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
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
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 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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Try to get your wheels onto something dry so you can regain
If you follow these defensive driving tips, you’ll be well on your way
to a safe, accident-free driving career!