By A. Selway Ryan
You can’t decide what other people do on the road. That’s something you figure out the first time you see some crazy, irrational move that puts you and your passengers in danger and makes the road rage start bubbling up. The fact is, there are a heck of a lot of dangerous situations you face behind the wheel that you simply can’t control.
Defensive driving is about what you can control: the things you can do as a skillful, responsible driver to mitigate the risk posed by people who don’t seem to value their lives quite as highly as you do. These are techniques meant to keep you out of harm’s way, so that you can avoid accidents long before they become screechingly inevitable.
Remember: being in the right doesn’t undo an accident. So here’s how to be better than right.
1. Watch the other cars and drivers.
Good driving is fundamentally about situational awareness. You need to know what’s going on around you – and not just where to stop and where to turn. You should be noticing everything that could affect your ride, including the behavior of other drivers. Is that Volvo weaving a little? Make a mental note and keep your distance. Is the pickup truck going too fast? Move out of the way and let him get to his ticket on time. Is that old Lexus moving very slowly? Don’t dart around them too quickly, the driver’s reaction time might be low. Predicting how drivers will behave seems tricky at first, but in practice you can tell quite a lot from very little. The guy tailgating you in a red corvette, for instance, might just be the kind to try to pass you on the right.
2. Move in a smooth, predictable way.
Even if you’re executing a legal maneuver, give the other drivers more than enough time to deal with the change. They may be distracted, with a phone or a daydream, and could easily miss a subtle cue. So don’t make it subtle: signal, move evenly, and do your best to telegraph where you’re headed and when. Sharp, sudden accelerations may be fine for you, but the other drivers aren’t in your head, and they may be far too deep into theirs. Don’t give them a chance to make a mistake, because it’s a mistake that will affect you.
3. Don’t cut corners.
Yes, literally too, but not only. Don’t cut any metaphorical corners either, like not signaling or rolling through stop signs. These are the kinds of bad habits that lead inexorably to worse incidents. You need to stay sharp as a driver. Being lulled into a false sense of security because you do it so often is almost as bad as being inexperienced. Don’t take your skills or your safety for granted. It only takes one accident to change everything, and since you’ll be driving a long time, complacency is not your friend.
Stay sharp and stay smart on the road. You can’t be certain of anything, but you can be sure about yourself.
A. Selway Ryan is a copywriter for I Drive Safely. Originally from Canada, Ryan has made his home in car-loving Southern California. He’s written for a variety of media outlets – including one he founded – and has dabbled in filmmaking and book publishing.
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