What do we mean when we say it’s important to practice “defensive” driving?
While your typical suburban highway might not be Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s still full of perils and potential accidents just waiting to happen.
•Defensive driving means being aware of your surroundings, anticipating hazards, and taking steps to avoid them.
•Key factors include maintaining a safe following distance, avoiding distractions, checking blind spots, and being extra cautious at intersections.
•Following good defensive driving principles can help you save money on car insurance when you drive with the Lemonade app.
Defensive driving is all about being proactive, rather than simply reacting to what’s happening around you.
Let’s take a look at some basic, actionable tips and tricks to boost your defensive driving skills and keep you and your loved ones safe.
Keep a safe following distance
As a general rule, a safe following distance is two seconds or more. Choose a fixed object on the road, such as a street sign or a tree. When the vehicle in front of you passes the object, count the number of seconds it takes for your vehicle to reach the same point.
If it takes two seconds or more, you are maintaining a safe following distance. If it takes less than two seconds, you should increase your distance to allow for safe stopping.
Expect the unexpected
One of the key principles of defensive driving is to always be on the lookout for potential hazards—and there’s never a lack of hazards! Being cautious (and even a bit paranoid) about the actions of other drivers around you can pay off.
This means keeping your eyes peeled for things like pedestrians, bicycles, stray deer, and other vehicles, and being prepared to take action if necessary. It goes without saying that stuff like texting on your cell phone or fiddling with directions on Waze is going to prevent you from driving defensively.
It’s all too easy to get “in the zone” when driving—to be paying partial attention to the road while your mind is drifting off elsewhere. Instead, try to be mindful of everything happening around your vehicle, and in the approaching distance.
You’ll notice that sea of brake lights on the horizon that suggests an accident or traffic slowdown—and you won’t slam on your own brakes when it catches you by surprise.
Check your blind spots
A blind spot is an area surrounding your car that you can’t see in your rearview or side mirrors. Every vehicle has at least two blind spots, one on either side.
When you’re driving, it’s important to be aware of cars that might have snuck into your blind spot. That’s an accident waiting to happen.
- Make sure that your mirrors are properly adjusted so that you can see as much of the road as possible
- Always use your turn signals when you’re changing lanes
- Check your blind spot before you change lanes, by taking a quick glance over your shoulder
- When you’re driving, use your rearview and side mirrors to get a good view of what’s happening behind you.
- Invest in a blind spot mirror—a simple, circular mirror that sticks on to your side mirrors and gives you a greater range of visibility
Don’t drive when you’re tired
It’s important to be aware of your own limitations as a driver, and knowing when to slow down or pull over if necessary. Maybe you’re stressed out or anxious, or maybe you’re too tired to be behind the wheel. Trust your instincts and err on the side of caution. Here’s some actionable info on how to know when you’re too tired to drive.
Be extra cautious at intersections
According to some studies, up to 40% of all accidents in the U.S. involve an intersection. Intersections present unique opportunities for danger, so it’s important to stay aware whenever you approach one. Four way stop? Pedestrian crosswalk? No matter what configuration, keep your eyes on the road.
Here are some ways to practice defensive driving at an intersection:
- Before you enter the intersection, take a quick look around to see what other vehicles are nearby
- Always follow the right-of-way rules at an intersection, and yield to others if you don’t have the right-of-way
- Be on the lookout for pedestrians who might be crossing the intersection—and be patient, even if they’re moving too slow for your tastes
- Before you turn at an intersection, be sure to check your blind spot to make sure there aren’t any vehicles in it (as well as pedestrians or cyclists)
- Always pay attention to other drivers’ turn signals
- Avoid rushing through an intersection; it’s better to take your time and make sure it’s safe than to risk an accident, even if the drivers behind you are getting impatient
Approach yellow lights safely
A yellow light doesn’t mean “gun the engine and hope for the best.” It’s a warning that the light is about to turn red, so your best bet as a defensive driver is going to be to stop, if you can safely do so.
There’s no sense in risking an accident simply to save a few seconds on your commute (and in many cases, you might be blowing through a yellow light simply to arrive faster at…the next intersection’s right light).
Drive even more defensively in inclement weather
Safe driving is even more essential if you’re hitting the road in a downpour, or during a snowstorm. Here are some tips for practicing defensive driving in inclement weather conditions:
- Slow down, speed racer: Bad weather means reduced visibility and less traction on the road, so give yourself more time to react by slowing down
- It takes longer to stop in wet or slippery conditions, so make sure you leave even more room than usual between you and the car in front of you
- Turn on your headlights and taillights to increase your visibility to other drivers, even if it’s not dark out.
- Wet roads can make it easier to lose control of your car, so keep a firm grip on the steering wheel and pay extra attention to your steering
Don’t drive when stressed, and avoid responding to others’ road rage
Everyone knows that driving drunk is incredibly stupid and incredibly dangerous. But driving while you’re stressed out or pissed off has its own perils.
Road rage can swiftly lead to accidents—and that’s the case whether or not you’re the one raging. Responding to another driver’s maddening behavior can be oh-so-tempting, but it pays to take the high road.
Here are some tips on how to cool off, de-rage, and stay alive.
What would you learn in a defensive driving course?
A defensive driving course typically costs around $20 to $40, and some of them are offered online as well. Some of the stuff you might cover in a defensive driving course include:
- How to anticipate and respond to potential hazards on the road
- Techniques for maintaining a safe following distance
- How to properly scan the road ahead and check your blind spots
- The importance of being aware of other drivers and their actions
- Tips for avoiding distractions while driving
- How to handle emergency situations, such as skids or blowouts
- Strategies for staying calm and focused while driving
- The effects alcohol and drugs have on driving ability (spoiler alert: not good!)
- The importance of wearing a seatbelt and other safety measures
While taking a defensive driving course won’t automatically lower your Lemonade Car insurance premiums, the skills you polish in one of these simple classes could save you in the long run.
When you ride with the Lemonade app, we’re able to reward you for safe, defensive driving behaviors. It’s one in which your real-time decisions on the road can translate into real savings.
Speaking of defending yourself…
Follow posted speed limits and other rules of the road and are ready to respond to whatever lunacies America’s highways and byways might throw at you. But still…accidents happen.
When they do, you’ll want to have the best car insurance to protect you and your ride. Lemonade Car offers customizable coverage that might be right for you—with special discounts for electric and hybrid drivers, as well as a unique environmental initiative that helps plant trees as you drive.