What Does Defensive Driving Mean?

Last Updated: July 31, 2023 |
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Driving on the road can be a stressful and anger-inducing experience. Your safety rests in the driving abilities of others on the road. When someone cuts you off or doesn’t check their blind spot, it’s easy to become stressed, scared, or furious.

Your primary goal whenever you drive is to make it to your destination safely. Learning to remain calm and avoid an accident are key aspects of defensive driving.

Defensive driving is a set of valuable skills that give you the ability to defend yourself while on the road. This includes avoiding collisions caused by oblivious drivers, intoxicated drivers, or inclement weather.

Are you unfamiliar with defensive driving? Then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about defensive driving to become a better and safer driver on the road.

What Is Defensive Driving?

Do you remember the last accident or near accident you experienced while driving? If you avoided the accident, do you remember how you avoided it?

Defensive driving is more than just avoiding accidents and hoping everything will turn out fine. This practice is a skillset that allows you to identify potential hazards and adapting your driving to prevent an accident. By anticipating situations, you’ll be able to act immediately to avoid a potentially hazardous accident.

The skills necessary for defensive driving are a mix of preparing, observing, and reacting appropriately. Defensive drivers follow these main practices:

Unfortunately, many drivers don’t follow these simple driving practices. With today’s technology needed for everything to be fast, it’s easy for drivers to speed and drive while distracted. Defensive driving is more important than ever to ensure your driving trips are always safe.

Tips For Defensive Driving

If you’re new to defensive driving or are looking to brush up on your skills, there are few tips you can start practicing today. Everyone at every age should always take time to improve their defensive driving skills. Here are a few tips you can follow to improve your driving today.

Keep a Safe Distance

Remember the driving skills you learned back when you first started driving? One of the first things drivers learn is to keep a safe distance between themselves and other cars on the road.

The ideal distance kept between cars will vary depending on your speed. The general rule is to leave a three-second gap between you and the car in front of you.

To measure this gap, take note of a specific object the vehicle passes, like a tree, mailbox, or traffic sign. As they pass it, start counting the number of seconds it takes you to reach that same object.

If your count is more than three seconds and you’re driving slow or below the speed limit, you can safely pick up your speed. If your count was less than three seconds, you should slow down.

Those going at a slower speed will have a smaller three-second gap between vehicles. It’s easier and faster to stop a vehicle moving at a slower speed. This doesn’t mean you can push the three-second rule to one second or two seconds as this will increase your odds of getting into an accident.

While traveling at a faster speed, this three-second gap should widen. Faster moving cars have more momentum and require more time to stop.

Drive at a Safe Speed

Your driving speed will affect how fast you can stop your vehicle in the event of an emergency. Your driving speed should vary based on the current road conditions. Never exceed a speed that is “reasonable and safe” even if the speed limit is higher.

For example, a vehicle driving at 30 mph will need to travel about 120 feet before coming to a complete stop. This includes about 60 feet for reaction time and 50-60 feet of braking time.

That same vehicle traveling at 60 mph will need 360 feet before coming to a complete stop. This includes about 130 feet of reaction time and 190 feet of braking.

If it’s raining or snowing hard, you should drive at a slower speed. Be mindful of other drivers who may not have four-wheel or all-wheel driving capabilities on their car.

Always Use Your Turn Signal

Anytime you turn or change lanes, use your turn signal. Many drivers believe their turn signal isn’t always necessary or think they can change lanes or turn without disrupting other drivers.

This is not a smart way to think. Turn signals are necessary for anyone within the eyesight of your vehicle, even if you can’t see them. This doesn’t only include other drivers, but pedestrians and road cyclists as well.

Be Observant of Your Surroundings

Always scan your surroundings while driving. You should be aware of any pedestrians or cyclists along the road, the cars in from and behind you, and what’s on either side of your vehicle. At any moment, a car may cut into your lane or a pedestrian may cross the road without looking.

By using your mirrors and looking around all sides of your vehicle, you’ll be able to observe a safety margin around your vehicle. You’ll be able to view any potential accidents and react within a short amount of time. The more you’re aware of what’s around your vehicle, the safer you’ll be while driving.

Plan Ahead

With scanning your surroundings comes planning ahead. By viewing what’s happening around your vehicle, you’ll be able to slow down and decide whether stopping will be necessary.

Planning ahead also includes making evasive maneuvers. Should the vehicle in front of you get into a car accident, you can quickly decide whether changing lanes or moving over to the shoulder is the best idea. This will help you avoid the accident and keep you and those in your vehicle safe.

Don’t Assume Others’ Driving Intentions

Never assume a driver is going to be following the same safe-driving practices as you. Many drivers may change lanes without using their turn signal while others forget to check their blind spots. Some drivers may turn their turn signal on but not turn or turn in the opposite direction of their turn signal.

Be mindful of other drivers on the road and don’t make any assumptions regarding their driving intentions.

Do you feel you need more in-depth or hands-on training? Consider taking a course at a defensive driving school. These schools welcome people of all ages and all driving abilities.

The goal of a defensive driving course is to improve your driving skills to make you a safer driver on the road.

Is Defensive Driving School the Same as Drivers Education?

Defensive driving and driver’s education are not the same. Drivers education may include defensive driving skills but its focus is on teaching an individual how to drive, read traffic signs, and be aware of driving laws.

Defensive driving classes focus on advancing your driving skills to prevent accidents and avoid breaking the law while driving. Here are a few skills you’ll learn when taking a defensive driving course.

Psychological Factors While Driving

You can learn to control the psychological factors your experience while driving. A defensive driving course will teach you how to remain calm and reduce feelings of stress, fatigue, and anger while driving. These psychological-based skills will improve your attitude and focus while driving.

Human Factors

A defensive driving course will remind you of the effects drugs and alcohol have on a person while driving. These drug and alcohol topics include state laws and how driving under the influence will impede your driving abilities. They’ll cover the legal and emotional consequences of driving under the influence.

Crash Prevention Techniques

The most valuable driving skills are knowing how to identify a potential hazard and how to avoid an accident. Throughout the course, you’ll learn many of the defensive driving practices listed above along with understanding vehicle emergencies and how to safely share the road.

Some courses will have you use a driving simulator to practice hands-on defensive driving.

Crash Dynamics

A defensive driving course will share the statistics and facts on vehicle accidents. From there, they’ll cover crash dynamics such as second collisions and the importance of safety equipment. You’ll learn how speed, impact, and object size can influence the severity of an accident.

Benefits of a Defensive Driving Course

The main benefit of a defensive driving course is you become a better and safer driver. Other benefits include a reduction of points on your driver’s license after a ticket or accident. Some car insurance companies will reduce your insurance rates by as much as 10% after you take a defensive driving course.

Most defensive classes range from four to eight hours long. You can take the classes online or in-person depending on the school.

Improve Your Skills With Defensive Driving

Learning and following defensive driving skills is the best way you can avoid accidents and stay safe on the roadway. Not only will defensive driving benefit you but it will keep others on the road safe, too!

Do you think a defensive driving course is right for you? Check out our selection of defensive driving courses near you to get started today!