While every crash is different, there are certain, common driving mistakes that we see in our auto accident cases over and over again. Many of these mistakes (and the crashes they cause) can be avoided with slight adjustments to driving habits. As the father of a newly permitted teen driver, I have been particularly mindful in recent days of the driving habits I believe are most important and most effective for avoiding collisions and injuries.
My son’s gotten very familiar with the phrase, “Defensive Driving,” because I repeat it often every time he gets behind the wheel. My grandfather taught me that term when I was first learning. As my son and I accumulate more and more practice time, I’ve been breaking down the term, “Defensive Driving,” into several key lessons:
- Drive Predictably – If you maintain a consistent speed, change lanes smoothly and with purpose, and do not make erratic maneuvers or sudden stops, it helps everyone else on the roadway keep their distance from you. If you surprise other drivers with an unpredictable move or keep them guessing about where you’re going and what you’re doing next, the chances of a collision increase.
- Expect Others to Drive Unpredictably – Anticipating mistakes and unsafe maneuvers by other drivers can be critical to avoiding a big crash. Approach intersections cautiously and alertly, even when you clearly have the green light. Stay back from the car in front of you to give them room if they stop suddenly or do something unsafe. Expecting the unexpected is the hallmark of “Defensive Driving.”
- Cut Out Distractions – Using a cell phone while driving is one of the most dangerous things a driver can do. Numerous studies have shown that cell phone use can impair our driving abilities as much or more than alcohol or drugs (https://www.apa.org/research/action/drive). But phones aren’t the only culprit. Safe drivers also keep their radios tuned to a reasonable volume, don’t use driving time as snack or meal time, and make sure their navigation systems are programmed before their trip begins.
- Don’t Feel Pressured by the “Wave-Out” – Turning left into or out of a side street, gas station, or parking lot can be frustrating, especially when traffic is heavy and gaps between oncoming cars are few and far between. Well-intentioned drivers may give you the “wave-out,” and the pressure you may feel to take them up on the offer is always high. But instead of automatically going when someone waves you out, it is critical that you check the traffic flow in all the other lanes. Other drivers may not see you and won’t be able to stop in time once they do.
- Be Aware of Your Environment – It’s easy for drivers, especially young ones, to be so focused on what’s happening in front of them that they lose track of other cars to the side and behind them. Train yourself to check your side and rear view mirrors every few seconds, you’ll be better prepared to safely change lanes, adjust your speed to traffic conditions, or take evasive action if necessary.
- Head on a Swivel – I often catch my son, when he’s making a turn, checking for traffic once in each direction. Look left, look right, then go. But traffic conditions can change so quickly that looking once is rarely enough, and cars can approach in a hurry. Keep your head on a swivel, looking back and forth in each direction, all the way through your turn, so that you can detect oncoming cars as soon as possible.
Accidents can happen, of course, even when you do everything right. But if you anticipate mistakes by other drivers, while cutting down on your own, you will reduce your chances of a serious crash.