Whether you are a new driver or the guardian of a new driver, the learning-to-drive experience can be tense for everyone involved. My own mother still gasps in horror, slowly reaches up to clutch the door handle, slams on the passenger side foot brake, covers her eyes, and throws the “human seatbelt” across whoever is sitting opposite her.
Defensive driving doesn’t have to be tense driving, but you need to stay alert, focused, and free of distractions to make the kind of split-second decisions that will keep you (and other people) safe on the roads.
So what are the most important safe driving tips?
1. Look into Safety Apps: In this age of technology, there are some incredible apps out there to keep you safe on the road. Some are able to sense when you’re in motion, so they’ll put your phone into “Do Not Disturb” mode automatically and let your callers know to try again in a little while. Others will do text-to-voice for any messages that you receive so that you can keep your eyes on the road. There are even some that will monitor the other cars around you as well as your personal driving behavior, so you can get a good idea of how you’re doing and where you can improve. If you can’t trust yourself to stay phone-free while you’re driving, consider driving safety apps to help you stay on task. A few of them even offer monetary incentives for following proper driving guidelines.
2. Keep Your Distance: You might have heard the saying, “We’re only as strong as the weakest link,” during a team-building or motivational exercise, but that carries over into driving as well. You might be the world’s best driver, but that doesn’t do you any good if the person in the car next to you is the world’s worst. While you’re driving, keep your distance from other motorists. Don’t tailgate, and stay out of other drivers’ blind spots if you can help it. Avoid traveling in “packs” because being so close to other cars might prevent you from avoiding a road hazard. It might feel a little amateurish to give yourself a lot of space, but it could be the thing that keeps you from an accident.
3. Follow the Rules: You should know the rules before you get your license, but it never hurts to brush up on the driving laws for your area. Make sure that you understand who has the right-of-way as well as the speed limit. ALWAYS wear a seat belt and do not move your car until all of your passengers are wearing their seat belts as well. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object in motion will stay in motion, so it doesn’t matter if the law “technically” doesn’t require backseat passengers to wear seat belts – if you get in an accident, you’re going to want the person behind you to stay in their own seat.
4. Be Smart Before You Start: Before you start driving, walk briefly around your vehicle and look for obvious problems. Don’t try to drive if you see something wrong with your tires or engine. If there are no apparent issues on the outside of your car, adjust your mirrors, seat position, radio station, and seat belt before you start, so you’re not distracted once you’re barreling down the road.
5. Be Prepared: Keep your license, insurance, and registration handy at all times. You might even consider storing them in a waterproof bag in the glove box along with an emergency contact list. Keep a first-aid kit, an extra set of clothing, non-perishable food, bottled water, blankets, and flashlights with batteries in your trunk in case of emergency. You might also consider keeping a spare key secured to the outside of your vehicle somewhere in case you get locked out.
6. Think of the Weather: Unfortunately, one of the only ways to gain experience driving in bad weather is to do it. The number one way to be a defensive driver in inclement weather is to slow down and be extra cautious. Give yourself a lot of space to speed up and slow down, and use the right type of lights during your commute. Don’t panic if you hit a storm, and pull over if necessary, but do not ever stop in the middle of the road.
7. Don’t Rush: No deadline, date, or meeting is worth a life, so slow down. Always stay within the speed limit, and drive even slower during bad weather or while in construction, neighborhood, or school zones.
8. Reduce Distractions: Distractions are a part of life, but they don’t have to be the cause of an accident. Silence your cell phone, set your navigation route before you turn the ignition, decide on a radio station or podcast before you pull out of the driveway – all of these things are ways to reduce distractions during your commute. If you have kids, make sure that they have what they need before you leave, and pull over if you need to assist them. Do not reach back and try to solve their problem while you’re actively driving.
9. Do Preventative Maintenance: Few things are more distracting than having a light on your dashboard start flashing suddenly. Keep your oil changed, fuel tank filled, and your tires inflated. Go into your mechanic for regular maintenance so that your vehicle stays in tip-top shape for your travels because, in the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s one less thang.”
There is no way to prevent an accident on the road completely, but if you’re prepared, you can significantly decrease your risks. Almost 80% of accidents happen within 15 miles of your home, so you need to stay particularly aware during your routine travels. Don’t get complacent: there is no age limit on being a defensive driver.
Are you driving a car for the first time? For sure, you are getting nervous as soon as you hit the highway. But, you must not be. The more relaxed you are, the lower is the chance that you will meet an accident. More so, it will allow you to think and act carefully. This infographic is a reminder for both new and old drivers.