety tips not only lead to safe driving, but it leads to cheaper driving, too!
9. Be A Psychic Driver
While scanning ahead, you should always predict what other drivers may or may not do around you. Expected the unexpected to happen and always have a game plan on where you will go in an emergency situation. Don’t allow yourself to get blocked in by other vehicles.
In almost all cases, you can position your vehicle for multiple escape routes. The important thing here is to be a proactive driver instead of a reactive one. When you get really good at this, you will actually begin to feel like a psychic driver.
You will be able to read the “body language” of other drivers and tell them what their next step is. Ever see a driver and just know he is going to change lanes or turn even before he does it? With a truly defensive driver, this comes naturally and happens all the time.
10. Prepare For The Worst
When scanning ahead, you should always assume the worst will happen and be prepared for it. For example, if you see a dump truck, assume something will fall off the truck or just assume the truck will have a tire blowout. You could be wrong a million times and nothing will happen, but if you’re right just once, it could literally save your life. Always assume something unexpected and catastrophic will happen and formulate a plan on how you’ll avoid the situation yourself (increase following distance, reposition vehicle in traffic, slow down, speed up, etc.).