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Defensive Driving Safety Tips - This May Save Your Life

Updated on May 9, 2011

Defensive Driving Saves Lives

The mantra of defensive driving is that most accidents are avoidable, but are they really? Surprisingly enough, yes, accidents really are avoidable, and this article will help you discover the many tips of defensive driving that allow you to steer clear of danger and keep you - and the occupants of your car - safe.

So, if it saves lives, why doesn't everyone do it? Well, perhaps for the same reason everyone doesn't perform CPR. After all, if no one teaches you how to perform CPR, how could anyone possibly expect you to use it to save a life later?

And to answer the next question I just placed into your mind ... yes ... defensive driving can save the lives of others as well. After all, sometimes accidents occur by our own actions, and not by the misguided actions of others.

So, without further adieu, I present to you Jane Driver, the gal that will help us learn defensive driving.

Jane has the keys and the car, but is she ready to drive yet?
Jane has the keys and the car, but is she ready to drive yet?

Introducing Jane Driver

Armed with a pair of keys and a shiny white car, Jane is anxious to impress her friends at school. After all, driving is a right of passage for young people all around the world. And while we do understand Jane's need to be flashy and trendy, we also know that her senior prom is coming up ... and we'd really like her to see that day when it comes. As such, we need to introduce Jane to the rules of defensive driving,

Our first lesson for Jane? Buckle up!

Annual reports are produced that prove people who wear seatbelts fair better in accidents than those who don't. Of course, we shouldn't just accept that on faith, should we? What other proof do we have?

Race car drivers ... Yep, these guys and gals are the crucible of proof that seatbelts are worth wearing. For, you see, they have horrendous accidents all of the time, and while some do die, a startling percentage live on ... with many capable of driving the next day. And do you see any of them willing to drive on the raceway without their seatbelt? Not one, as they know the risks involved in doing so, and now, so do you.

Seatbelts save lives, and yours is just as important as anyone else's, so Jane, buckle up before you start that car!

Preparing to Leave the Driveway

With the seatbelt clicked and in-place, Jane turns the car and listens to the motor purr. A powerful feeling, eh? She reaches for the stereo and cranks it up full blast ... and why not ... their playing her favorite song on the radio.

Alone in her world of music, Jane doesn't pay any attention to the children playing soccer in the yard beside her and is about to pull out as Johnny Jacobs kicks the ball past the back of her car and runs after it

Now, we could allow Jane to backup and hit the child, but we heard the screams of her friends saying to wait until Jane backs up, and while Johnny ignores the screams ... we don't. Instead, we turn off Jane's music, allowing her to see her hand pressing the gear console into reverse as Johnny runs past the back of her car. Tragedy has been avoided.

From this experience, Jane learns that it's okay for a driver to be entertained, but allowing themselves to become distracted could pose a danger to others. As such, she turns down the radio to a point where she can hear it, but it doesn't distract her senses. She also turns off her cell phone, as she realizes that could be a distraction to.

Jane was already taught that distractions cause many of the accidents that needlessly occur on a daily basis, and this near-miss is a warm reminder of that fact.

Cars are as unpredictable as bulls
Cars are as unpredictable as bulls

Entering the Roadway

Jane looks back to see if she can back out of the driveway. She's aware that she needs to look for oncoming traffic, but she's about to learn another valuable lesson in defensive driving.

For you see, Mrs. Ferguson is approaching her path, but has her blinker on, signalling she will turn into the driveway next to hers. And why not ... she owns the house next door. As such, Jane again engages her car into neutral and prepares to pull out.

What she doesn't know is that Mrs. Ferguson forgot to get something at the store, but her memory has now improved and she intends to drive past her house and return to the market. Too bad she forgot to turn off that blinker.

Of course, we can't allow anything to happen to Jane and her car, lest our story end here. Instead, we intervene by placing her car back into park and pointing to Mrs. Ferguson as she drives on by, with her signal light still flashing away.

Jane has learned another valuable lesson of defensive driving: Just because a driver signals a certain intent, this does not guarantee that's what they will do. As such, we tell Jane to wait until all oncoming vehicles are a safe distance away before allowing her to pull out, and being the smart driver she is, she listens to us.

The Highway Awaits!

Jessica lives a town away, with a stretch of highway 31 in-between. Yes, there are other roads that could get us there, but Jane chooses the direct route, as it means arriving there quicker.

Don't worry, we'll be along to keep her safe ...

And so, Jane merges into the highway and starts the eight mile drive to Canton. Up ahead she sees the next on-ramp, with a car picking up speed to enter the highway. Of course, she knows this driver must yield to her, but she gets an uneasy feeling as the car continues to match her speed and she knows the driver's entry lane is slowing getting more narrow. What should she do?

As we are along for the ride, we point out that the lane to the left of Jane is clear, so she can use her turn signal and hop over a lane. She could also slow down and let the bully win, which is the better option in this instance, as a vehicle is speeding up to close the gap to the left we just saw.

Then, there is option three, speed up and leave this bully in the dust ... We can see by Jane's eyes she likes this one best, and can tell by the rumble of the engine this choice has already been made. However, the bully shares her intent and drives faster as well. The gap quickly narrows, with the lane becoming increasingly cramped for two cars, until Jane finally does the right thing and back off.

Yes, she lost the race, but the sweat on her shaky hands tells us she realizes she might have also lost her life, had she continued to force the issue.

Safety All Around

Jane needs to calm down from her experience, so we remind her of the importance of creating a safe space around her car. With three lanes of highway traffic, a lot can go wrong. Cars on the far left push each other along at speeds that aren't always safe, whereas cars on the far right are constantly dodging traffic entering and leaving the freeway. Sensing our girl isn't sure where to go, we recommend the center lane, as it provides for a safer driving experience.

Next, we tell her to form a comfortable cushion between her and the car ahead of her. We want her to be able to react quickly, should something happen up ahead, and this cushion provides the time needed to do so ... and not a moment too soon!

Up ahead, break lights go on and breaks squeal loudly. Jane is able to make a controlled stop as she is far enough away from the car ahead of her, allowing the car behind her ample time to do the same. All stop safely, but the scene ahead speaks differently of the cars that drove through this lane before her.

She rolls down her window and hears the people up ahead tell of how a small vehicle tried to pass a truck on the right. The vehicle then cut in front of the truck and startled the driver, causing him to lose control and slam into another vehicle, unleashing disaster across the highway.

Starting out on this trip, Jane had considered the highway as a quicker and safer means of reaching her destination, but now she is beginning to wonder if she might have been wrong.

Day Turns to Night

It takes several hours to clear the road, with daylight slowly giving way to darkness. To make mattes worse, a driving rain begins to fall, reducing visibility. 

Aware that Jane is nervous about the current conditions, we remind her to turn on her lights and wipers, and to gauge her speed accordingly. So many accidents happen in bad weather, and all because people fail to understand the dangers it presents. However, we have taught Jane well, so she drives with both hands on the wheel, drives slower, and maintains more distance than usual from the car ahead of her. Though she is attempted to turn on her high beams, in the hope that she will be able to see more, she realizes they will only blind the driver in front of her (as well as oncoming traffic), and considers this a bad idea.

Exiting the Highway

Eight miles in three hours, and the day is almost gone. It's now 9:12 at night, but Jane spent her waiting hours on the highway calling her friend to let her know she was tangled in gridlock and would be along as soon as things cleared up. She signals her intent to leave the highway and pulls off at an even speed, proceeding down the hill to the light ahead.

As she nears the bottom, the light turns yellow. She gets that look of determination in her eye as her foot edges the accelerator, but we tap her on the shoulder and she switches to the break instead. A wise choice, as someone turning right anticipated the light change and zipped around the corner, directly in the path Jane would have barreled through, had she chosen to beat the light.

Our girl has survived another close call, all because she is driving defensively and knows that aggressive driving is a leading cause of accidents. Of course, what do we really know of Jane's motives? The truth could actually be that she really likes the looks of her car and wants no part of any accident that might scratch it up. That works as well, as anything that keeps her car safe will keep her safe as well.

Arriving Safely at Our Destination

As she sees her friend's street up ahead, Jane signals to turn around the corner. The light is green, but she has stopped. Why?

We look up to see a small child in the crosswalk that shouldn't be there. Jane's eyes were peeled for pedestrians as we approached, but ours were left behind, wondering if Jane would ever learn the lessons of defensive driving and how important they are to keep her and others safe. 

We sigh as we realize we have done a fine job of training Jane how to drive, and allow her to give us the final lesson of the evening ... pedestrians always have the right of way, as any accident involving them can often prove fatal. 

And so, Jane continues on and pulls into her friend's driveway, safe and secure and we are left in the car waiting, as we are only guests along for the ride. And we wonder ... did we actually learn anything? In actuality, we learned a lot, though we tell ourselves it was all common sense and really nothing at all.

and what have we learned?

  1. Buckle up before starting the car. Race car drivers know enough to do it, and so should you!
  2. Driving safely is about extending your awareness to everything going on around you. As such, don't allow anything to impair them. Turn the radio down low and turn off your cell phone until you arrive at a full stop.
  3. Understand that other people often make mistakes, and those mistakes can lead to accidents. As such, never assume any driver will do the right thing and prepare yourself by considering what you will do if they don't.
  4. Cars do not accelerate instantly, nor do they stop on a dime. By leaving room around you (when possible) you secure yourself with more options, and more time to react. 
  5. Your ability to see is everything! If you can't see the cars around you then you can't drive safely. The same goes for the vehicles around you. Drive with extra caution when visibility is reduced, as some do not follow this same rule, and these are the people you will want to avoid.
  6. When possible, carry a cell phone with you in case of an emergency - and if something happens that will make you late to your destination, take some time away from driving to let them know, so they don't worry about you. This might not seem like a defensive driving trip, but many concerned parents and friends get in accidents every day, driving around needlessly nervous in search of loved ones who are find. Show you care by letting others know you are safe ... or if you need help.
  7. Always yield to pedestrians! In the battle of metal versus flesh the human always loses - and you need to live with that mistake the rest of your life if you're behind the wheel when it happens. Don't ever put yourself in this position!

Is There More?

Absolutely! There are more situations than one could ever cover, but the basic concepts of defensive driving are all here. For, you see, it is all about common sense and living with the one thing we can control - our own actions.

A good driver is confident, but never cocky, and always considers their own welfare (and the welfare of others) when they get behind the wheel of a car. Driving defensively is all about seeing the possibilities for accidents all around you and doing what you can to lower the risks.

And does it work?

Common sense already tells you it does, as the best way to avoid being in an accident is not to do the things that make you more prone to become involved in one

Drive safely, Jane!
Drive safely, Jane!

Goodbye Jane

And so, we leave Jane Driver behind with a fond wish that she drives safely and makes it to the prom in two years. We have taught her what we know, but it will be up to her if she decides to stick with the lessons we have taught her. 

Do we worry for her? Just like we worry for ourselves and the ones we love ... but Jane's a smart girl. We know this, as it was her choice to trust us and allow us the chance to teach her how to drive defensively. And now, we have done the same for you.

Drive safely! 

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