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Driving Defensively: Shortcuts for the Modern Motorist


Aside from getting to our chosen destination, avoiding a collision is one of the basic goals of driving! Odds are that over the course of your driving career, you will be involved in an accident. This is the unfortunate reality, but there are several steps to take in avoiding an automobile accident. Though most are obvious, in our daily commutes or driving routines, the "little things," perhaps not surprisingly, tend to fall by the wayside. The following are some key defensive driving tips to keep you safe wherever you may be travelling.


When you are driving, do not simply focus on one point - scan the road ahead as well as your blind spots, for obstacles and hazards. This is especially true when approaching bottlenecks, intersections, broken traffic signals, or any other abnormal deterrent from your usual course. You can effectively avoid danger by following the SIPDE technique as listed below:

1) Scan - First of all, you should constantly scan the road for traffic conditions or possible hazards - do not simply focus on one point. A general rule-of-thumb is to look 15 seconds ahead of you; in city driving this is about two blocks, or a quarter mile. On the freeway, you should be looking ahead about one-third to a half mile down the roadway. Also, scan to the left and right of your automobile, utilizing your rear-view and side-view mirrors.

2) Identify - Identify the potential hazards up ahead. Is that car in the intersection going to turn? Will the person in front of me slam on their brakes? These are examples of questions to constantly ask while driving in congested conditions.

3) Predict - The next step is to predict the possible outcome of the hazard you have just identified. You need to be able to predict all of the possible consequences, and then choose your action based on your prediction.

4) Decide - Next, you must choose a logical form of action to correspond with the hazards present. Always choose the safest option (though this is a bit redundant, it is necessary). If there are vehicles or people on the road, turn on your hazard lights and signal/use your horn to alert them.

5) Execute - Finally, you need to execute the course of action you previously chose. Keep in mind that this possibly may not happen, so be ready to react to another situation.

B. Use Your Signals

If you are planning to change lanes or take a turn, it is important to communicate this in a timely fashion to other motorists. Keep the signal on for the last 200 feet of travel, but if you are on a road with a 50 mile per hour plus speed limit, signal up to 300 feet ahead of a maneuver.

C. Reversing

When backing your car up, it is helpful to heed the following guidelines:

Be aware of pedestrians/children on the road behind you.

Take caution while backing up - turn your head and body to face the direction in which you are moving.

  • Use your mirrors.
  • Back up at a slow and controlled speed
  • Avoid sharp turns.
  • Utilize your passengers for distance assistance.
D. "Cover" Your Brake

"Covering" the brake means placing your foot over the brake pedal without touching it. This allows you to quickly access the brake if you need to (especially in a manual automobile). This technique is recommended when:

  • Driving near parked cars or other obstacles.
  • Approaching a signal or intersection.
  • Entering in a school zone.
  • Seeing the brake lights of other automobiles.

Though there are countless tips to help you practice defensive driving, these are a few of the more pressing issues. Remembering the SIPDE guidelines and other aforementioned techniques will greatly cut down your chances of being involved in an accident. Of course, the weather conditions and conditions of your car play a huge role in your driving, so please keep this in mind whether on your daily commute, a road trip, or while running errands. If we all pay closer attention to the world around us, we can bring down the odds of getting in a wreck significantly.

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