The backbone of defensive driving is to expect the unexpected. You are taught to prepare for the worst and hope for the best so that if and when something bad happens, you’ll at least be ready for it. It’s natural for us to look outside for these types of situations—reckless drivers swerving left and right, a four-way intersection that a bicycle is approaching to your left at a high speed, or a school zone around 3p.m. We take note that these are less than ideal situations and adjust our driving accordingly.
But what about the distractions and situations we have in our own car? It’s easy to forget how easily it is for a driver to take his or her attention away from the road for just a few seconds, and how fast a fatal car accident can happen. Whether you’re a newbie driver or have been on the road for years, remember that defensive driving also means eliminating distractions inside your car as well. Here are some of the most common things that take a driver’s attention away from driving:
Cell phones have become an important part of our lives, and we are lucky to have them. They keep us connected to loved ones, help us in emergencies, and make our lives better overall. However, using your phone while driving is a terrible idea. Would you believe that over 25% of car crashes are caused in some way by cell phone use? That means for every four accidents you see, one of them happened because of a text message or phone call that just couldn’t wait.
No matter how often you use your cell phone and how used to it you are, driving is the worst time to try and multitask. Accidents can happen in a split second, and as you learn in defensive driving, you must constantly be assessing the situation around you. Even just a second or two looking down at your phone could cost you more than a missed phone call. Just ask yourself: can this text message or call wait until I pull over? The answer will always be yes. Find a safe spot to pull over and pay attention to your phone there.
Maybe it’s your fighting children in the back seat, or perhaps it’s your three best friends after school. However tempted you are to engage with the people sitting in your car, try to keep your attention focused on exactly what you’re doing. Even if it’s not a fight or a loud discussion, any kind of conversation can take your mind off of what you’re doing.
You’re the driver, so make sure to let passengers know what you need from them to keep them safe. If you’d like them to lower their voices or stop what they’re doing, then you need to tell them immediately. Don’t be afraid to pull over if you start to feel what’s happening in the automobile is becoming dangerous.
While driving might be stressful, when you have two hands on the wheel is not the ideal time to light up a cigarette. Even if you can balance a cigarette between your fingers and keep both hands at 10 and 2, you are potentially lowering your reaction time. We all know of the long-term effects of smoking, but there are immediate ones, too, including a decreased physical performance and increased blood pressure and heart rate. Save the smoking for when you’ve reached your destination.
Many people consider their pets to be their children. So would you ever get in a car and not buckle up your child? The answer is a resounding “no!”
A free-moving pet in your car is not only an unpredictable distraction but incredibly dangerous. Animals have minds of their own and may be tempted to jump out the window, crawl down by your feet, or block your view. Additionally, if you do get into a car crash, little Fido will not be safe. Instead, he will be an object like any other in your car, free to bounce around. Instead, you should put your animals in carriers and buckle the carrier in. This makes regular driving safer, allows you to keep your eyes on the road, and makes it more likely for your pet to survive an accident.
We like to think we’re pro multitaskers, but let’s face it: humans are clumsy when they start to do multiple activities at once. Believe it or not, over 70% of drivers eat while driving. Even if you’re a pro at balancing your coffee with a left turn, you can’t always plan for what could happen next. You might hit a bump, spilling coffee all over your lap or a pickle might fall out while you’re chowing down on your burger. While food itself isn’t inherently dangerous, it poses a lot of additional problems as a driver. If you’re trying to expect the unexpected, plan that your meal will not go as planned behind the wheel and instead enjoy it at a rest stop or at your destination.
Yes, this one sounds strange, but it’s true: making small adjustments to your car while driving—in an attempt to drive better—can actually harm your driving skills. For example, let’s say you’re cruising 60 miles per hour down the highway and notice your mirror is crooked. You focus your attention to it and adjust, redirecting your eyes for a few precious seconds. In that amount of time, anything can happen.
When it comes to radio stations, mirrors, and seat positioning, try to do as much of this before you put it into drive. Taking an extra fifteen seconds before you drive off anywhere will make you much safer throughout your entire trip!
Defensive Driving 101
Driving And Cell Phone Laws In The United States
How To Successfully Teach Your Teen To Drive Safely
How To Approach Someone About Their Bad Driving Habits
All About The Texas Traffic Point System
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