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Defensive Driving - A Guide

These days in the car insurance industry, the concept of defensive driving is a hot button issue. As a matter of fact, defensive driving itself is becoming something of a cottage industry in and of itself; spawning countless web sites and training courses as state insurance offices and providers all continue to place more emphasis on its importance. For any driver, a solid understanding of defensive driving concepts and techniques can go a long way toward ensuring your safety and the safety of your passengers when you are out on the road.

Many people have heard the term "defensive driving" tossed about in car insurance circles because as time goes by, more car coverage providers are requesting that drivers become more acquainted with this concept and come to adopt its principles in their own driving. Some are even offering discounts for drivers who successfully complete defensive driving training. A basic definition for defensive driving is any driving behavior that promotes the saving of lives, time and money, in spite of and taking into account the conditions around you and the actions of other drivers. Simply put, defensive driving means putting safety first by not only paying attention to what you are doing, but what the other drivers on the road are doing as well. It also means taking driving conditions like weather and the condition of the roads into account and adjusting your driving behavior to stay safe behind the wheel.

There are many defensive driving courses out there, some of them offered in class like driver's education courses and others that can be found online. The National Safety Council has a Defensive Driving Course which some insurers require of its drivers in certain situations. The basic logic behind the concept of defensive driving is that safety is a driving skill as teachable as any other, that it can be taught and learned much like driving a stick shift or parallel parking. Many insurers offer a discount to drivers who successfully complete defensive driving courses, particularly young drivers getting licensed for the first time, and seniors as well.

Defensive Driving: Safety Behind the Wheel

To be a defensive driver, you must be prepared to make safe decisions behind the wheel, including deciding whether or not you can safely get behind the wheel in the first place. A defensive driver is someone who will always make sure they are in a good condition to drive before heading out on the road. The safest drivers are awake, alert and sober. Never drive when you are overly tired or when you have just woken up. Give yourself sufficient time when you are getting ready to go somewhere to allow your body to get going and your eyes to open. It is not safe to drive a car when you have first awakened. Ideally, you should have some breakfast and maybe a glass of water or a cup of coffee before you ever set foot in your car after waking up in the morning.

Good defensive drivers are always alert when they drive a vehicle out on the road. This means paying close attention to the car you are driving, the road you're traveling on and the conditions around you. Make sure you are mindful of the vehicle you are driving and the way it is performing. Is it running smoothly, or are there unexplained knocking sounds, steering troubles, or other things preventing you from driving safely? Making sure your car is in top running order is critical to defensive driving. Keep the gas tank full, the oil changed regularly and even the windshield wipers functioning properly. Staying on top of basic maintenance issues will make it much easier for you to drive safely and in a defensive manner.

Drive Defensively to Keep Yourself and Others Safe

The road you're traveling on and the conditions around you are two factors to pay close attention to as a defensive driver. If the road is bumpy or full of potholes, or if it is wet or covered in snow or sleet, you need to adjust your driving behavior to the road conditions. The same is true for traffic density. The more cars are out on the road with you, the more you need to keep track of them and drive defensively to avoid contact with them. Be sure all your mirrors are clean and working properly, and keep track of vehicles on both sides of you and behind you. Keep a safe following distance behind the vehicle ahead of you, so you can react if something happens without endangering yourself or anyone else. Many defensive driving schools call this "getting the big picture [1]," knowing what's going on all around your vehicle so you are prepared to make safe decisions if the situation requires you to suddenly move from your position.

Getting the big picture means staying back far enough to see everything that's going on ahead of you, but it also means doing everything you can to make sure other drivers are tuned in as well. Make eye contact to establish other drivers' awareness of your presence and to make sure they know what you are planning to do. This can be extremely helpful during lane changes and when making your way through an intersection. When you and another vehicle reach a four-way stop at the same time, never proceed unless you arte sure the other driver knows you are going to do so. It has been said that no one ever yielded their way into a car accident, and this statement has a lot of truth to it.

Defensive Driving and the Condition of the Driver

As mentioned above, driving when you are overly tired is never a good idea. A defensive driver will always consider this issue prior to embarking on a road trip of any length, but particularly a long trip. Opening a window to let in some fresh air or stopping to get a coffee or soda and stretching your legs can help you to shake off tiredness. If you feel like you are about to fall asleep while driving, switch places with another driver in the car, or pull over at a rest area or restaurant and rest for awhile. Never drive while under the influence of alcohol, and do not drive while using prescription medications until you are used to them and are aware of the ways they affect your body.

There are many more ways a person can become a more defensive driver. As a general rule, defensive driving encompasses taking in the elements around you, including driving conditions and the presence and behavior of other cars, and driving in such a way as to minimize risk. Defensive drivers, for example, rarely drive at the speed limit, but usually below, factoring in the environment and their own condition and the condition of their car in their driving speed. Learning to drive defensively can help you become a safer driver, and can help you to cut down on your risk of an accident or other claim situation. And in many cases, it can save you money on your insurance.

[1] Retrieved 2009-12-06.



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