Passing a driving test is the easiest part of driving. Once you’re behind the wheel, however, you’ll discover that your fellow drivers rarely follow the rules of the road. These rules were written to prevent accidents, and breaking the rules endangers everyone. The best way to protect yourself is to adopt defensive driving skills. With that in mind, here are a few tips from professional truck drivers.
Look far ahead at the traffic patterns.
Look at the big picture. What’s going on five cars ahead of you? Ten? Fifty? You can get a handle on where trouble spots are brewing long before you get there. Watch out for stalled vehicles, police cars, orange cones, bicyclists, erratic drivers, lanes that aren’t moving, and people swerving around an object in the road.
Avoid traffic knots.
If you’re driving in rush hour traffic, you don’t have a choice but to put up with traffic knots. If you’re taking a road trip or driving at off-peak hours, avoid the knot and stay safe.
Slow down and let the knot move on ahead. Let everyone else jockey back and forth in the hopes they’ll move an extra car length forward. You’ll arrive at your destination 30 seconds later while avoiding the stress of the knot. You can relax in the wide-open spaces without missing a beat.
Avoid rear-end collisions both in front of and behind you.
The best way to avoid rear-end collisions when traffic won’t allow you to keep a safe space at the front and back of you is to adjust how you drive. To prevent rear-ending the vehicle in front of you, watch what’s going on several cars ahead. If you see brakes lighting up beyond the car in front of you, be ready to slow down or stop.
Especially keep an eye on the vehicle two cars ahead. You can’t rely on the brake lights in front of you to warn you. They may not work, or the driver may be distracted and slam on the brakes suddenly. By watching the vehicle in front of him, you’ll see when he should be hitting his brakes, and can hit yours regardless of whether he’s paying attention.
This also helps prevent the person behind you from rear-ending you. If he’s following too close, driving too fast, or not paying attention, you still have some control over the outcome. By knowing that you’re going to slow down or stop, you can start slowing down ahead of time, tapping on your brakes to get the attention of the driver behind you. In addition, if you leave a gap in front of you as you’re slowing down, and you see that the vehicle behind you is about to hit you, space gives you wiggle room to avoid being hit.
Steer clear of distracted drivers.
Sometimes it’s obvious when the driver in front of you is distracted. You can see their head looking down or tilting sideways. You can see when they swivel around to yell at children. You can see that they are multitasking with food, a phone, kids, makeup, or even reading a newspaper or book while they drive.
What if you can’t see inside the vehicle? You can still gauge their level of distraction by watching their wheels. If the vehicle is moving in a fairly straight line, the driver is probably paying attention to the road. If the wheels are drifting back and forth, even just a little, or the vehicle is too far to the left or right, it could be a sign of distraction or an unskilled driver.
The best option is to get away from this driver. Either hang back or pass them and get far enough ahead to ensure they don’t rear-end you. If there are several lanes, you can move over two lanes. Give them a wide berth so that when they wreck, which they most likely will at some point in their lives, they don’t take you down with them.
Look for subtle clues that a driver is about to change lanes.
You cannot rely on a driver’s turn signals to alert you to his intentions. The turn signals could be broken, the driver may be too distracted to use them, or he may not use turn signals intentionally. There are subtle clues that can indicate his intentions.
If the car in the next lane starts inching toward your lane, he may be preparing to enter your lane. If you’re in his way and he’s inching closer, he’s either not paying attention, or he’s trying to bully you into moving. Either way, he’s a dangerous driver. Make sure you have an out if it looks like he’s going to hit you.
When a vehicle in the next lane hovers at your speed and positions himself just in front of you, he’s probably looking for an opportunity to cut over into your lane. If there isn’t a comfortable gap, be especially careful, as he may cut in dangerously the minute a gap opens.
Watch out for changes in speed.
A car slowing down for no reason means he’s either initiating a phone call, looking for an address, unfamiliar with where he is, planning to turn without signaling or about to change lanes without signaling. Each scenario indicates unpredictability and danger to the vehicle behind him, and to the vehicles next to him. Last-minute turners are notorious for shooting across multiple lanes, endangering several lanes of traffic.
A car speeding up for no reason means he either just hung up the phone and is now focused on driving again, or he’s maneuvering to change lanes. If there’s a gap in the traffic ahead in a lane adjacent to him, he may be speeding up to move into that gap.
The more aware you are of the traffic patterns ahead, and what the drivers around you are doing, the better your chances of avoiding an accident. Interpreting those subtle clues can keep you and your vehicle out of harm’s way. Learn to drive defensively and arrive alive.