Every seven seconds, someone is injured in a car accident here in the United States. In fact, vehicle collisions are so common in many major metro areas that a commuting driver may see several of them on their way home and not give any of them much thought. In many ways, dangerous driving conditions on our roads and highways have become normalized.
However, not every accident is a so-called “fender-bender”: every year, around 37,000 Americans die in car accidents. This is a tragic outcome that impacts millions of others: families, friends, and coworkers. Beyond the human scope of this problem, there’s the total economic cost of vehicle collisions. It is staggering, amounting to more than $850 billion in the United States every year.
The National Safety Council, which compiles driving statistics and provides recommendations, advocates for more drivers to adopt defensive driving habits. But, just what is defensive driving, and how can it help you avoid accidents?
Our roads are getting more dangerous
In addition to factors that have been around since the advent of the automobile, such as drunk or drowsy driving, accidents and traffic-related deaths are likely climbing because of an uptick in distracted driving caused by new technology. Here is a common scenario: a driver types out a text, not seeing they are about to collide with the truck in front of them that has stopped short. In another, a driver attempts to change the temperature on a touchscreen dashboard, only to run a stop sign they didn’t see.
If you’re going to be a defensive driver, you need to be aware of these risks and proactively take steps to not only drive safer, but avoid other vehicles that are not driving safely.
Defensive driving saves lives
You probably heard about defensive driving when you were studying for your driver’s license test all those years ago, but what exactly is it? In general, defensive driving is risk management. Let’s explain.
It starts with you and your own car: by ensuring that you are in compliance with laws, your car is mechanically fit to drive, driving cautiously, and driving undistracted, you will be able to control your own vehicle and give yourself time to make quick reactions to what’s happening on the road.
A good example of this in practice is the three-second rule, also known as the “car length and a half” rule. When driving on a road or freeway at high speeds, space your vehicle about 1.5-2 times the length of your car from the one in front of you. You can also measure this by watching the leading car pass something, and then counting three seconds until you pass it. In the event where the car in front has to stop short, this ensures you have adequate space to brake and avoid colliding with them.
Watch out for other drivers
Defensive driving is also about monitoring the driving of those around you. Obviously, you can’t control how fast or aggressive another driver is driving, but you can allow them to pass you and generally move away from them. You may not know if another driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol, or distracted by a text message, but an attentive, defensive driver will quickly note their erratic movements or drifting into other lanes and be able to avoid any sudden changes.
In a perfect world, everyone on the road would be a defensive driver. However—given that is not the case—the next best thing is for you to be the defensive driver you want others to be.
Infographic courtesy of Blair & Ramirez LLP, a personal injury law firm in Los Angeles.