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  • David Omer

What Is Defensive Driving, Anyway?


Defensive driving. When we were teens, we heard the term all the time from our parents, then from our Driver's Ed instructors. As adults, it's probably more common to hear it from your insurance agent or on a commercial.


But what does it mean to drive defensively? Driving super slowly all the time? Utilizing your turn signal a mile before your actual turn? Wearing a crash helmet at all times?


Well, no. The short and succinct definition of "defensive driving" is that you're always prepared for disaster on the road, and you're ready to react if said disaster comes to pass. It means that you can't just assume that other drivers will act reasonably and responsibly.


The holiday season brings with it bad traffic, road rage, and unfamiliar traffic patterns, meaning that defensive driving is more important than ever this time of year! So what are some examples?


1. Scanning the road. If you're only looking at the back of the car in front of you, you're going to have precious little time to react if something happens four or five car lengths further up. By scanning more of the road ahead of you, you can give yourself the best possible opportunity to avoid any trouble that comes along.


2. Checking your mirrors. Believe it or not, you need to know what's behind you just as much as what's in front of you. Between potential accidents, fast or reckless drivers, and monitoring your blind spots, there's plenty of possible hazards that lurk beside and behind your vehicle. Experts recommend checking your side and rearview mirrors every five seconds, in addition to before stopping or changing lanes.


3. Keep your distance. Tailgating isn't just obnoxious; it's dangerous, as well. By following the car in front of you too closely, you're putting yourself and anyone in your immediate vicinity in serious danger if something goes wrong. It's also illegal in North Carolina! A good rule of thumb is that you should be keeping about two full seconds between you and the car in front of you. If someone behind you is tailgating, driving aggressively, or otherwise acting like a jerk, consider looking for a way to get away from them or let them pass.


4. Stay out of others' blind spots. Particularly on the freeway, it's easy to lose awareness of where other drivers' blind spots are. The problem is that you can't depend on other drivers to always check their blind spots before changing lanes, so if you've been hanging out in someone's blind spot for the past five miles, there's a good chance that they don't know you're there. If you notice that you're in another driver's blind spot, see what you can do to get into a position where you can be readily seen.


5. Check your own blind spots! Especially if you're checking your mirrors often, you should have a good general idea of where other drivers are around you. But nobody's perfect, and the only way to ensure that you haven't forgotten about another driver is to always, always, always check your blind spots before changing lanes.


6. Stay off your phone. My own personal estimate is that when you're on the road, half of the drivers around you are on their phones. That seems high, but look for yourself sometime and I'll bet that you come to the same conclusion. It seems innocuous enough, especially when everyone is doing it, but using your phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and selfish. Whatever you feel the need to do on your phone, it can wait until you get to your destination.


The bottom line is that you can't depend on others to keep you safe on the road. It's important to establish driving habits that ensure that you'll stay protected when trouble comes along, and that's what we call defensive driving! Drive safe out there!

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