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Being a personal injury lawyer entails handling a large number of auto crashes. When new clients that are involved in car accidents come to my office, inevitably they talk about how the accident happened. Naturally, all of them blame other drivers. Some time ago I started asking my clients if in their opinion they could have done anything to prevent the accident. You might be interested to learn that a good number of them say yes, explaining that if they were more attentive to the surroundings, they could have avoided the accident or reduced the force of the impact.
The other day I went to my dental hygienist and chatted with her briefly about my practice, including handling car accidents. She asked me if I could give her some tips on how to be a safer driver. I thought about it and told her that she should be a defensive driver. However, driving defensively means different things to different people. So I wanted to explain what I meant by that in this article.
The standard Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations, ANSI/ASSE Z15.1, defines defensive driving skills as "driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others." This definition is taken from the National Safety Council's Defensive Driving Course. Wikipedia supports the same definition.
As a defensive driver, you can avoid crashes and help lower your risk behind the wheel. If you've been out on the roads, you know that not everyone drives well — even though most people think they do. Some drivers act aggressively, speeding, cutting people off, breaking fast, and initiating road rage. They are a known road hazard, causing one third of all traffic accidents.
Others simply don't pay enough attention to the road. They are inattentive or distracted, which is becoming more of a problem as people "multitask" by talking on the phone, texting, checking messages, eating, or even watching TV as they drive. This can result in wandering into another lane, following too closely, making sudden turns without signaling, or weaving in and out of traffic. Haven't you seen drivers that act erratic on the road? There is a good chance they are distracted with something else they are doing at the same time.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 90% of all crashes are attributed to driver error. We can't control the actions of other drivers. But focusing of defensive driving skills can help us avoid the dangers caused by other people's bad driving.
Texting, tweeting, surfing the Internet, or even just talking on a cell phone
I would like to outline some of the techniques you can use to make your driving safer.
Driving is primarily a thinking task, and you have a lot of things to think about when you're behind the wheel: road conditions, your speed and position, observing traffic laws, signs, signals, road markings, following directions, being aware of the cars around you, checking your mirrors — the list goes on. Staying focused on driving — and only driving — is critical to safety.
Being alert (not sleepy or under the influence) allows you to react quickly to potential problems — like when the driver in the car ahead slams on the brakes at the last minute. Obviously, alcohol or drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter drugs) affect a driver's reaction time and judgment. Driving while drowsy has the same effect and is one of the leading causes of crashes. So rest up before your road trip.
Distractions like talking on the phone or eating, make a driver less able to see potential problems and properly react to them. It's not just teen drivers who are at fault: People who have been driving for a while can get overconfident in their driving abilities and get sloppy. All drivers need to remind themselves to stay focused.
Since the greatest chance of a collision is in front of you, using the 3-second rule will help you establish and maintain a safe following distance and provide adequate time for you to brake and stop if necessary. But this rule only works in normal traffic under good weather conditions. In bad weather, increase your following distance an additional second for each condition such as rain, fog, nighttime driving, or being followed by a large truck.
Posted speed limits apply to ideal conditions. It's your responsibility to ensure that your speed matches conditions. In addition, higher speeds make controlling your vehicle that much more difficult if things go wrong. To maintain control of your vehicle, you must control your speed.
Part of staying in control is being aware of other drivers and roadway users (bicycles, scooters, etc.) around you and what they may suddenly do so you're less likely to be caught off guard. For example, if a car speeds past you on the highway but there's not much space between that car and a slow-moving truck in the same lane, it's a pretty sure bet the driver will try to pull into your lane directly in front of you. Anticipating what another driver might do and making the appropriate adjustment helps reduce your risk.
In all driving situations, the best way to avoid potential dangers is to position your vehicle where you have the best chance of seeing and being seen. Having an alternate path of travel is also essential, so always leave yourself an out — a place to move your vehicle if your immediate path of travel is suddenly blocked.
Agencies like AAA and your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may offer defensive driving courses if you are interested in sharpening your driving knowledge and skills.
When you drive defensively, you're aware and ready for anything that comes at you. You are cautious, yet ready to take action and not put your fate in the hands of other drivers.
By Natalie A. Bausch, Esq.
BAUSCH LAW GROUP
~Protecting Those Who've Been Injured ~
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