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5 Ways to Be a Defensive Driver

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD

You can't control what other drivers do. But you can do things to lower your chances of being in a crash. This is what it means to be a defensive driver.

How Do I Drive Defensively?

Before you get behind the wheel, get into the right mindset — be aler and, focused, and watch out for other drivers. Then:

  1. Pay attention to your surroundings. Check your mirrors often and scan to see what’s happening 20 to 30 seconds ahead of you. Keep your eyes moving. If you see an aggressive driver, slow down or pull over. Always keep an eye out for walkers, runners, bikers, and pets along the road.
  2. Keep your speed down. The best way to stay in control of your vehicle is to observe the speed limit. The faster you go, the harder it is to respond if someone pulls out in front of you or runs into the road. And lower your speed when the weather is bad.
  3. Follow the 3-second rule to set a safe following distance. As you drive, look ahead and find a “marker,” like a sign, on the side of the road. When the car in front of you passes it, start counting from 0 to 3. If you reach the marker at the count of 3, you’re keeping a safe 3-second following distance. If not, slow down. When weather or road conditions are poor, increase the distance to 6 seconds.
  4. Cut out distractions. Any activity that takes your attention away — even for a second— is a distraction. It’s dangerous and can lead to a ticket in many states. Stay focused until you reach your destination. You can put your phone away or turn on automatic replies that will tell others you’re busy driving.
  5. Don’t rely on other drivers. Always be considerate of other drivers but look out for yourself. You can’t be sure that another driver will move out of your way or allow you to merge. Instead, assume other drivers might be distracted or don't see you. Think about what you would do if another car pulls out in front of you. Being prepared is key. Some drivers will run red lights or stop signs, so you need to be ready.

If you can, take a defensive driving course every few years to keep your driving skills fresh. The course will boost your driving and may even save you money on car insurance. To find out more, contact your local AAA or your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Safe driving!

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: June 2024