For many people across the United States, driving is a daily necessity. Whether you commute to work on weekdays or you need to visit the grocery store, it’s important to practice safe driving techniques that will keep you and your passengers from harm. Defensive driving refers to a set of driving practices that protect you and your loved ones from collisions caused by poor weather, distracted drivers, and other roadside hazards.

Car insurance industry data suggests that an average driver files a claim for a collision once every 17.9 years. By maintaining awareness of your surroundings, quickly reacting to changing roadway conditions, and avoiding distractions, you reduce your chances of being involved in an accident. In this article, I’m going to discuss what defensive driving is and how you can practice it everyday.

What Are the Components of Defensive Driving?

Although each defensive driving program is unique in its emphasis on certain driving techniques and safety procedures, the central focus is to protect you and your passengers from harm. This goal is achieved by giving you the tools and training you need to effectively react to unexpected hazards and threats on the roadway. Some of the most essential components of defensive driving are:

  • Maintaining Awareness of Your Surroundings: It’s essential to stay alert and focus on your surroundings while driving. If you’re not focused on the road, your response time to an unexpected problem decreases and you may not be able to react quickly. 9% of fatal traffic accidents in 2019 involved a distracted driver, and 13% of those distraction-affected crashes involved cell phone use. By keeping your attention on the road, you reduce your risk of being involved in an accident.
  • Identify and Process Roadway Hazards: You need to be able to quickly identify potential hazards while driving. By constantly scanning the roadway and staying aware of what’s going on around you, you can identify and avoid potential obstacles or unsafe situations. If you’re driving on a freeway, you should be scanning ahead to check for accidents, large numbers of cars braking suddenly, or debris on the road.
  • Evaluate Evolving Roadway Conditions: You’re enjoying a nice drive on the freeway, maintaining a safe following distance behind a pickup truck that’s transporting furniture. Suddenly, one of the straps securing the furniture in place snaps, and a recliner armchair flies onto the roadway. Do you have enough space and time to safely change lanes and avoid the obstacle? What happens if you collide with the object at your current rate of speed? When a hazard arises, you need to be able to quickly decide on the best course of action. You must get to safety without causing additional risk to yourself or other drivers.
  • Decide on the Best Course of Action: A crucial component of defensive driving is the ability to make good decisions under pressure. In the previous example with the pickup truck, you need to find a way to avoid the obstacle without endangering yourself or other drivers further. It’s important to keep calm and make a rational decision. If you reflexively swerve to avoid the threat without first checking your blind spot, you risk causing a serious collision with another car. Using all of the information available to you, decide whether evasion, braking, or another emergency maneuver best fits the situation.
  • Carry Out the Best Course of Action: Now that you know which defensive driving maneuver you’d like to carry out, it’s time to implement your plan. Safely perform the actions necessary to protect yourself and any passengers. It’s important to remember to carefully maintain your vehicle, so that you have the maneuverability and capacity to avoid dangerous driving situations.

By identifying and minimizing risks while driving, you’ll be equipped to enjoy safe travels for many years to come. Remember to keep your head on a swivel, stay aware of potential hazards, and practice the principles of defensive driving whenever you get behind the wheel of a car. Enjoy your drive!