Are you a defensive driver? While most of us practice safe driving skills, our mindsets can shift depending on various factors: mood, sleep, traffic, time of day and schedule, among others. Defensive driving should be approached as a set of positive driving principles to adopt, rather than negative behaviors to avoid. The basic elements of defensive driving are divided into five general categories: readiness, visibility, communication, space and attitude.
Focus on the act of driving so you are ready to react to emerging dangers. This means being free from all distractions, keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. If you are prepared to brake or maneuver when you notice danger, you can help avoid a crash. Take in the big picture as you drive, gauging the speed and position of all traffic near you as well as ahead of you.
Pay close attention to changing traffic signals, intersections, crosswalks and other busy areas. Make eye contact with other drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists to help gauge their intentions. Expect the unexpected and remember that as a motorist, you play a critical role in keeping vulnerable road users safe.
When the unexpected happens, respond in the safest way possible. For example, if another vehicle turns across your lane, cutting you off when you have the right-of-way, you should still slow down. It is your responsibility to do what you can to prevent a crash.
Be Mindful of Blind Spots
Regularly check your mirrors or blind spots for vehicles and make sure you are using the correct turn signal before changing lanes. Look twice for motorcyclists who will choose lane positions for the best visibility, but are more difficult to see than cars. You also should be mindful of driving in other peoples’ blind spots. Especially be aware of commercial trucks’ blind spots which may prevent them from seeing your vehicle.
Prepare to Yield
If you doubt whether another vehicle, cyclist or pedestrian can see you—prepare to yield. Even if you are following the rules of the road, never assume others will give you the right-of-way.
Adjust for Poor Conditions
Be aware of any conditions that might reduce visibility and adjust to improve your chances of being seen. Bad weather and poor lighting conditions might require you to slow down or use headlights during the daytime, for example. Watch your speed on curvy roads where it may be difficult for pedestrians, cyclists or cars on side streets to see you.
Use Turn Signals
Always communicate your intention to turn or change lanes by using your turn signal and avoid changing lanes in an intersection. By the same token, you should respect other vehicles when they signal. Allow other drivers to change lanes, merge and turn safely.
Accelerate and Brake Appropriately
You may not realize it, but you communicate intention by accelerating and braking. For example, if another driver notices you accelerate as you approach them on the highway, they may assume you plan to pass them. Slowing near a side street in conjunction with signaling indicates your intention to turn. When you accelerate and brake predictably, other drivers can anticipate and react accordingly.
If there are hazards ahead, indicate this to other drivers as best you can. If you can avoid a hazard by changing lanes, do so early, so that other drivers behind you notice your behavior and follow suit. Use your horn only to signal impending danger and help keep yourself and others safe.
Respect Others’ Space
Imagine a cushion of air surrounding your car, keeping a safe distance between your vehicle and others. Respect this cushion when following or passing other vehicles, giving a wider berth to more vulnerable road users like motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Be Mindful of Stopping Distances
It requires a longer distance to stop when traveling at higher speeds, so keep that in mind when determining a safe following distance. Trucks and larger vehicles are heavier than cars and will take even longer to stop. Bad weather will increase the stopping distances of everyone on the road.
Watch for an Escape Plan
Be sure you can always see a path to safety, especially when traveling at higher speeds. Avoid getting boxed in on the highway, for example, where bumper-to-bumper traffic at high speeds leaves nobody enough time to react to danger.
Move Over or Slow Down
Maryland law requires motorists to move over or slow down for any vehicle on the shoulder displaying emergency indicators. Begin moving over as soon as you notice a stopped vehicle. This eliminates the need to slam on your brakes to try to find space to move over at the last moment.
Observe all traffic signals and right-of-way rules. Consider these a matter of respect if it helps you remember the laws. When another driver has the right-of-way, give them space to maneuver comfortably.
Never rush or make other drivers feel rushed. Wait your turn, even if it costs you a few seconds. For example, if you are turning left across traffic and there is an oncoming car, wait for it to pass.
If another driver is clearly lost, struggling to merge or asking for help, be kind. A little bit of courtesy goes a long way. Acknowledge the courtesy of others, too, and pay it forward every time you drive.
Together We’ll Get There Safely
Driving defensively costs you nothing—and may save you time, money and injury. Adopt these basic defensive driving principles to ensure you are keeping yourself and others safe on Maryland roads.
Be The Defensive Driver.
Be The Driver Who Saves Lives.