Stay Alive When You Drive: The Keys to Defensive Driving

According to many Defensive Driving course instructors, there are five vital rules to defensive driving. If everyone followed just these five rules, experts agree that car accidents would be reduced by at least 98%.

So, do your part to reduce the dangers of driving, and to further protect yourself and your loved ones from dangerous and possibly fatal accidents. Read on to discover what you can do to be more safe on the road – and don’t be fooled by the simplistic nature of these rules. You may believe they are common sense, but we can guarantee that either you or someone you know breaks at least two of these rules on a regular basis!

Defensive Driving Key #1. Pay Attention and Focus on the Task of Driving

Yes, this one seems the most obvious! But how often have you been on your cell phone while driving? Or fiddled with a handbag, papers, a map, or kept digging for something in your pockets? Splitting your attention from the process of driving immediately puts your driving on auto pilot. You are no longer consciously involved in operating your two ton box of metal – you find you can’t remember what you saw, or that you changed lanes a mile back. Most importantly, your response rate is reduced and impaired. You cannot react quickly to new stimuli because your conscious brain is not involved in the active reception of such information.

So how can you increase your ability to pay active attention while driving? Never chat on your cell phone – in some states like California, it is now illegal to drive and talk on the phone. Try not to daydream, and if someone else is in the car with you, do not look at them while talking – keep your eyes and attention on the road. Averting your eyes, for even two seconds, while talking to a passenger, could put both your lives in serious danger.

Also form good driving habits. For instance, if you’re making a trip to a new destination, get familiar with your map or directions before getting into your car. Make sure that you can recall most of them from memory so that you are not forced to finger through, or constantly look at your papers while driving. In addition, pace yourself – if you’re hungry, stop and eat at the restaurant. Don’t drive through and eat while driving. If you’re tired, pull over and rest. Don’t gamble your life and another’s just because you’re in a hurry or you believe you won’t fall asleep. Driving is hypnotic – eventually you will fall asleep if you are not well rested.

Defensive Driving Key #2. Maintain Your Distance

This is particularly difficult for those of us living in Southern California. We’re practically raised on tailgating! But nevertheless, following too closely behind another vehicle accounts for 40% of vehicle accidents. Plus, in the event of a rear-end collision, the fault automatically falls on the rear vehicle – even if the driver honestly believes the front vehicle stopped too suddenly.

This is because if you maintain the proper distance, it’s almost impossible to hit the vehicle in front of you – because you’ve allowed yourself enough reaction time to stop.

So what is the proper following distance? A good rule of thumb is the “two second” rule. You want to always remain a two-second count behind the vehicle in front of you. However, the faster your speeds are, the more space you must allow. At freeway speeds, maintain a good 4 to 5 second leeway.

If counting seems difficult to measure while driving, consider car lengths…always have at least one car length between you and the car in front of you. At freeway speeds, lengthen that space to roughly two car lengths or more. If you find yourself having to brake every time you see the car in front of you brake, then you are following too closely.

Defensive Driving Key #3. Don’t Speed

If you love to drive, you hate the admonition to not speed. However, driving too fast for road conditions or traffic exponentially increases your chances of getting into an accident. First of all, your speeds leave you with less reaction time than may be needed to avoid a crash and the faster you drive, the longer it will take for your brakes to successfully stop your moving vehicle.

Yes, inertia’s a witch. But it’s a law of physics and no pouting will change that. So work with the universe and watch how fast you’re going. The easiest way to manage your speeds is to keep pace with the traffic around you. And most importantly, don’t change lanes or weave in and out of traffic when at high speeds.

Defensive Driving Key #4. Don’t Drive Impaired

If you have any alcohol, you must wait two hours for every drink consumed before you drive. And always follow up alcohol with an equal amount of water. It will allow you to maintain your “buzz” for a good length of time, but will help your body return to full capacity when you begin winding down (provided you wait the prescribed amount of time after drinking before driving).

And don’t kid yourself. Just because you think you can walk in a straight line doesn’t mean you can drive adequately. Just as talking on a cell phone impairs your ability to drive defensively and safely, having any alcohol in your system when you’re driving will impair your ability to react to road conditions or other drivers.

This also goes for being sick, tired, or otherwise impaired. If you do not feel you have a clear head, do not drive. If your eyes or head hurt too much, don’t drive. If you have trouble staying awake, or you’ve had to take medication that makes you drowsy, don’t drive.

Defensive Driving Key #5. Buy and Maintain Safe Driving Equipment

If you drive an older model vehicle, find out what equipment your car has and consider upgrading. You want to ensure that you have ABS (anti-lock) brakes, traction control systems, and air-bags. Auto engineering continues to impress – consider the latest in safety technology: run flat tires, SOS systems that will automatically notify paramedics if your vehicle is in an accident, and active systems that assist with safely managing your vehicle, such as Active Cruise Control that will automatically change your speed to match a slower vehicle in front of you, and to maintain a pre-determined distance behind.

Because upgrading an older vehicle to these new technologies can get exceedingly expensive, you may consider selling your used car for a newer model. If this is the case, we can help. We are the largest and most respected auto buying service in Los Angeles and all of Southern California, having bought and sold over 50,000 cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs. We guarantee to offer you more for your car than any dealer and we get that cash into your hands within 24 hours. Visit us at to learn more.

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