Defensive Driving

Let’s face it. We all could improve our driving. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for humans under the age of 30, and only drops to second and third cause of death up to age 65. The top three causes of vehicle accidents are speeding, driving under influence, and distracted driving. With all the drunks and careless others texting and driving, it pays to have skills in your toolbox to get home safely. The most effective tool is Defensive Driving.

 

Defensive Driving is operating your vehicle in a manner to prevent accidents in spite of the actions of others or in the presence of adverse driving conditions. It requires a constant vigilance! You watch for the illegal acts and errors of other drivers, and make timely adjustments in your own actions so that the actions of other drivers will not involve you in an accident.

 

Driving defensively is a skill I mostly developed after I started riding motorcycles. Riding a motorcycle changed my perspective on driving. The dangers are too hard to ignore when you get out of the bubble of a car or truck. The pavement is RIGHT THERE! And, it looks like it would be painful to land on.

 

SEE (SEARCH, EVALUATE, EXECUTE) is a driving strategy that I learned at a class I attended with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.  This strategy has helped me reduce factors that contribute to accidents, and is applicable to operating any vehicle.  Below you will find a summarization of the process. We strongly encourage you to learn more, and to apply the strategy in your life.

 

The first stage is SEARCH. This means to actively scan and identify factors that could increase the chance of an accident. Scan the area directly in your path, not just directly in front of you, but far ahead of you as well. Look for the three primary categories of information that should be monitored:

  1. Traffic control devices and signs
  2. Road characteristics and surface conditions
  3. Other road users

Good searching technique applies to all directions. Yes, watch where you are going, but also frequently check your mirrors.

 

The next stage is EVALUATE. This means consider potential problems arising from the interaction of the factors discovered while SEARCHing. Put simply, you try to anticipate where problems could arise, and form a plan in the event the problems… well, cause a problem.

Consider the hazards that could arise from searching for traffic control devices and signs. Think about the big picture as you evaluate, and think about other people’s perspective and what they see. Understand that other drivers may not see control devices like stop signs and traffic lights, etc. Also evaluate other road users, not just other wheeled vehicles travelling at (potentially) high rates of speed, but also pedestrians and animals. Know the limitations of your abilities (did you forget to put your contacts in this morning?), and the limits of your vehicle. Compare these limitations to the traffic and road conditions.

EVALUATING is mostly about forming potential plans of action, based on the information you collected while SEARCHing your environment. This stage is a form of risk management; try to read the information discovered while SEARCHing to create a “cushion of safety.”

 

The last E is for EXECUTE. This refers to the motor skills used to prevent or avoid the hazards, and is the stage used when a hazard presents that could cause an accident. After EVALUATING or reading a situation, you decide on a course of action and EXECUTE it. Ideally, you decide on the best course of action, but try not to second guess or pause. In the event of a problem arising, time and space are typically at a premium.

Decisions are executed in a few different ways. The most passive is communication. Communicate your intentions as time allows. Use lights, horns, hands, eye contact, etc. You can also change your speed or position. The degree to which you adjust your speed or position depends mostly on the hazard that has arisen, so try to keep as much space as possible to react.

 

Driving defensively is about taking steps to actively manage your situation and attempting to prevent other driver’s actions from causing an accident. Driving defensively requires a serious commitment. A driver must commit their constant attention to the road. Also, SEE is a process. Ideally, you are constantly searching and evaluating your options to create a “cushion.” Then, you are prepared to execute quickly.