Top 5 Defensive Driving Tips

Published on Apr 22, 2022 at 11:27 am in Car Accidents.

side mirror with traffic

You cannot rely on other drivers when you are hoping to arrive safely at your destination. While you might do your best to follow the rules of the road, others are not so careful when they are behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

Getting in the habit of being a defensive driver is one of the best ways you can protect both yourself and others on the road. The Jackson car accident lawyers at Pittman Roberts & Welsh, PLLC have compiled their top five defensive driving tips to help you stay safe and limit your risk of being involved in a car accident.

Be Alert

To be an effective defensive driver, you must give driving your full attention. Being an attentive driver involves more than just focusing on the road directly in front of you. A good defensive driver knows to look ahead for about 12 to 15 seconds, which refers to the distance they will travel over the course of that time.

In addition to looking ahead, you will also need to routinely scan the area around and behind you by using your side mirrors, rearview mirrors, and by physically turning your neck and head to view areas missed by your mirrors. Here are all the things an alert driver should be aware of:

  • Weather conditions, such as rain
  • Time of day and visibility
  • Other drivers on the road
  • Upcoming traffic lights and stop signs
  • The posted speed limits
  • Any travel advisories
  • Semi-trailers and their blind spots

Constantly scanning the road should become second nature when you practice defensive driving. When you are in the habit of being alert, you may be able to more easily identify behaviors associated with distracted or drunk drivers, such as veering in and out of lanes or applying the brakes at inappropriate times.

As a defensive driver who is alert and always paying attention to the road, you will also be better prepared to react in case of an emergency. You only have a limited amount of time to notice a hazard and then take evasive driving maneuvers, so every second counts.

Remaining alert can be difficult if you have not had enough rest. To be the best defensive driver possible, you may need anywhere from seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Taking a power nap for 10 to 20 minutes or drinking beverages with caffeine like coffee or energy drinks can also help, but these are only temporary fixes and are not a substitute for a full night’s rest.

Slow Down

No matter how much of a hurry you are in, speeding up is never the answer. Research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that even small speed increases are associated with higher injury and fatality rates. A smart defensive driver always sticks to the posted speed limit in ideal driving conditions, such as sunny days when adverse road conditions do not exist.

When driving at night, in rush hour traffic, during a storm, or at any other time when conditions are anything less than ideal, defensive drivers know how important it is to slow down.

Refusing to speed above the posted limit or to drive faster than conditions call for will help you be the best defensive driver possible. Remember that you should be looking ahead as much as 15 seconds, and the faster you drive, the farther ahead you’ll need to look. When trying to take in considerably more distance ahead, you’ll have trouble correctly analyzing potential dangers while also managing your rotation of checking your mirrors and blind spots.

Whenever you are behind the wheel, slow down and give yourself time to practice your defensive driving habits.

Don’t Tailgate

Being a good defensive driver means giving yourself the time and space to anticipate, notice, and react to road hazards. You already know that slowing down is a key aspect of this, but following distance also matters. Tailgating is never acceptable for drivers and may increase the risk of a serious accident.

On average, it takes about three-fourths of a second to notice a road hazard and another three-fourths of a second to decide how to react. This means that if the driver in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes, it will take about 1.5 seconds for you to even begin applying your own brakes. When driving at 55 mph on dry roads, you’ll travel 121 feet during that initial 1.5 seconds, and another 144 feet after applying the brakes.

Defensive drivers need both time and space to react to the hazards they notice as they scan the road ahead and around them. This means that to be the best possible defensive driver, you should cross tailgating off your list of driving habits you consider to be acceptable. Instead, always maintain a safe following distance.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests following the 3-second rule. This involves keeping three seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you. You can easily measure your distance in seconds by doing the following:

  • Pick a stationary object on the side of the road, like a light post or bus stop
  • Watch as the leading car’s rear bumper passes the object and then start counting seconds
  • Stop counting when your front bumper reaches the same object

If three or more seconds pass, you are maintaining a safe following distance. If you counted fewer than three seconds, slow down, increase your following distance, and try again.

The 3-second rule is only effective during ideal driving conditions, though. Increase your following distance if it is dark, storming, or there is otherwise limited visibility.

Wear a Seat Belt

Defensive driving encompasses all your actions behind the wheel, including those that prioritize your health, safety, and well-being. A defensive driver always wears their seat belt when they are driving or riding in a motor vehicle.

Approximately half of all fatal car accident victims in Mississippi were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. Overall seat belt usage in our state is also far below the rest of the United States, with only around 77% of Mississippi drivers buckling up compared to the 90% national average.

You can practice being a good defensive driver by buckling up every time.

Keep Your Phone Out of Reach

Even the best drivers know how tempting it can be to grab your phone without even thinking about it. That’s why defensive drivers keep their phones safely out of reach when they are behind the wheel. If you use your phone for things like streaming music or global positioning system (GPS) directions, take some preventative measures to keep your phone out of hand.

  • Use a hands-free device or technology
  • Select your music or playlist before you start driving
  • Enable your GPS navigation and review your route prior to starting your journey
  • Turn on your phone’s driving mode or do not disturb mode

If you have trouble keeping your phone out of your hand even after taking some of the above precautions, consider moving it out of your reach. You can even place your phone in the trunk if you really struggle with an automatic instinct to reach for it.

Even Defensive Drivers Get Hurt

Practicing defensive driving habits like slowing down and maintaining safe following distances will help you lower your risk of being involved in a serious car accident. Unfortunately, it cannot eliminate the risk entirely. Other drivers on the road also have a responsibility to practice these and other defensive driving tips, and when they don’t, they put you and everyone else at risk for serious injury.

At Pittman Roberts & Welsh, PLLC, we’ve dedicated our time and energy to helping victims who have been harmed by careless, negligent, and reckless drivers find justice. Our Jackson car accident lawyers have the experience and knowledge it takes to help you fight for compensation for things like medical bills, lost wages, car repairs, and more.

Do not delay—Mississippi state law limits the time you have to file a personal injury claim. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation with one of our Jackson car accident lawyers.

Free Consultations


Call us or fill out the form below to tell us about your potential case and a personal injury lawyer will get back to you as quickly as possible.