Why you should be a defensive driver

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Whether you're just driving to work or driving is a part of your job, every time you are on the road, you are in danger. According to the National Safety Council's Injury Facts, someone is injured on the road every 18 seconds – over 2 million of those are disabling injuries and from those disabling injuries, someone dies in a crash every 11 minutes. Whenever you're on the road you're at risk of encountering someone engaged in bad driving habits or facing hazardous driving conditions. Doesn't it make sense to practice defensive driving so that you will be better prepared when you confront any of these situations? Even though defensive driving is often mentioned, do you really know what defensive driving means? Do you realize the commitment that you have to make to become a defensive driver? Defensive driving means driving to prevent accidents in spite of the actions of others or the presence of adverse driving conditions. Simply stated, defensive driving means no surprises. Let's talk about the commitment required to become a defensive driver. To illustrate this commitment let's look at some of the detailed requirements of the National Safety Council's defensive driving program.

  • The object of defensive driving is to drive without having a preventable accident.
  • Defensive driving requires the knowledge and strict observance of all traffic rules and regulations applicable to the area in which the vehicle is being operated. 
  • Defensive driving requires a constant alertness for the illegal acts and driving errors of other drivers, and a willingness to make timely adjustments in your own driving so that these illegal acts and errors will not involve you in an accident. 
  • Defensive driving requires a knowledge of all the adjustments required in your driving for the special hazards presented by abnormal, unusual or changing conditions—in the mechanical functioning of your vehicle, type of road surface, weather, degree of light, kind of traffic, and your physical condition and state of mind. 
  • Defensive driving requires a thorough knowledge of the rules of right of way and the willingness to yield the right of way to the other driver whenever necessary to avoid an accident.
  • Defensive driving requires an attitude of confidence that you can drive without ever having a preventable accident. 

There is no doubt that a professional code for defensive drivers is not easy to follow. As a driver, however, you must show the way for other drivers and do your best to drive defensively. Let’s take a brief look at how you can accomplish all that is expected by the code. The formula for defensive driving is to see the hazard, understand the defense, and act in time.

  • See the hazard - Think about what may happen as far ahead of a situation as possible. Never assume that a condition will have passed before you approach it. You should never assume everything will be “all right.” 
  • Understand the defense - Specific situations require specific ways of handling. A defensive driver must be able to accurately predict the outcome of traffic situations in order to apply the defense in time to prevent an accident. Become familiar with the unusual conditions which you may face and learn them well so that you can apply them when the need arises. For instance:
  • You see an approaching vehicle starting a pass. It looks like the driver will complete the pass in plenty of time, but you are not really sure. Think about your defense.
  • You see a vehicle on the shoulder of the road - you can't see the driver anywhere outside the vehicle. Will he open his door as soon as you approach his vehicle? What should you do?
  • You’re approaching an intersection on a wet slippery highway. The traffic light has been green for some time. You note vehicles waiting for the light to change at the intersection. You can’t expect to come to a smooth even stop when traveling on a slippery highway. Since the traffic light has been green for some time, anticipate a change. Slow down gradually, well ahead of the intersection and apply your brakes carefully. Give yourself plenty of time. 
  • You’re descending a hill and you start to pump your brakes and nothing happens—the pedal slaps the floor. Don’t panic—try to downshift into a lower gear. Look for something to sideswipe—a snow bank, roadside brush, or a guardrail. Use your horn and flash your lights to warn others that your vehicle is out of control. Do whatever you can to prevent bodily injury. Vehicles can be replaced. 
  • In any emergency situation, you should not panic. You must stay calm and apply the best defensive action. You must understand the defense. 

These are only a few possible conditions that could result in an accident. There are many more, so you need to look beyond the vehicles ahead, and look for situations that may develop into an accident and see the hazard. Understand the defense—there are specific ways to handle most situations. You should review these situations in your mind so you can act quickly to prevent an accident.

  • Act in time - Once you see the hazard and decide upon a defense you must act immediately. Never take a “wait and see” attitude or assume that the condition will clear up. The sooner you act the more time you will have to avoid an accident. 

Defensive driving does not come easy. As a driver, you must apply this formula to prevent accidents in spite of the actions of other drivers or the presence of adverse driving conditions. By taking these three steps and keeping good driving techniques in mind, you’ll learn to “give in” a little; to tailor your driving behavior to the unexpected actions of other drivers and pedestrians; to the unpredictable and ever changing factors of light, weather, road and traffic conditions; and even to the mechanical condition of your vehicle, just to mention a few. You must constantly improve your skills of observation and coordination. You must go over situations in your mind and plan your defenses. Seeing the hazard, knowing the defense and acting in time will keep us all safer on the roads.


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