Cars are a symbol of American economic and social mobility and the most practical means of personal transportation. They are also, however, a potential hazard, due to their size, weight and speed. When a car gets on the road it runs the risk of colliding with other vehicles, objects, or even people. Whenever this happens, significant damage may occur, or even injury and death. Drivers face a number of dangers that can lead to automobile accidents, not all of which is due to their own behavior. These dangers include adverse road conditions, and the actions of other drivers, to name a few.
To avoid a potentially costly or deadly collision incident on the road, drivers will need to learn what is called defensive driving skills. Defensive driving skills are about situational awareness, foreseeing potential emerging problems, and driving in a way that enables a motorist to avoid being involved in an accident due to a sudden and unforeseen emergency.
Safety is the most important thing to consider above all other priorities when driving. When getting behind the wheel of an automobile, a driver must base every decision on the question of whether what they do is safe. Before getting on the road, one should verify the condition of their car to make sure that their car doesn't malfunction and cause an accident. One example is checking the condition of the tires to make sure they are not bald, which can lead to a tire blowout. When getting a new car, one should take a short drive on an unoccupied road to get familiar with its steering, acceleration and braking, before taking it on the streets or the freeway. A person should never drive when they're intoxicated or sleepy, as it increases their reaction time to problems on the road, thus increasing the risk of an accident.
Situational awareness is extremely important when driving an automobile. Because cars move at high speeds, it makes it harder to avoid a collision when an unexpected emergency occurs ahead or around a vehicle. Drivers will need to learn to watch for and anticipate potential problems. These potential problems include cars that are to the side of the driver in their blind spot, and most importantly, vehicles changing speed or changing lanes ahead. Drivers must also be aware of adverse weather conditions, such as rain-soaked or snow-covered roads that may make steering or slowing down significantly more difficult. Most importantly, it is necessary for drivers to “see ahead”, meaning they should be watching the road up to 30 seconds ahead for signs of potential trouble, such as obstacles in the road, potholes or drivers swerving to avoid said problems.
While one person may be practicing safe driving habits on the road, others may not. Part of defensive driving involves being prepared to take evasive action if another driver swerves into one's lane or slams on their brakes, or other unsafe conditions occur. While one should drive courteously, it is not safe to on others to be courteous. For instance, taking off immediately on a green light is unsafe because someone else might run a red light and hit the driver from the side. Always look both ways first before taking off from a green light.
It is never safe to let oneself be boxed in a situation where they cannot reasonably evade an imminent collision. In some cases it is impossible to avoid, such as when a car is stopped in traffic and is hit from behind. In most situations, however, one can avoid this by keeping a proper distance from other vehicles. Another way of creating an escape route is gradually reducing speed in a crowd of cars, so that other cars are not on the side or in one's blind spot.
The speed at which cars travel in normal commuting makes it harder to react in time when a problem emerges. When a person hits their brakes to slow down, it takes several seconds to come to a complete stop. Therefore it is necessary to follow the 3 or 4 second rule when it comes to driving, because it serves to give a motorist adequate time to react to an emergency. This means staying far enough behind a car so that if they suddenly stop for some reason, one has at least 3 to 4 seconds to react and slow down and avoid a collision. In adverse weather conditions like rain or snow, or when driving at higher speeds, a motorist should allow for even more than 3 or 4 seconds to safely stop. Even when one is stuck in traffic, the 3 second rule is useful for seeking an alternate route if the car ahead suddenly breaks down and is no longer mobile.
When a car increases speed, it decreases the amount of time a driver has to react to a problem ahead. This makes driving faster than the speed limit a hazardous habit on the road, and it makes it even more dangerous on a freeway. For some drivers it takes a little over a second to actually react to a problem, and when a car is moving 70 miles per hour, that amounts to a car moving an additional 100 feet before the driver even hits their brakes. Drivers should either match the speed of cars ahead of them, or slow down just enough to allow adequate distance between themselves and other vehicles.
It is never wise to attempt to deal with multiple potential problems at the same time when a driving conflict appears. For instance there could be a large piece of debris in one's path on a two-lane road, and there is an oncoming truck in the wrong lane. Separating risks, in this case, would mean slowing down and getting out-of-the-way of the truck to let it pass, and then driving around the obstacle when the roads are clear. One can also speed up to race around the debris and the truck, but this dramatically increases the risk of a deadly accident if one miscalculates. Slowing down in this case is not only separating risks, but also an example of keeping one's speed down, not depending on other drivers, and preparing an escape route.
Distractions are highly dangerous during driving because it reduces a person's situational awareness. In addition, independently from that, it also increases the time a driver needs to react to an adverse situation. Talking to other passengers can be an example of a distraction. Cell phone usage and texting are even bigger distractions; as they necessitate the driver actually look somewhere else besides the road. Taking one's eyes off the road for even a second means the car potentially moves a hundred feet or more while being effectively uncontrolled. Distracted driving is arguably as dangerous as drunk driving. When driving, a motorist needs to be completely undistracted and focused on the road ahead and the traffic around them.