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Defensive Driving Techniques

Why drive defensively?

Why is defensive driving so important? Consider this statistic: In 2006, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle’s Summary of Motor Vehicle Accidents: 2006 Statewide Statistical Summary, there were 270,700 accidents on New York roads. Nobody wants to be in an accident. Nobody plans it; it’s not on anyone’s list of things to do or errands to run. Why, then, do so many people end up in car crashes? The sad thing is that many of these accidents are preventable-most people just don’t drive defensively.

If you’d prefer not to become a statistic, pay attention to the defensive driving techniques we’ll discuss in this article. You’ll learn how to stay safe in all sorts of New York driving conditions and all types of weather. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Aggressive Driving

This is an especially common hazard in or near urban areas. Aggressive driving is a natural impulse when you have so many drivers trying to get to their destinations at once. Traffic jams and heavy traffic are frustrating and in the busy city everyone always seems to be in a hurry. This frustration leads drivers to resort to aggressive driving maneuvers such as speeding, cutting in and out of traffic, changing lanes constantly, tailgating, and stealing the right-of-way from other drivers. Does this behavior sound familiar? Anyone who drives has been on either the giving end or the receiving end of these actions before. However, as common as it is, aggressive driving is also risky driving. For example, according to the New York Division of State Police’s website, aggressive driving is a contributing factor in 59% of all crashes.

A defensive driver uses a two-pronged strategy to address the issue of aggressive driving. First, don’t contribute to the problem. Stay calm when you are behind the wheel. Focus on the road and on driving safely. Make sure to allow yourself extra time to get to your destination-that way you don’t feel pressured to “make up” time by speeding, weaving around other cars, and other questionable behavior. Be aware of what kind of traffic you can expect on the road, and try to plan a route that keeps you out of the worst of it. Be willing to put safety over punctuality if necessary. Remember, a detour to the hospital or worse will slow you down a lot more than going the speed limit will.

Also, remember not to let other drivers make you angry. Think about it: you’ve never seen these people before and you’ll never see them again, so why would you let a stranger make you angry enough to endanger yourself and other innocent bystanders? Stay calm and courteous at all times. You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor!

The second defensive driving strategy that can help protect you against aggressive driving is to keep your attention on the road at all times. This is a lot harder than it sounds, because it means no cell phones, no texting or emailing on your PDA, and no multi-tasking. For many people, life has become so fast-paced that it seems lazy to only do one thing at a time. However, this is a dangerous attitude when applied to driving. After all, it only takes a few seconds for something bad to happen on the road, and you need to be able to react immediately!

Instead of focusing on everything else that’s going on in your life, focus on the road instead. Be aware of everything around you, especially other cars. This way, you can see aggressive drivers coming and move out of the way! Also, you’ll be able to spot other potential hazards such as groups of cars traveling too closely together (a potential multi-car pileup) or traffic jams ahead where you may have to come to a sudden stop. Remember, you need to be aware of what’s going on all 4 sides of your car. Ideally, that means checking your mirrors every 5 seconds. It would be great if everyone drove safely, but that’s just not the case. Protect yourself from aggressive driving by being alert and keeping yourself out of harm’s way!

City Driving

City driving presents its own unique hazards. There are so many cars, so many pedestrians, so many intersections, so many hazards…The key to navigating safely through them all is to remain alert and focused. In the city, you need to make sure your reaction time is as quick as possible. Training with a ninja master can help develop your reflexes, but a much easier way to cut reaction time is to cover your brake while you are in the city. “Covering the brake” means riding with your foot on top of the brake. That way, if you need to stop suddenly, your foot is already positioned to do so. Don’t constantly press down on the brakes, though. You’ll eat through your brake pads in no time and other drivers will have no idea what you are doing.

In cities, intersections and stoplights are breeding grounds for accidents, most of them preventable. In addition to staying alert to what other drivers are doing, the following defensive driving tactics can help you stay safe:

  • Don’t try to scoot under a traffic light at the last second. You never know when someone coming from the other direction will jump the gun. If you see a yellow light, slow down if you suspect that you might not make it across in time.
  • Position your car correctly for turns. Trying to get in the turn lane 5 feet before the intersection is both rude and dangerous. If arrive at the intersection to discover that you are in the wrong lane, admit defeat and drive around the block.
  • When crossing an intersection, take a moment to look left, right and then left again before you enter it, even if you have a green light. You just never know what other people will do, so it pays to be careful.

Also, be aware of special traffic rules that apply in the city. For example, in New York City itself, it is illegal to make a right turn on red.

Rural driving

New York is famous for the Big Apple, but there are also plenty of rural areas upstate. When driving in rural areas, you need to exercise some special precautions:

  • Visibility: In rural areas, trees, vegetation and curvy roads can reduce your visibility. If you can’t see what’s ahead of you, slow down!
  • Animals: Both livestock and family pets can easily wind up in the road. Again, slowing down and staying alert is the key to not turning old Bessie into a hood ornament (which, by the way, will do substantial damage to you and your vehicle as well).
  • Farm vehicles: Farm vehicles such as tractors may sometimes appear on main roads in agricultural areas. Since they can’t go much faster than 25 miles per hour, they usually have orange caution signs fixed to the back. If you see a caution sign, slow down.  Don’t try to speed around them. Keep a respectful distance and don’t pass until the driver of the farm vehicle indicates that it’s safe to do so.
  • Watch out for unmarked intersections and hidden driveways.
  • Remember to look out for trucks. Big rigs need more time to stop and more space to turn than regular vehicles do. Give them extra space, and don’t pass unless you have enough space to do so.



New York is home to some pretty impressive mountain ranges. When driving in mountains, there are some special defensive driving strategies that you need to keep in mind:

  • Check your brakes! Your brakes have to work against gravity when you need to stop on a downhill slope, so it’s important to make sure that they are in tip-top shape before you set out.
  • Don’t ride your brakes downhill. They could overheat and give out on you. Instead, shift to a lower gear to keep your downhill speed under control.
  • Do, however, remember to keep your downhill speed under control. It’s dangerous to zip down a curvy mountain road!
  • Stay to the right side of the road. Mountain roads are often narrow and curvy, so if you hug the center line there is a distinct possibility that you could find yourself in a head-on collision. Also, on sharp turns, be alert for big-rig trucks that may be forced into your lane.
  • If other cars behind you are getting antsy, find a safe pull-off to let them pass.
  • Remember, if the road is too narrow for 2 cars to pass each other, the vehicle moving uphill has right-of-way. The vehicle moving downhill has the best control when moving backwards, so that vehicle should back up to let the vehicle moving uphill pass.


Winter Driving

New York winters can be cold, icy and snowy. Here are some defensive driving tips to help you get through cold weather driving safely.

  • Make sure your car is in good working order. Also, make sure your brakes are in good shape before winter weather arrives. Make sure your battery is strong and that your cooling system has the right amount of anti-freeze. Finally, get some snow tires before it actually starts snowing. 
  • Stash a cold-weather survival kit in the trunk, including chains for your tires, something abrasive like cat litter to create traction, nonperishable, high-calorie food and warm clothes and mittens in case you get stuck.
  • Go slow. It’s easy to lose traction on wet, snowy, icy roads.
  • Try to avoid ice. Remember, bridges, ramps and overpasses freeze first because they retain less heat. “Black ice” looks exactly like a new coat of asphalt. Un-iced pavement is a dull gray color. If you see a shiny black surface on the road in front of you, slow down!
  • Check the weather before you go out so that you know what to expect.
  • Slow your roll! Driving more slowly will help you cope with the decreased visibility and increased slipperiness of winter weather.

If you do lose control of your vehicle, here’s how to get out of a skid:

  • Take your foot off of the gas pedal, and steer into the turn. Turn the wheel in the same direction that your back tires are going.
  • Don’t hit the brakes! Try to slow down by downshifting instead.
  • Try to get your wheels onto something dry so you can regain traction.

If you follow these defensive driving tips, you’ll be well on your way to a safe, accident-free driving career!

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