Let’s face it: you likely haven’t thought about “defensive driving” since you were 16 and studying to pass Driver’s Ed. Maybe you remember some pointers here or there, but it’s not something you think about every time you hop in the car. But no matter how long you’ve had your license, defensive driving will help keep everyone on the road safer.

Basics of defensive driving

So, what exactly IS defensive driving? Though the name may sound aggressive, defensive driving is actually the opposite. It all boils down to taking ownership of safe driving and not relying on other drivers to do so. You’ll increase your chances of getting from point A to B safely — and keep yourself and others out of harm’s way. The more people who follow defensive driving techniques, the better.

Eyes up

Keep your eyes constantly roaming and scanning the road ahead. Remember to use all your mirrors — rearview AND both side views — so you can see what’s going on around and behind you. Before even starting the car, peek in the mirrors to make sure they’re at the correct angles. If any of them need adjusting, do it from a parked position and NOT while driving.

Give space 

Remember the 3-second rule? You likely read about it in that DMV packet when studying to get your license. The 3-second rule is a great way to keep a safe distance between cars, and it can mean the difference between safely coming to a slow and causing an accident. To figure out what exactly a 3-second distance is, simply wait until the car ahead has passed a fixed object — a road sign, fence post, mailbox, even a crack in the highway. Then count how long it takes the front of your vehicle to reach that fixed object. And count slowly (1,001…1,002 …1,003). If your vehicle reaches the object before 3 seconds has passed, slow down to widen the gap.

Ditch distractions

With cell phones more prominent than ever, constantly dinging or vibrating with each new message or phone call, it might be difficult to resist the urge to check while driving. But according to the National Safety Council, distracted driving due to cell phones causes 1.6 million accidents a year. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2017, cell phone use while driving caused more than 3,000 deaths.

Many phones have a “do not disturb” feature to silence all notifications. Some can even sense when a vehicle’s moving and will turn the feature on automatically. Consider it if you think you’ll be tempted to use your phone in the car. If it’s too irresistible, think about placing the phone in the back seat, glove box, or even the trunk to avoid fiddling with it while trying to keep your eyes on the road. Your life and the lives of others are too important. 

Know your surroundings

Be conscious of what’s going on around you. If another vehicle’s swerving or driving erratically, keep your distance. Depending on how erratic they are, you might even pull over. If it’s raining or snowing, increase your following distance. Also be aware of pedestrians and animals. Is someone crossing the street with a child? Is an unleashed dog running up the sidewalk? Being behind the wheel means you’re responsible for their safety. 

Have an “out”

Having a safe “escape plan” means anticipating the “what ifs.” What if a car in front of you stops suddenly? What if a neighboring driver veers into your lane? What if a rock flies up and cracks the windshield? Thinking about these scenarios means you’re already a few steps ahead. Make sure not to linger in another driver’s blind spot. If you’re in an adjacent lane, stay away from the rear of other vehicles. If your lane’s passing in between two semis, hold back a beat before hurtling between them. 

Stay calm

Speaking of stress, road rage isn’t worth it. Stay cool, calm, and collected while driving. It’s safe to say, tailgating, speeding, yelling, or gesturing out the window pretty much never makes the situation better. Also, you don’t know how other people will react. If you see someone driving aggressively, keep your cool and, again, keep your distance.  

And although it should go without saying, we’ll say it anyway: never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Finally, if anything does happen, make sure you’re covered. Use Coverage Counselor®, only from Esurance, to find coverages fit for you and your wallet. From there, get a quick, free auto quote and find out how we’re making insurance surprisingly painless.  

Safe and smart | Travel hacks

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about Hannah

Hannah Fairbanks is a freelance writer living in San Francisco with her husband and 2 daughters. When she’s not writing, you might find her reading, packing bento box lunches for her kids, and making sure she gets in at least 10,000 Fitbit steps a day.