How to Drive Defensively to Reduce Driving Anxiety

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has drastically transformed how we live our lives, from the way we communicate, to how we shop or work. But it has also had some detrimental effects on how we drive, and worse, the anxiety drivers feel when behind the wheel. A recent 2021 Aceable study found that 53% of people surveyed report feeling more anxious about driving than they did before March 2020. Fortunately, learning how to be a defensive driver can help keep you safe on the road, and in doing so, may help ease driving anxiety.  

Are You Driving Less? 

A recent study by Aceable found that 27% of people say they are driving less than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be for a myriad of reasons, including working from home, the convenience of online shopping, or just staying cautious to avoid catching the virus. 

Out of that 27% of people who say they are driving less, 53% feel more anxious behind the wheel now than they did before COVID shutdowns. When asked why, the study found that anxiety stems from both internal and external factors. In fact, 47% of those who feel more anxious about driving now compared to pre-pandemic say that driving less during the pandemic caused their driving abilities to deteriorate. 58% of those who feel more anxious about driving now compared to pre-pandemic worry that other drivers’ skills have deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic. 

Needless to say, this anxiety stems from a very real fear that since people are driving less, they have less trust in their own, as well as others, driving skills. 

Driving Muscle Memory

It might not be a surprise to learn that when learning to drive a car, you develop specific driving muscle memory. Your body begins to remember the motions required to do everything from opening your door, to moving your gear shift, and pressing your foot on the gas or brake pedals. 

This is why you might not feel very comfortable your first few times driving, but can feel slightly better the more you drive. 

It goes to show then, that since people were driving less toward the peak of the pandemic, and driving more as the spread of the virus slowed, many drivers may have had less use of their muscle memory when it comes to driving, hindering their abilities. 

Crashes Since COVID

Starting in March 2020, the country saw the temporary, or even permanent, closings of non-essential businesses, schools, places of worship, and more in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fewer people going to work or school means fewer people on the road, so you would think fewer cars on the road would equate to fewer crashes and traffic fatalities. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case.  

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 38,824 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020. That’s the highest number of crash fatalities since 2007. While the number of people injured in car crashes decreased from 2019 to 2020, the number of fatalities increased. New data from the NHTSA show approximately 31,720 traffic deaths from January to September of 2021, an increase of about 12% compared to the first nine months of 2020. 

Um…That Doesn’t Make Me Feel Any Better…

I know what you’re thinking. Um, I’m trying to read this to HELP with my driving anxiety, not to make it WORSE! What gives?!

We’re telling you these statistics not to make you feel worse, or to fear driving, but to make you aware that your anxiety is valid and is a very normal response that a lot of people also experience. 

While car accident injuries are not pleasant to think about, they can be preventable in certain situations. Prevention is the most important step to take to guarantee the safety of you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road.

What Are Some Crash Causes?

So how do so many accidents happen in a single year? Data from the NHTSA shows that human error is responsible for 94% of all crashes. This can be anything from inattention, distractions, inadequate surveillance, speeding, false assumptions of others’ actions, and illegal maneuvers. For this reason, it’s important to learn how to drive defensively to predict, manage, and avoid accidents to the best of your abilities.

Defensive Driving

By definition, defensive driving is the practice of using driving strategies that minimize risk and help avoid accidents, by predicting hazards on the road. While there are no direct statistics on how many accidents are avoided due to defensive driving (mainly because there’s no way to collect data on accidents that do not happen), by definition, defensive driving can help avoid accidents. So if the idea of driving is still making you anxious, learning proper defensive driving maneuvers might help you feel more at ease. 

Defensive driving tips to help keep you safe on the road:

Comply With Traffic Laws

This might seem like a no-brainer, but complying with all traffic laws should be the number one thing on your list of defensive driving maneuvers. You might not be found at fault for a crash if say, someone drives through a stop sign and hits you, but your chances of being hurt in a crash can significantly increase if say, you were speeding, at the time of the crash. Be sure to stay aware of all road signs, lights, and speed limits to be able to comply with the rules of the road. 

Check Blind Spots

This one goes for both you, and other drivers. Blind spots are the areas on either side of a car that a driver cannot see when looking into the rearview or side-view mirrors. So just because you don’t actually see a car in your mirrors, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Be sure to check over your shoulder to physically see your own blind spot before changing lanes or merging. When it comes to staying out of other drivers' blind spots, if you are passing their car, do so as quickly and safely as possible. The less time you spend in their blind spot, the better!

Avoid Road Rage

This can also affect both you and other drivers. Road rage is defined as aggressive or angry behavior exhibited by motorists. This can be anything from honking angrily to angry gestures, to more dangerous acts such as tailgating, aggressively swerving in and out of lanes, to purposefully hitting someone else’s car. If you see a driver showing signs of possible road rage, it’s best not to reciprocate their actions. If it’s safe to do so, change lanes slowly or even exit the highway to keep a safe distance from the aggressive driver. To avoid road rage within YOURSELF, be sure to leave with extra time to get where you need to go. This can avoid being in a rush and getting easily frustrated with other drivers. Some other tips include listening to music you enjoy to keep you in a good mood, and taking a few deep breaths. 

Keep A Safe Distance

Keeping a safe distance between you and the car in front of you can help give you the time you need to recognize a hazard and respond promptly. The National Safety Council recommends a minimum three-second distance to follow when driving. This means you should leave three seconds of space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. You can check your following distance by waiting for the car in front of you to pass a road sign, mile marker, or other type of landmark. Once they pass, count the seconds it takes you to pass the same mark with your vehicle. If it is not at least three seconds, leave more space and increase your following distance. Keeping a safe distance between you and the car in front of you is one of the safest ways to avoid a rear-end collision. 

Stay Focused

Arguably the most important defensive driving technique is to always stay focused on your driving as well as your surroundings. This includes avoiding any and all distractions, whether that be using your phone, having lengthy conversations, eating while driving; basically, anything that keeps your eyes or attention from the road. Staying aware of other vehicles on the road can allow you to react quickly, giving you the best chance to avoid a car accident. 

Brushing up on defensive driving techniques is a great way to limit your risk of being a victim of a car accident, and can help give you some peace of mind on the road. In fact, 60% of survey respondents who said their teen has taken defensive driving cite easing anxiety as a reason why. Accredited driving schools like Aceable can help you learn valuable skills you can use to protect yourself. Consider taking a defensive driving course online today!

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