What Is Defensive Driving and Can It Help Me Avoid Being in a Car Accident?

Defensive driving is the practice of utilizing a wide array of safe driving techniques and habits in order to anticipate and respond to unexpected dangers on the road. The only variable you have control of when traveling on Florida’s roads is yourself. As frustrating and dangerous as other drivers may behave, you don’t get to control how they act, only how you react. Defensive driving empowers drivers by focusing on what they can control and how to anticipate risks, removing as many of the unknowns as possible.

woman practicing defensive driving

If you practice the safe driving techniques taught in defensive driving classes and according to the American Society of Safety Professionals standards for safe driving, you increase your chance of arriving at your destination without harm. You can use defensive driving to avoid dangerous situations, mitigate the damage in accidents you can’t avoid, and reduce the risk of serious injury and death for you and your passengers. It can also boost your odds of recovering the maximum damages possible when you’ve been injured in an accident, as you’re unlikely to be found negligent if you use defensive driving strategies every time you get behind the wheel.

Common Defensive Driving Advice

1. Stay Focused 

When you’re driving a vehicle, make sure your one job is driving. You shouldn’t be using your phone to navigate, breaking up a fight between your kids in the back seat, or finding a radio station to listen to. By remaining solely focused on driving, everything else that defensive driving entails can follow. If you need to focus on something else in the car, find a safe place to pull aside, and deal with it while you’re not driving.

2. Stay Alert

While focus has to do with what you choose to pay attention to while you drive, alertness is your ability to maintain your attention, keep scanning your surroundings, and be prepared to react. Among the most obvious factors of this are never driving drowsy or when under the influence. By only driving when you’re properly rested and only driving fully sober, you can react quicker and more accurately, allowing you to respond properly to dangerous surprises.

3. Don’t Trust Other Drivers 

Speaking of “dangerous surprises,” the most common ones on Florida’s roads are other drivers. Defensive driving focuses on what you have control over, and that does not include the behavior of other drivers. In fact, it’s safer to treat every driver on the road as an irrational agent that could swerve into you for no reason at any moment. While this is an exaggeration, by treating other cars on the road as completely unaware of you, you boost your vigilance while passing, driving through intersections, and following other vehicles. 

The most important factors to watch for are drivers who fail to stop at signs/lights, drivers who fail to yield properly, and drivers who are turning in front of you or swerving into your lane without any awareness that you are there. If you see a driver rolling up at fast speeds to a stop sign, for example, anticipate that they may blow past the stop sign with no regard for traffic safety laws. Likewise, if you see a driver leaving a gas station that doesn’t seem to be ready to yield to traffic, slow down and wait to see what they do next.

4. Make Safety the Priority

Bad drivers are everywhere, and they make rational people angry. It makes sense to feel anger when another driver endangers you or your passengers. At the end of the day though, aggression attempts to retaliate, and even general frustration are all things that endanger you further. 

By keeping safety as your number one priority, you should be able to recover from the intense emotion that can come with a bad roadway encounter. Take a few deep breaths, stay focused on driving safely, and make it to your destination with nothing more harmful than a bad memory.

5. Maintain a Safe Following Distance

Follow a 3-4 second rule whenever following another vehicle, especially at high speeds. If the road conditions are less than optimal, like in the case of rain, increase your following distance even further. The more space between you and the vehicle in front of you, the more time you will have to respond to something unexpected. 

6. Drive the Speed Limit (Or Slower)

Even someone who constantly drives defensively can wind up in an accident at no fault of their own. By obeying speed limits and driving a safe, comfortable speed, you reduce the risk of a serious injury or death in the case of an unavoidable accident. 

Look Out for Motorcycles, Trucks, and Environmental Hazards

Whenever you’re near a vehicle that is significantly smaller or larger than your own, take extra precautions. The smallest bump can send a cyclist to the ground, and larger trucks often have a hard time seeing smaller vehicles. Be aware of common blind spots for trucks and other larger vehicles, and give motorcycles more space than you might for a car. Ideally, you will quickly pass a much larger or smaller vehicle or have them pass you — removing the need to ride close to them for an extended period of time. When following these vehicles, give them ample room, or consider passing them safely and then resuming cruising speed.

When encountering non-vehicular hazards on the road, like a downed tree limb or a shredded truck tire, you may need to make a decision quicker than you’d like to. One thing to consider is that avoiding an accident with another vehicle is almost always the best move. Even if you have to slow down and run over some dangerous debris, it’s better than swerving into another lane and causing a more serious accident. Of course, every situation is unique, and there may be cases where quickly maneuvering to avoid danger on the road is preferable, but you should always be fully aware of what you may be running into when quickly moving to avoid something else.

Check Out Local Classes and Get Help With an Accident From a Florida Car Accident Attorney

If you’re interested in defensive driving and want to reduce your risk of an accident, be sure to check your local DMV or search online for nearby defensive driving classes. These resources can help reinforce any safe driving lessons you may already know and teach you new methods of staying safe on the road. 

Even the safest drivers can get in an accident through no fault of their own. If you’re unfortunate enough to have been in an accident recently, getting help from a Tampa car accident attorney can increase your chance of recovering the maximum possible damages from any injuries you sustained. Darrigo & Diaz have been helping Floridians deal with car accidents for decades, and we want to help you, as well. Call us at (813) 774-3341 or contact us online to schedule a free phone consultation with an attorney to go over the details of your accident today.


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