Although for many of us, getting behind the wheel is an everyday occurrence, unintentional accidents, such as car crashes, are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With such a grave risk, motorists should take every precaution possible to help prevent an accident. Although you cannot control the actions of others on the road, you can control how you operate your vehicle. And defensive driving is arguably one of the best ways to do that.

Below are ten helpful tips on how to drive defensively from our Silver Spring car accident lawyers. If you are injured in an accident, we can help you obtain the compensation you need.

What is Defensive Driving?

First, it is important to understand what defensive driving is and how it can help prevent accidents.

According to the National Safety Council, who pioneered the first defensive driving course more than 50 years ago, defensive driving goes beyond mastering the basic task of driving and the rules of road.

Its focus is to reduce car accidents by anticipating dangerous situations, despite adverse conditions and the actions of others. This is achieved by following several general guidelines and driving techniques.

The goal is that by following these tips, drivers can expect the unexpected and have a plan for how to react to anything that may happen. By placing yourself in the best position for any situation, you will likely be able to avoid an accident.

1. Get the Big Picture

In order to anticipate the actions of others and avoid a potential collision, you should always be aware of your surroundings and remain focused on the big picture.

Too often, motorists will focus and fixate on one or two things while driving and miss important information about their surrounding environment. If you do not see that the driver next to you is shifting into your lane, you will not be able to react appropriately.

The best ways to get the big picture are to look far ahead of your vehicle and keep your eyes moving.

Rather than simply looking at what the car in front of you is doing, look further down the road to see what the car three vehicles ahead of you is doing. This gives you the opportunity to see what traffic is doing ahead of you so you can anticipate having to slow down or prepare to stop.

You should also consistently scan the road and your surroundings. Scanning the horizon and looking far ahead, to your right and left, and in your rearview mirror will give you the best opportunity for seeing dangerous situations before they happen rather than reacting to another driver’s actions.

2. Expect Others to Make Mistakes

When you are on the road, you are hardly ever completely by yourself. This means you are susceptible to the actions of others.

You can help reduce your risk for an accident by expecting that others will make a mistake and doing everything you can to react appropriately.

Do not make assumptions about whether another driver sees you or is correctly using his or her signals. It is up to you to ensure your own safety, and the less trust you have of other drivers, the more cautiously you will drive.

The bottom line is that you should never trust anyone on the road except yourself.

3. Remain Focused

The key to driving safely is to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by anything. Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents, and studies show that taking your eyes off the road for even a couple of seconds can greatly increase your chances of being involved in an accident.

Drivers should avoid all distractions, including:

  • Cellphones
  • Adjusting the radio or AC
  • Kids in the backseat
  • Passengers
  • GPS gadgets

If you need to adjust anything in your vehicle, do so before you begin driving or pull over to a safe place and handle the distraction.

4. Stay Alert

Similarly, driver’s need to have a clear and alert mind for safe driving. Driving requires quick instincts, instant reactions and precise movements. Any kind of impairment can greatly reduce your ability to react to the situations you will encounter on the road.

You should never:

  • Drink and drive: Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal in Maryland. You should never get behind the wheel if you have had anything to drink. Always plan ahead if you are planning to drink by having a designated driver, staying where you are drinking or calling a cab before you leave.
  • Drive under the influence of drugs: Like alcohol, drugs can also impair your judgement and ability to react and drive safely. Never get behind the wheel if you have taken any drugs, this also includes some cold medications and other drugs that can make you drowsy or impair your abilities.
  • Drive drowsy: Driving while you are tired can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence. It can slow your reaction time, and if you fall asleep behind the wheel, you can easily be involved in an accident.

5. Maintain a Safe Following Distance

To avoid an accident, you need to have room to adjust to dangerous situations. The best way to do this is to maintain a safe following distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you. This will also give you enough stopping distance if the vehicle in front of you slams on its brakes.

The general rule is to allow at least two to three seconds of space between you and the vehicle in front of you. In inclement weather, that distance should be extended.

You can determine your following distance by identifying a fixed object on the side of the road, such as a sign or tree. Once the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of your crosses that object, begin counting until your front bumper reaches that same object.

If you cannot count to two during that time, you should slow down and increase your following distance.

6. Adapt to the Conditions of the Road

When road conditions change, either for weather or construction, your driving habits should also adjust.

When the roads are uneven from construction or slick from rain or snow, you cannot maintain the same speed you would during dry conditions. You should slow down, turn off cruise control and ensure you are solely focused on the task of driving.

7. Keep a Steady Pace and Go with the Flow

You should also keep a steady pace and travel with the flow of traffic. Sudden increases or decreases in speed, changing lanes unexpectedly or stopping unpredictably makes it difficult for other drivers to anticipate your actions.

8. Yield the Right of Way When in Doubt

Although Maryland law identifies who should yield the right of way in certain situations and circumstances, you should never assume that you automatically have the right of way.

If you are uncertain of who should have the right of way, you should err on the side of caution. Even if you should have the right of way, but another motorist begins driving, let them go. It is better to lose some time than to be involved in an accident.

9. Monitor Your Blind Spots and Those of Others

Blind spots can make it difficult to see vehicles that are traveling in a particular spot next to your vehicle. If you fail to see a vehicle when you attempt to make a turn or shift into another lane, you will likely be involved in an accident.

This is especially true for large trucks that have large blind spots. The rule of thumb is that if you cannot see the driver in the truck mirror, he cannot see you.

10. Make Yourself Visible

In addition to staying out of other vehicle’s blind spots, you can also help ensure you are seen by:

  • Using your turn signals to let other drivers know where you are going
  • Turning on your headlights at dusk or when it is raining
  • Ensuring your brake lights are fully operational

Contact Our Maryland Car Accident Attorneys for Help After a Collision

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, accidents will still occur. If you are injured in an accident caused by a negligent or careless driver, you may have legal options.

Our Silver Spring car accident lawyers can help you determine your options and work to help you obtain the maximum compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation. We work on a contingency fee basis and will not charge for our services unless we recover compensation for you.