Sometimes, even when you do everything that you’re supposed to, other drivers put you in potentially dangerous situations. By driving with a defensive mindset, you decrease your chances of being involved in an accident.
Whether you are a CMV operator or a driver-in-training, you can benefit greatly from defensive driving. Here are 5 practical techniques that you can start practicing today to enhance your safety from behind the wheel.
1. Prepare For Success
Nearly every piece of literature on defensive driving teaches you to “be alert!” But, how is one supposed to enter a state of alertness? While a dedication to being aware is certainly beneficial, it’s not enough to make you a bona fide defensive driver. To reach the highest level of safety, you’ve got to prepare yourself mentally and physically before you even get in the driver’s seat – and it all begins with sleep.
A safe day on the road starts with a sufficient night’s sleep. Studies have shown that upwards of 300,000 crashes are caused by drowsy driving every year. Even with your best efforts to be alert, if you drive without getting enough rest, you are anything but a defensive driver. Most adults need an average of 8 hours of sleep to be fully functional. Additionally, exercise and proper nutrition are known to increase energy levels, which will enable you to be more mindful when behind the wheel.
2. Know Your Blind Spots
If you’re to prevent accidents from happening, you must know where other vehicles are in relation to you. The hardest part of this is keeping tabs on cars that are in your blind spots. Whether you are driving a sedan or an 18-wheeler, you’ve probably got at least a few blind spots, or spaces around the vehicle that you can’t see.
Don’t just learn your vehicle’s blind spots, however! As a best practice, you should become familiar with the various blindspots found in certain vehicle types – especially large trucks and buses. When other drivers can see you, they are much less likely to move over into your space. Remember- it’s crucial for you to see others and to make yourself seen.
3. Maintain Sufficient Following Distance
Nearly ⅓ of serious car accidents involve a rear-end collision. Many of these crashes would likely be avoidable if the trailing driver maintained the appropriate following distance. As a general rule of thumb, passenger vehicles should maintain at least 3 seconds of following distance in good driving conditions. Truck drivers and those operating large vehicles require more room to stop and should increase their following distance to about 7 seconds. Additional factors such as speed, weather conditions, and vehicle weight may require you to increase your following distance even more.
4. Manage Your Speed
Oftentimes, drivers interpret the speed limit as a loose suggestion. However, the posted speed is the maximum speed that you should travel during ideal driving conditions. A defensive driver learns to manage his speed responsibly and in accordance with the driving conditions.
Note that driving too slow can also be problematic, as it can incite road rage or back up traffic. When conditions are good, aim to travel at the posted speed. When driving at night or during adverse conditions, adjust your speed accordingly.
5. Beware of Reckless Drivers
Are you doing everything properly, but another driver on the road is still putting you in a threatening situation? Whether it’s road rage, distracted driving, or just plain recklessness, this danger is not to be taken lightly. If you become uncomfortable sharing the road with another driver, find a safe way to remove yourself from the situation. Oftentimes, this involves signaling and moving to the right lane. If a driver directly expresses aggression at you, avoid eye contact or any kind of obscene gesture in response. These are not the times to prove that “he messed with the wrong guy.”
If the driver appears to be drunk or is otherwise a serious and immediate threat to the safety of others, call the authorities. Some states, such as Tennessee, have direct lines to State Highway Patrol for such matters. In other instances, it may be most appropriate to dial 911. If you are unsure of who to contact in these situations, ask your local police department.
If applied, these five defensive driving techniques will promote you from an ordinary driver to a protector of the roadways. But, it’s easier said than done. If you find yourself struggling with any of these issues (speeding, anyone?), find a source of accountability to keep you in check. Mobile apps such as Waze can even alert you if it detects that you are going over the posted speed limit. Or, perhaps you struggle with drowsiness when driving. Take a look at your daily routine and find ways to improve your sleep schedule and nutrition. If you don’t address your Achilles’ heel now, it may be addressed for you when you least expect it.
Now, you are equipped with the knowledge you need to be a defensive driver. The final step is putting that knowledge into practice. So, next time you find yourself behind the wheel, ask yourself, “Am I driving defensively, or am I just casually operating out of habit?”
If you are a defensive driver with at least a year of commercial driving experience, you may be a great fit here at Easley Transportation! Check out our careers page to learn more.