In each of our lives, there inevitably comes a time where we leave the comfort and protection of our parent’s home and become independent. A large part of this step is learning how to drive, and though some of us aren’t as excited about this as others, the majority of us can’t wait to get behind the wheel. The first step of this process is, of course, going through a driver’s education course of some sort, and while this part isn’t the most exciting, it’s definitely the most important. It not only teaches you things such as the rules of the road, dealing with other drivers, and handling different weather conditions – it incorporates a defensive driving course as well.
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Defensive driving courses – whether you’re taking them for the first time as a part of your driver’s ed course or taking them again as a court order – are probably the most important part of your training; it teaches you to be more alert when on the road, to look out for other drivers as well as keeping yourself in check, and overall helps keep the road a safer place for us all.
For those of you who have been ordered by court to take one of these courses, this is something I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times.
Here, we’ll go over several important defensive and safe driving tips to give you, the new driver, an idea of what to expect, and to give those who are a little more experienced a bit of a refresher course.
After all, we all need a little reminder sometimes, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
We’re all human, aren’t we?
Obey the Speed Limit
Probably the most basic thing you’ll hear in a defensive driving course is to obey the speed limit.
Yes, I know that everyone on the road certainly does not follow this tip, but if everyone were to jump off a bridge, would you do the same? Probably not.
Trust me, I get it; the speed limits sometimes seem like nothing more than annoying limitations to you and your vehicle, but they are set for each part of the road for a reason and should be taken seriously.
Cliche, right? I know, but it’s true.
Speed limits are used not only to keep us as drivers safe but also to keep the traffic flow at the desired level for that particular span of road.
Consider this: If you and everyone else are going 70 mph on the interstate, and you come across a few who are going 50 mph or less, the road then becomes a very dangerous place, both for the speed-demons and the slow-and-steady types.
There’s nothing wrong with either – to each their own – but when everyone follows the speed limit, the road becomes a safer and more productive place for all of us to be.
Never Ever Drink and Drive
Though this defensive driving tip is mostly targeted toward those of us over the age of 21, I won’t pretend that folks younger than that don’t drink as well, so listen up teens – this is very, very important.
First off, don’t get me wrong; I’m not condoning underage drinking here. I just know that this is the reality, and I want to make sure you know I’m talking to you, too, here. Anyway, back to not drinking and driving.
Unfortunately, when you drink, your balance and speech aren’t the only things that become impaired; your judgment and reaction time goes out the window as well. Driving while drunk is extremely dangerous to both your safety and the safety of those unfortunate enough to share the road with you, and it’s just never a good idea.
While the number of drunk driving accidents is certainly dwindling as the years pass, it remains an ever-present issue and is something that should always be taken seriously.
If you’ve been drinking, or know that you’re planning on drinking – I don’t care if it’s a single beer or an entire bottle of liquor – the best thing to do is to either designate a friend you trust to drive you around (one who isn’t drunk, for those who need clarification) or to just stay home. Trust me, it isn’t worth the risk.
Use those Turn Signals
This one is a personal pet peeve of mine, and it’s mostly because it’s not a difficult one to stick to. You should always use caution when turning or changing lanes, but it’s also important to remember that people aren’t mind-readers. Using a turn signal is the only way we have as drivers to let the rest of the people on the road know what our intentions are and to help keep accidents and near-misses to a minimum.
Now, here I’m sure you’re thinking: What if my turn signal is broken? Never fear – I’m way ahead of you on that front. If you find your turn signal requires replacing and you’re unable to do so for whatever reason, there are hand signals you can use to let others know what you’re planning on doing.
While these aren’t anywhere near as effective or as visible to every driver, they are still helpful to those in your immediate vicinity, and I promise we’ll all thank you for your effort. See? You really do learn something new every day!
Don’t Touch Your Phone
Seriously, just leave it alone. Put it in your purse, your bag, your center console – I don’t care where, as long as you aren’t using it while you’re driving. I promise you, there’s nothing within a text or even a phone call that can’t wait until you arrive safely at your destination. Cell phones are dangerous to drivers because they pull your attention from the road (where it should always be if you’re behind the wheel and mobile), and even though it may only be for a few seconds, think about this: You’re in a metal box with a heavy forward momentum, even at low speeds, and a lot can happen in those few seconds, and a lot of damage can be done because of it – both fatal and non-fatal. Leaving it out of your hands while you’re driving will protect you, and we’ll all thank you for it as other drivers…even your friends and family will thank you because I’m sure they don’t want to lose you. It’ll still be where you put it at the end of your trip, and once you get to where you’re going, you can check all the calls and texts you want at minimal risk, making your decision a win-win for everyone.
Avoid Distractions In General
While we’re on the subject of phones being a dangerous distraction, I’d like to talk a bit about the other things that cause your attention to be taken away from the road. When you’re behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, the only thing you should be doing is driving, and putting your focus on yourself and the drivers around you. Distractions while driving can include a number of things, such as reaching for items in your bag or glove compartment, putting on makeup, fixing your hair, otherwise using your mirrors for something other than checking your blind spot, eating, etc. You may think you’re capable of driving while also doing these things, and that’s great for you if you are, but consider for a moment that not everyone is as talented as you think you are. You may be keeping an eye out for everyone else, but do you really trust everyone else to keep an eye out for you? I don’t think so.
Ensure Your Car is in Good Condition
One of the best ways to avoid accidents is to ensure that your car is in the best condition possible. Why? A car that is not well-maintained is more likely to run into problems or malfunction. If that happens, your safety goes beyond your control. You’ll never know what can happen.
Now, it’s understandable that not everyone can afford to buy a new car, so a regular check-up should be enough. Make sure that the oil is changed when needed. Also, make sure that all your lights turn on properly, all your tires are properly inflated to the automaker’s recommended pressures. Don’t forget to always have a spare for emergencies.
Here’s a list that can serve as your car maintenance checklist:
For Short Term Checks
- Make sure your air filter is flowing properly to ensure fuel efficiency.
- Check your oil and coolant levels (especially before a long drive).
- Inspect both turn signals and your parking lights at least once a month to make sure your lights are functional.
- Inspect tires every month, before a long drive, or if you’re going to carry heavy loads.
- Change both the oil & oil filter as much as recommended in your vehicle’s manual (consult with a professional if in doubt).
For Long Term Checks
- Make sure your transmission fluid is checked and changed when needed (check your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations).
- Have your vehicle’s shocks and struts inspected by a professional every 50,000 miles or so.
- Have your coolant system flushed regularly to get rid of contaminants that can build up inside your radiator.
- Make sure to replace your windshield wipers at least once a year, or whenever the effectiveness is compromised.
- Schedule regular battery testing to ensure it’s working properly at all times.
- Change your tires as needed, depending on your location’s driving weather conditions.
Following this car maintenance schedule are just some of the recommendations that can help ensure your car is in good condition. By sticking to it, you will not only extend the life of your vehicle, but it will also be a good way to prevent breakdowns and malfunctions that can ultimately end up in unwanted road collisions or accidents.
Now, these are not, by any means, the only safe driving tips you should follow, and you should always be making sure you’re doing everything you can to make the road as safe as possible, not only for yourself but for those around you as well. After all, the road is the safest when we all work together to make safety our top priority – and that means we can’t do it without you. Are you doing your part to decrease the number of automobile accidents every year?