Do You Know These Key Defensive Driving Techniques?

June 06, 2017

defensive driving tipsDefensive driving doesn’t mean driving like a grandma. It means driving like a master of mindfulness. It means having the skills and the smarts to identify potential problems on the road and smoothly avoid them. We’ve curated the best defensive driving tips.

Here are some defensive driving techniques to learn.

When you’re trying to drive defensively, tailgating, texting, and driving under the influence are obviously not okay.

What is Defensive Driving?

Some people define defensive driving as a set of skills and techniques you can use to drive safely and avoid accidents. Some describe it with the acronym IPDE — “identify, predict, decide and execute.” (But that just makes us think of Stewie yelling “IPDE!” at Brian on “Family Guy.”)

We think there’s more to it.

What is the real-life definition of defensive driving? It means driving like a pessimist. It means assuming that everyone else on the road is an intoxicated or incompetent driver. Not in a road-rage way — raising a middle finger is not a defensive driving technique — but rather, simply assuming that anything can go wrong at any time, and driving accordingly.

What are some defensive driving tips?

Constantly scan the road ahead and behind you. If you ever watch a lifeguard on duty, you’ll see her scanning the water in a specific pattern, looking for signs of trouble. Every ten seconds or so, she covers the entire pool. That’s what you want to do as a defensive driver. Don’t let your gaze become fixed on the car ahead of you, or become distracted by passengers. You want to always be scanning the road way ahead of you, as well as behind and beside you. If you’re fully aware of the vehicles moving around your car, you’re less likely to collide with someone in your blind spot, or with the woman behind you who’s tailgating and texting.

defensive driving courseTry to predict hazards. It’s not enough to just keep your eyes moving — you have to actively search for potential problems and try to guess what might happen. Brake lights or sirens wailing in the distance, are an obvious clue that there’s trouble; but you might also see a car stopped in traffic turn its wheels to try to change lanes, or the glowing eyes of a deer that’s thinking about crossing the highway.

Maintain a safe following distance. People disagree on what a safe following distance is, but there are a few defensive driving tips you can remember. One says you should always keep at least two car lengths between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Another recommends at least three seconds between vehicles, or four seconds if you’re going faster than 45 mph. (How do you measure distance in seconds? Wait for the car in front of you to pass a sign or other marker, then count. Three seconds should elapse before you pass the same marker.)

Keep in mind that if you’re going 65 mph on dry, level pavement, your average stopping distance is 344 feet. That’s a long way. If it’s raining or snowing, or if your car is carrying a heavy load and might take longer to stop, add even more space.

Protect the space around your car. This defensive driving technique is called maintaining a “space cushion,” which sounds like something an astronaut sits on. It means always having an out. If you can keep space in front of you and to the side, then you’ll have somewhere to go in case of sudden braking or a collision in front of you.

Control your emotions. Defensive driving also requires you to rise above your impulses. If someone else cuts you off, swerves into your lane, or otherwise screws up, don’t get mad. Instead, take a deep breath and give yourself a high five: Your superior defensive driving techniques prevented a crash. You’re amazing.

Should I take a defensive driving course?

No one really wants to take a defensive driving course, but sometimes it’s a good idea. Maybe you’re required to take a defensive driving class in order to get your license reinstated. Or maybe you need to knock a few points off your driving record. You can also lower your insurance rates by voluntarily taking a defensive driving course. Of course, if you just want to reduce your auto insurance premiums, we have an easy way to do that: Compare quotes on

Wondering, “How do I find a defensive driving course near me?” Here are a few places to look:

  • The National Safety Council offers defensive driving classes nationwide, including online. Find a class near you.
  • teenSMART is an online defensive driving course for teens that says it’s proven to reduce crashes. It costs $120, but some insurers may offer discounts for teens who complete the course.
  • The AARP Smart Driver Course is a defensive driving class designed for drivers age 50 and older. Find a class near you.

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