Defensive driving is a skill that goes beyond basic lessons
taught in a driver’s education class. It’s a way of driving that can help keep
a driver and his or her passengers alive.
Here are five defensive driving techniques that are worth
1. Having situational awareness. Knowing
what’s around you by checking the mirrors, blindspots and seeing 10 cars ahead
will help avoid accidents by seeing them before they happen, says Doug Herbert,
a racecar driver who teaches a defensive driving class in North Carolina.
2. Knowing how to use anti-lock brakes. If
new drivers aren’t taught how to use them correctly, they’ll likely panic the
first time they need to use them and will let go of the brake pedal, Herbert
says. That’s the opposite of what they should do, which is provide smooth
pressure, he says. They’ll hear weird noises when they do it, but that’s
normal, he says.
3. Not over-correcting when steering. In
rural areas such as Charlotte, N.C., steering too far over to compensate for
going off the sloping shoulder of a road is a big cause of accidents, Herbert
says. It can be a natural thing to do, but with training and practice, drivers
can avoid it on a rural road or a highway when trying to avoid the center
divider. Drivers should back off the gas, don’t jump on the brakes and drive
straight until the shoulder area becomes flatter so they can safely turn back
on to the road, he says.
4. Know how to swerve. Part of looking
ahead while driving is looking out for something that may jump out into traffic
and cause you to swerve because you won’t have enough time to stop. A child
running into the street 20 feet ahead doesn’t give you much distance to stop if
you’re driving 40 mph. By keeping an open space beside you, you can swerve into
the empty lane and learn to do it without going
off the side of the road. This is a skill best learned in a defensive driving
Another option is to not swerve
abruptly in order to avoid hitting something in the road, since most new cars
are designed to take the front-end collision, says Dr. Barbara
Bergin, an orthopedic surgeon in Austin, Texas. Swerving to miss
something can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle, possibly causing
Bergin recalls driving on Interstate 35
with her children in the back seat when she saw smoke and red braking lights,
and within seconds two cars and a semi swerved to her left and right, spinning
out of control. She decided not to swerve, figuring that her car’s front end
would absorb the damage of whatever was in the highway. As cars hit other cars
around her, she came upon a cooler and hit it, bouncing off her front bumper.
She took the next exit and stopped at a
convenience store, and saw a guy walk out with two bags of ice. “He walked
around to the back of his truck, where he had one of those black metal trays in
which hunters and beach goers put big coolers,” Bergin says. “To his surprise,
it was empty. Bergin and her kids think they knew where the cooler was.
5. Know how to recover from a skid. Like
learning how to make an emergency lane change, this is a skill that takes
practice and is best taught by a pro. The website DefensiveDriving.com recommends that when you
go into a skid, pick out a distant visual target and keep your eyes focused on
that target. Doing that will help your hands and feet get you out of the skid.
If a front wheel skids, ease of the gas and gently apply the brake to transfer
weight forward and regain traction. With a rear skid, accelerate a bit to
transfer weight to the rear of the car, and steer in the direction of the skid.