Rules of Defensive Driving to Avoid Accidents

Written by Danielle Thompson

With proper training and practice, anyone can learn defensive driving techniques that are proven to prevent accidents. One of the best ways to learn the rules of defensive driving is to take a NYS DMV-approved New York Defensive Driving course.

Defensive driving describes a variety of skills, knowledge and behaviors that drivers can use to predict and avoid hazards on the road. This includes following the rules of the road, keeping a safe distance from other drivers and slowing down in poor weather conditions.

Read on to learn about some important rules of defensive driving that every New York driver should add to their routine.

Avoid Distractions

Driving while distracted is extremely dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed more than 3,000 lives in 2020.

Distracted driving includes more than just texting or using the phone behind the wheel. It encompasses anything that takes your full attention off the road. This can include eating, applying makeup or even talking to passengers while operating a vehicle.

It is our responsibility to ourselves, our passengers and other drivers to give our full attention to the road. Speak up when you are in a vehicle and the driver is distracted and offer to assist them with whatever tasks they are trying to complete.

Observe the Posted Speed Limit

When drivers speed, they are doing more than just breaking the law. Disregarding the posted speed limit puts you at risk to lose control of the vehicle. The faster you drive, the longer it will take to stop in the event of an emergency. Because your car's safety mechanisms become less effective at high speeds, high-speed accidents can be especially severe.

Speed limits are in place to protect lives, not to be an annoyance. NHTSA statistics show that speeding killed more than 11,000 people in 2020. The most common causes of speeding are traffic congestion and running late. Avoid the temptation to speed by leaving earlier and allowing yourself more time to reach your destination.

As a defensive driver, you should adapt to the speed of those around you without exceeding the posted limits. If you feel that traffic is moving faster than you are comfortable with, be sure to keep to the right lane.

Drive Sober

Each day, approximately 32 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes. The NHTSA reports that more than 11,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths in 2020. This represented a 14% increase from 2019.

Alcohol reduces brain function, which impairs reasoning and muscle coordination. It is illegal in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico to drive under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher. BAC is a measurement describing the amount of alcohol in a person's blood.

It is not safe to drive after consuming any amount of alcohol. In 2020, more than 2,000 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes where the driver had a BAC of 0.01 to 0.07.

Other forms of impaired driving can also increase your risk of getting in an accident. If you are tired, seriously ill or under the influence of drugs or medications, you should not get behind the wheel. If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact law enforcement immediately.

Always Wear Your Seatbelt

Wearing a seatbelt is the most effective step you can take to protect yourself in an accident. By buckling your seatbelt, you are more likely to remain safe and secure inside your vehicle.

According to the NHTSA, 51% of the 23,824 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2020 were not wearing a seat belt. The safest choice you can make in a vehicle is to buckle up. If you are pregnant or have small children, ensure that you are familiar with the seat belt recommendations specific to you.

Slow Down in Inclement Weather

The best thing to do when it begins to rain or snow is slow down. It's harder to control your vehicle when the road is slick. Slower speeds allow you to maintain more control and reduce your stopping distance.

Be extra cautious of pedestrians and other vehicles when driving in hazardous, low-visibility conditions.

If you are driving on a road that has started to flood, you should always turn around rather than continue through the flooding. The NHTSA notes that it only takes 12 inches of rushing water to carry away most cars and two feet to carry away most trucks and SUVs.

A well-maintained vehicle is the key to staying safe while driving in poor weather conditions. Keep your tires in good condition and replace them when the treads become too worn. It's also important to keep your tires properly inflated. Remember that a drop in temperature can lead to a decrease in tire pressure.

Maintain a Safe Distance from Other Drivers

Always ensure there is adequate space around your vehicle while driving. You should maintain at least two seconds of following distance when driving behind others. This allows you the time and space to react to other drivers and avoid collisions.

Do now allow yourself to be tailgated. Change lanes or slow down to encourage tailgaters to pass you. If you decide to pass another vehicle, clear the road ahead and behind you first. Only pass when it is legal to do so. No-passing zones are marked with solid yellow stripes or signage.

Effective drivers are aware of their blind spots. Most vehicles have blind areas at the sides near the rear of the vehicle, and the drivers of many larger trucks cannot see anything following too closely behind them. Check your mirrors every 5 to 8 seconds while driving and turn your head to check your blind spots before switching lanes.

Take a Defensive Driving Course to Learn More Safe Driving Tips

Online defensive driving courses are a convenient option for refreshing your knowledge of traffic laws and safe driving techniques. This training provides a wide range of strategies and behaviors that help you minimize risks and avoid accidents.

Topics covered in the courses include:

  • Safe driving techniques
  • Traffic laws
  • Common causes of traffic incidents
  • Consequences of impaired driving
  • How to share the road
  • Following and stopping distances
  • Aggressive driving and road rage
  • Driving distractions

New York Safety Council offers an online and NYS DMV-approved defensive driving course that you can take from the comfort of your home. Not only will the course provide you with valuable safety knowledge, but you may also qualify for benefits like point reduction and a guaranteed 10% discount on your insurance rate.

» Learn more about the benefits of defensive driving training