A class one can take (at least in Texas) to dismiss minor traffic violations. It's 6 hours out of your life, but the ticket doesn't go on your record, and your insurance doesn't go up. Which is a plus.

There are different varieties of defensive driving courses, from comedy defensive driving, to ice cream defensive driving. And, of course, the on-line variety.

Also: A method of driving. (defensively.. duh)

Voluntarily taking such a course may reduce insurance premiums -- ask your insurance company. I took one last summer, after getting a speeding ticket. It reminded me a lot of the driving class I took in high school, almost like a refresher, and most of it was common sense. As much as I'd like to believe the problem is with people not following defensive driving rules, the fact that many of my classmates couldn't figure out the correct answer was really unsettling.

Defensive driving is supposed to be an attitude. It consists of habitually following guidelines. The method deals mostly with two concerns:
1) you can get into an accident
2) other drivers can make mistakes.

Because of this, a driver needs to be aware of potential dangers and be able to effectively react to actual dangers. This does not mean slow or timid driving. It requires a lot of paying attention and reacting to what is going on around you.

There are some core concepts, including:

being prepared and looking ahead

This consists of a technique called scanning. You should look far ahead enough to allow you enough time to stop your vehicle by the time you reach that point. How far you scan depends on your speed and your environment (city, rural). Scanning includes not only looking for actual dangers, but for potential dangers as well. If dangers are spotted, speed should be decreased to allow yourself more time to brake, as well as notifying drivers behind you that you may need to brake suddenly.

Watch out for other drivers. Do not assume they will stop if there is a stoplight or sign. The person stops the car, not the light. People make mistakes. When approaching tollbooths, be very cautious, as drivers frequently change lanes at the last second. Even if you have the right of way, you must be given the right of way by other drivers.

Treat parking lots as if they were roads. Do not cut across parking spaces, use the aisles as roads. Stop at intersections. Beware of drivers cutting through spaces. Be cautious of pedestrians.

Know what is around you at all times. Check the rearview and sideviews frequently. Don't forget to check blindspots.

speed

Your speed is regulated not only by the posted speed limit, but by conditions. This does not include just the weather, but other things such as heavy traffic and construction work. Adjust your speed by common sense.

Reduce speed before entering a curve. Braking in the curve has a greater chance of inducing a skid.

space

4 out of 10 accidents involve rear-end collisions.

Maintain a safe following distance from the car in front of you. Follow the 2 second rule - give yourself 2 seconds of space. This needs to be adjusted with conditions, 3-4 seconds and up. You can figure out the distance by using a fixed marker (such as a sign or an overpass). Adjust your distance so that when you finish counting, you will have reached the fixed marker.

Try not to be boxed in by vehicles to your sides. You want an escape route if the need arises.

When coming to a stop, stop so you can see the bottom of the rear tires of the vehicle in front of you. This is because:

  • if you are rear-ended, you will be less likely to rear-end the car in front of you
  • if the car in front stalls, you can go around it without backing up
  • you will not be boxed in if someone threatening approaches your car
  • if you are on a hill, you have room if the car in front rolls back
  • there is more room for error when braking

    seatbelts

    Always wear a seatbelt. Wear it correctly. Wear the shoulderbelt.

    Avoid putting children in the front. Never put a child safety seat in the front.

    your physical condition

    If you are incapable of driving, do not do so. This includes drowsiness.

    miscellaneous

    Keep your window rolled all the way down or most of the way up. In side-impact collisions, there is a greater chance of injury if the window is rolled halfway (at head height).

    Ignore drivers who cut you off. Nothing can be gained by tailgating them.

  • "The node that could save your life..."

    It seems that everyone thinks they are an above average driver. Unfortunately this is not true (it is in fact statistically impossible). Proof of this can be seen at most intersections in the form of black skidmarks, and in wrecking yards as smashed vehicles.

    As humans are not perfect, accidents are inevitable but there are ways of maximising your chances of avoiding one. Here I will focus on the basic aspects of driving a road car in a way that is safe. Anyone wanting a crash course in race driving should look elsewhere.

    You and the car:

    Firstly, think about how you sit in the driver's seat. What would happen if you were hit on the left or right? Although much better than older models, the bucket seats in modern cars aren't ideal for emergency situations. The need to compromise between various body shapes and sizes means that you don't get optimum support in the case of side impacts.

    To maximize your protection, sit with your bum right back in the "bucket", fairly upright with shoulders relaxed. When driving don't lean foward over the steering wheel. The wheel is there as a control, not an armrest. Stay snuggly back in the seat, this way you become an extension of the car and the added feel helps you stay in control.

    You may have heard that the best place to hold the wheel is in the "10 O'clock / 2 O'clock" position (as in when you look at a clock face). This belief comes from race car drivers who usually never have to turn the wheel more than about half lock. A better position in a road car is more like "9 / 3 O'clock" (hands on the sides of the wheel). This helps to keep your shoulders relaxed while still allowing for the control of the previous technique.

    Your feet should be able to rest on the footrest or floor without fully extending (ie still be slightly bent). This allows you to push yourself back into the seat when braking hard or in an emergency - giving you better support.

    Ok you're positioned correctly in the seat, now it's time to get on the road and practice a few techniques that could save your life.

    Braking:

    Perhaps the most obvious way to avoid an accident is to stop before you have it. Many people make the mistake of stomping on the brakes, thinking that this will stop them the fastest. Wrong. Unless your car has ABS this will just cause the wheels to lock up and skid - right into the obstruction you were trying to avoid. To ensure that you react correctly in a emergency you should practice the following:

    1. Apply pressure with your left foot on the footrest (If you are driving a manual there may not be a footrest - in this case it is ok to push in the clutch pedal and brace on it for emergency stops). This will prevent all of your weight from pushing down on the brake pedal, meaning that you will have more control over the braking pressure (and also provides a good argument against left foot braking where bracing is impossible).
    2. Don't grip the steering wheel too hard. Remember it is a control, not a handle. Squeezing it will only tense your muscles more than is ideal and you will probably want to use it to steer anyway.
    3. Gently apply pressure to the brake pedal then progressively increase it - this can be done quickly as long as the action is smooth and not a sudden stab. If the wheels lock, reduce pressure on the pedal (this is easy as long as you are still bracing with your left foot).
    With practice you should be able to knock several metres of your stopping distance from 100kph. While this doesn't sound like much just remember that it's about an extra car length. The 5 metres you save could be the difference between a collision and a minor scare.

    Cornering:

    Many single car accidents occur on corners, for obvious reasons. The truth is that a car is at it's most unsettled when it is in the middle of a corner. The act of cornering can be broken down into 4 parts: Approach, Entry, Apex and Exit. The basic actions involved should be as follows:

    • Approach: Decide on the correct speed and gear for the corner (don't get caught changing gears mid-corner as it further unsettles the car). At this point you should be subconciously bracing yourself with your left leg again. Progressively apply brakes and change gears to get to the required speed.
    • Entry: Smoothly begin to turn the wheel into the corner while reducing brake pressure (you should be at about the desired speed by now). Look through the corner to the exit and steer the car there - don't lean into the corner as it will give you a skewed perspective, if you are being pushed towards the outside of the corner simply brace yourself harder with your foot.
    • Apex: This is the halfway point of the corner. At this point you should start accelerating (smoothly) and unwinding the lock on the steering wheel.
    • Exit: You should be gaining speed now and back onto the straight. Keep accelerating to the desired cruising speed.

    Awareness:

    Of course no amount of driving skill will save you from an accident if you don't know what's going on around you. You should always be scanning up both sides of the road (near and far) for possible dangers. Don't worry,or after a while this becomes natural and you won't have to think about it.

    Also be aware of your car and it's capabilities. Know what speeds you can safely take corners at, know how good the brakes work and how consistent they are. This intimate knowledge of the vehicle may help you escape a sticky situation and prevent you from starting a secondary accident (a very good thing).

    Oh, and don't drive around at stupid speeds - if you want to fully explore your car's performance envelope do it on a race track and leave the streets safe for everyone else. I won't even go into drink driving. Happy motoring!

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