Defensive Driving Basics

If you’ve ever hit the highway during rush hour or navigated a cramped city intersection, you know that other drivers have no chill. They will speed. They will cut you off (is it just me, or is it always someone in a BMW? Every. Single. Time.). They will probably try to Instagram their breakfast while merging into the turn lane too. Simply following the rules of the road isn’t always enough to keep you safe. You have to defend yourself. Defensive driving is all about preventing accidents. You're not just saving yourself; you're saving other drivers from their own bad choices. Just because a potential crash would not be your fault doesn't mean you shouldn't do everything you can to prevent it. Dealing with car repair shops and insurance claims isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. If you want to protect your car, your life, and your good vibes, defensive driving techniques are a must. Here are the defensive driving basics you need to know:

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5 Steps to Drive Defensively

1. Trust No One

Do you have trust issues? Are you pretty sure that any given driver sharing the road with you is either drunk, sleep-deprived, or totally distracted? This kind of mentality will serve you well. You can’t count on a driver to make a turn just because they have their turn signal on. That would be too easy. You also can’t depend on other people to yield the right of way to you when it’s obviously your turn. Some drivers are confused about right-of-way rules in different situations, and many of them just aren’t paying enough attention to notice you or make a smart decision about who should get to go first. Be cautious and alert when you approach a turn, an intersection, or a merging lane. Don’t assume you have the right of way until you’re sure the other vehicle(s) are actually slowing down or stopping for you. When in doubt, always yield the right of way to others. It’s the safest course of action, and it’s downright considerate of you. While you’re on this path of virtuous choices, make sure you’re completely fit to drive as well. Don’t drive if you’re too tired to stay awake or make quick decisions. Don’t touch your phone while driving either. You can respond to that text from bae when you're at a stopping point. And don’t even think about putting your key in the ignition if you’ve been drinking alcohol. Seriously, don't do it.

2. Be Predictable

If your occupation is "Free Spirit," that's fine. We won't judge. But make sure you're less wild behind the wheel.

Maybe you’re wild at heart -- a real free spirit letting fate carry you through life on its majestic wings. That’s great. But when you’re behind the wheel, it’s best to be as predictable as possible. Let other drivers know what you’re going to do BEFORE you do it. This means using your turn signals every time you turn or change lanes, and tapping your brakes to make your brake lights flash when you need to slow down quickly. You can even tap your horn when you suspect that another driver doesn’t see you and might cause a crash. Make eye contact with a pedestrian who’s about to cross the street so they know you see them. And nothing says “I’m definitely not going to run over you” like throwing in a friendly wave.

3. Protect Your Space

Don’t you hate it when people get into your personal bubble? Standing too close to someone for no good reason is creepy. Driving too close to someone isn’t just creepy -- it’s really dangerous too. Ideally, you want to keep a decent cushion of space around your vehicle on all sides. Your following distance (the distance between your car and the car in front of you) should vary based on how fast you’re driving, and it’s measured in seconds. To find your following distance, wait for the vehicle in front of you to pass some sort of landmark: a tree, a sign for Pizza Palace, a hitchhiker, whatever. Count the number of seconds that go by until your vehicle passes the same landmark. You want to keep at least two seconds' worth of space in front of you. Lengthen your following distance if you’re driving faster than 35 mph or if the roads are slick.

Resisting the urge to tailgate is a great start, but what about the vehicles to your left and right? First, don’t drive directly next to them. That’s super awkward. Also, stay out of their blind spots. Every vehicle has areas that the driver can’t see from their rearview or side mirrors. If you’re chilling near the back corner of someone’s car in traffic, there’s a chance that the driver could fail to see you while making a lane change. Just keep that space bubble as large as possible. Protecting your space, as it turns out, means you’ll protect others’ space as well. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcycles will appreciate you keeping your distance.

4. Anticipate Problems

Make sure you’re seeing the big picture when you’re behind the wheel. It’s easy to fixate on the area directly in front of you, but try not to. Never stop scanning the environment around you for hazards. Put those mirrors to use every once in a while. Check for safety threats that are one block or a quarter of a mile ahead. The more time you can give yourself to react to a potential hazard, the better off you’ll be. Gather as much information as you can while driving. Is there a bicyclist coming up behind you at the stoplight? Is a child going to come running after that basketball that just rolled into the street? Now that we’ve established that the world is a dangerous place with potential crashes waiting around every corner, let’s go over escape routes real quick. We’re not talking trap doors and helicopter rescues. An escape route is a plan for where to go if things turn ugly. Notice which lanes around you are open in case you need to switch your position in a hurry. Is there a paved shoulder you can get on if the driver in front of you comes to a screeching halt without any warning? Brakes aren’t always the answer. Most drivers can steer away from a potential crash slightly faster than they can avoid it by bringing their vehicle to a stop. Speaking of brakes, are you familiar with cover braking? It’s a lifesaver in unpredictable city environments. You simply keep your foot over the brake pedal (without actually pressing it), so that you’re ready to brake on short notice. Sometimes shaving off that fraction of a second makes a big difference in avoiding a crash.

5. Plan Ahead

The more prepared you are for your trip, the more attention you can devote to identifying and reacting to hazards. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a cross-country road trip or taking a quick drive to the grocery store. All your travels can benefit from a little planning. The first step is to know your route. If it’s a new, unfamiliar journey, check out a map beforehand and queue up the directions in your GPS if you’ve got one. Don’t wait until the last second to get into your exit or turn lane. For local trips, check your favorite news source for warnings about the weather, traffic, or construction. Use this info to estimate how much time you’ll need for your drive. Running late or being in a rush can tempt even the best of us to speed or drive a little more aggressively than we should. Detours and changes in traffic are bound to happen (seriously, another parade shutting down streets during rush hour?). Just roll with it. One more way to plan ahead is to keep up with your vehicle maintenance. Make sure you have enough gasoline for your trips, check your tire pressure monthly, and don’t drive around with that “Check Engine” light on for weeks on end. Defensive driving isn’t just something you do once and check off a list. It’s a lifestyle, okay? It’s also a 6-hour mobile course that Aceable offers to all Texas drivers. Learn more useful tips like the ones above, get a pesky traffic ticket dismissed, and save some money on your car insurance! Make sure to check out the rest of our safe driving videos for more tips to keep you in control on the road!