What is defensive driving?
Defensive driving can conjure up images from movie scenes where the driver executed a maneuver to avoid a crash by pushing the vehicle to its limits. However, a driver practicing defensive driving strategies is being proactive and therefore rarely if ever has to make quick evasive maneuvers.
Defensive driving is implementing driving strategies, behaviors, and habits that protect (defend). Thus, defensive driving minimizes risks and helps avoid crashes (Dictionary.com). Defensive driving involves 1) being aware and 2) ensuring that you have the ability to react to situations.
How can I become a defensive driver?
Defensive driving courses can help further your knowledge and skills as a driver. Most insurance companies provide lists of programs that they endorse. If your insurance company does not have a list, check another insurance company’s website for a list. The National Safety Council offers multiple online defensive driving courses.
Before taking a course, consider whether you are incorporating many basic defensive driving behaviors that help you be 1) aware and 2) react. Here is a brief list to consider:
1. Being aware
a.) Eliminate distractions while driving.
Distracted driving is defined as visual, manual, and cognitive (org).
Texting involves all three! If you are eating and driving, you are manually distracted. If you are busy thinking about work or school, you are cognitively distracted. If you are checking your cell phone with a hands free device, you are visually and cognitively distracted.
If you are distracted, you are not fully aware of what is happening around you.
b.) Look ahead and be aware of your surroundings.
Visual search skills are essential for recognizing and responding to critical information on the roadway. That critical information includes signs, traffic signals, and pedestrians and other vehicles. More information on this topic below as well as at Drive Focus.
2. Being able to react
a.) Create a space cushion to have time to react.
Do not tailgate! Many drivers I work with that tailgate do not recognize that they are tailgaters (traveling less than 2 seconds behind other vehicles).
Most experts recommend a following distance of 2 seconds at a minimum under optimum conditions like daylight and dry roads. California and some other states recommend 3 seconds. Here is a video from the California DMV that teaches you how to measure your following distance.
b.) Make sure that you are fit to drive.
Are you mentally distracted because you are upset about something? Are you drowsy? Have you taken medications, drugs, or alcohol that may alter your mental fitness? Consider how you could get around if you were ever compromised.
In addition, make sure to have your eyes tested regularly to ensure that you meet your state’s vision standards for driving.
Also good footwear is important. Flip-flops or high heels are fun but they may compromise your ability to react quickly.
c.) Make sure the vehicle is fit to be on the roadway.
Are the tires and brakes in good condition? Are the windows clear of objects, frost, snow, and dirt?
Do you know your vehicle features? Late model vehicles incorporate new technologies to enhance safety. Like no other time in auto history, it is important to review the owner’s manual of your vehicle. If you do not know your vehicle’s features or you do not understand the feedback messages it is giving you, your ability to control the vehicle is compromised. A good resource to help you further understand the features is MyCarDoesWhat.org
How can I improve my hazard awareness or that of my students and employees?
The Drive Focus app teaches users to search the roadway for critical information. Users learn about 11 critical items on the roadway that require their attention and how to prioritize them.
Drive Focus uses interactive videos filmed by driving school instructors from the driver’s point of view. Users click on the critical items such as brake lights, pedestrians, and signs in order of priority. As users progress, their scores unlock new drives.
All videos on Drive Focus are filmed by driving school instructors demonstrating defensive driving skills.
How can I help my students and employees understand the dangers of distracted driving?
Drive Focus is a great tool to teach about the consequences of distracted driving. Create a distracted driving challenge by using a level 3 drive (city environment).
In silence, the user should complete the drive (approximately 3-minute video) and record their total score (out of 1,000 points). While having a conversation with someone sitting next to them, they should play the exact same Drive Focus drive.
Their scores will go down on the second try despite knowing all of the hazards that were on the road. The score details will reveal the critical information that the user missed while having a conversation.
You can also try this same activity while eating, or having a conversation on the phone.