Ensuring safety on the road starts with effective proactive driving. If you're a novice driver, you'll soon realize that people's behavior on the road can be quite unpredictable. Drivers often act impulsively or emotionally, which can lead to dangerous situations.
In other instances, you might come across a distracted driver, a tired driver, an intoxicated driver, or someone suffering from a medical condition.
You can never predict what you'll face on the road. That's part of what makes driving so risky. These proactive driving safety guidelines should help you become a more alert and prepared driver.
One of the first lessons I would impart to my driving students was to look further ahead while driving. I wish more driving schools would emphasize this.
It's a natural human instinct to focus on the vehicle directly in front of us or on the pavement lines, especially during turns and cornering. Most people don't even realize they're doing it! So, how far ahead should you look when driving? And how should you handle tailgating?
When I was a driver's ed student, one of my driving instructors shared a piece of advice that has stayed with me...
"Hospitals and morgues are filled with people who had the right-of-way."
Just because you have the right-of-way, don't assume it's safe. Always clear intersections by scanning for cross-traffic that might not stop. When crossing a railroad track, don't assume there isn't a train coming just because the crossing lights aren't activated. Look and listen for a train anytime you're about to cross the tracks.
Right-of-way laws are relatively simple to understand, but a significant number of accidents occur because someone failed to yield.
Improper merging is a major cause of traffic congestion on expressways. Many people accelerate too slowly and merge into traffic at a slower pace than the normal traffic flow. This leads to a chain reaction of braking and lane changes, creating a hazardous situation. Do everyone on the road a favor and accelerate to traffic speed as quickly as possible, finding a gap to merge into early.
On expressways, the furthest left lane is typically reserved for passing. Some people refer to it as the "fast lane," but that's not entirely accurate. Even if you're going "fast," you should only use the left lane for passing in most cases.
The left lane can also be used if you have a left-handed exit, are avoiding road debris, are moving over for construction or emergency vehicles, or in some other unique situations. But during normal driving, you should stay out of the left lane unless you're passing.
Driving in the left lane, also known as being a "left lane hog," is actually a dangerous driving habit. By keeping cars in a uniform lane when not passing, it prevents cars from making constant lane changes left and right. Lane changes are one of the leading causes of accidents on highways, so only change lanes when necessary and stay right unless you are passing.
You will often see people driving on the shoulder of the road to avoid traffic or left-turning vehicles. In some cases, you are allowed to drive on the shoulder briefly if it is clearly marked. However, you typically are not allowed to use the shoulder if it is unpaved or has a solid line, even if you just want to quickly get around a turning vehicle. Using the shoulder leads to many accidents every year, plus the shoulder of the road is often littered with nails, glass, and sharp debris.
Large trucks and buses are very dangerous to drive next to. In city driving conditions, these vehicles make wide turns and need more room to maneuver. There are many aspects of large vehicles you might not even think about or have any reason to know about.
For example, if you ever see a tanker truck that might be carrying liquid, remember that liquid is sloshing around. If a tanker truck needs to stop quickly, that liquid will slosh forwards, then to the rear of the trailer, then forwards again (like water sloshing around in a bathtub), which can lurch the truck forward causing a rear-end collision. That's one reason why you should never pull in front of a truck before a red light. They might need that distance to stop safely.
On highways, trucks are even more dangerous. Tire blowouts are common which can send them into your lane unexpectedly, and the large slabs or rubber can cause serious damage to your windshield or other parts of your vehicle, sending you out of control.
The point here is, however much room you think a truck needs, give them more.
Many times, you'll hear this driving tip referred to as "aiming high in steering." What they mean, is, don't make your steering adjustments based on what is directly in front of you. Instead, look way down the road. If the road is winding to the right, for example, look as far into the turn as possible. You'll notice your turns are not only smoother, but you're being safer, too!
If you don't recognize a danger or potential hazard early enough, you'll never be able to avoid the hazard in the first place. Scanning the road 1/2 mile to a full mile ahead goes completely against our natural human response, yet it's necessary for safe driving. Our bodies weren't designed to travel at 50mph. We were designed for speeds of less than 10mph. You need to learn to consciously break that natural instinct and focus farther ahead.
Since our peripheral vision works well at a close distance, we need to focus our main line of vision outward. Always look as far ahead as possible and observe what is happening. Has the next traffic light been green for a while? What about the next light beyond that one? Is it likely the lights will change to red soon? Are their brake lights up ahead when it appears they shouldn't be stopping? What might be happening? Are there kids playing basketball in the driveway ahead? Is a dog running loose? Proper safe driving requires that you constantly ask and answer questions in your head. But remember, don’t ever fixate on one thing. Always keep your eyes moving and shifting!
Many ordinary events could turn into a roadway hazard. If you notice the potential hazards ahead of time, you will be prepared for the situation. Scanning ahead will also cause you to drive smoother. You'll find there are less sudden stops and hard braking during your drives because you aren't taken by surprise as often. However, if you aren’t looking ahead, those hazards will take you by surprise, and could lead to a very dangerous situation. Not to mention the added abuse to your vehicle. Brakes are expensive! These driving safety tips not only lead to safe driving, but it leads to cheaper driving, too!
While scanning ahead, you should always predict what other drivers may or may not do around you. Expected the unexpected to happen and always have a game plan on where you will go in an emergency situation. Don’t allow yourself to get blocked in by other vehicles.
In almost all cases, you can position your vehicle for multiple escape routes. The important thing here is to be a proactive driver instead of a reactive one. When you get really good at this, you will actually begin to feel like a psychic driver.
You will be able to read the “body language” of other drivers and tell them what their next step is. Ever see a driver and just know he is going to change lanes or turn even before he does it? With a truly defensive driver, this comes naturally and happens all the time.
When scanning ahead, you should always assume the worst will happen and be prepared for it. For example, if you see a dump truck, assume something will fall off the truck or just assume the truck will have a tire blowout. You could be wrong a million times and nothing will happen, but if you’re right just once, it could literally save your life. Always assume something unexpected and catastrophic will happen and formulate a plan on how you’ll avoid the situation yourself (increase following distance, reposition vehicle in traffic, slow down, speed up, etc.).
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Maximize your driving capabilities with our extensive resources and information. Our Safety Tips page offers valuable insights into safe driving, including defensive driving strategies, understanding safe driving distances, managing distractions, and handling tailgaters effectively.
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