You’ve probably encountered some version of these aggressive or distracted drivers:
- An impatient driver who cuts across multiple lanes and tailgates others
- A selfish driver who refuses to let you in at a merge point
- An erratic driver who weaves into other lanes while looking at their cellphone
Even with collision avoidance systems and other technology, traffic experts warn that distracted and aggressive driving is the cause for all too many crashes. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows aggressive driving played a role in 56% of reported fatal crashes, with speeding being the No. 1 factor.
Drivers need to be especially vigilant during summer, which is frequently considered the most dangerous time of year on the road because there are more people driving—and many of them are hot under the collar.
While we can’t control the actions and attitudes of others, we can control how we react and respond to them. One effective and easy way to keep yourself safe is defensive driving, which means being proactive and aware of other drivers and road conditions so you’ll be alert and prepared to deal with driving hazards.
A good defensive driver focuses on the task at hand, eliminating distractions and anticipating problems. The defensive driving tips below could spare you from a scary confrontation or a costly accident.
1. Stay calm
Try not to confront people who look angry and are gesturing as they careen carelessly through thoroughfares. Gesturing back, trying to block them, or honking your horn can often result in road rage.
When encountering these dangerous, self-centered drivers, remind yourself to take a breath, remain calm, and not panic or overreact. Safety experts recommend you take these three steps:
- Avoid eye contact with the driver
- Move over and allow them to pass
- Take note of the vehicle description, license plate number, location and direction of travel, and report them to authorities as soon as it’s safe
One step in avoiding dangerous driving experiences is to modify your own behaviors, such as:
- Leaving early so you’re not in a hurry
- Not driving distracted
- Staying out of the left (“fast”) lane unless you’re passing another car
- Driving the speed limit
- Not driving when you’re tired or drowsy
3. Develop defensive driving skills
Being aware and knowing how to react to various situations will keep you safer on the road. These defensive driving techniques can help prevent trouble:
- Don’t speed
- Continually scan the area ahead, to the side and behind you
- Keep a safe distance from other vehicles
- Drive with both hands on the wheel so you can better respond to dangers
- Slow down in bad weather
- Be wary of other drivers and try to anticipate erratic moves
- Avoid being penned in by traffic or following others too closely
- Expect the unexpected, such as a car suddenly braking ahead of you, a wrong-way driver or debris on the road
- Look in all directions before entering an intersection, even if you have a green light
- Always wear your seat belt
Experts recommend that you take a defensive driving course to learn these methods. Completing a defensive driving class could also get you a discount on your auto insurance. A list of safe driver programs for each state can be found at drivesafe.com/online-course/.
4. Set a good example
Think about the lessons you might be teaching your children and others around you as you’re behind the wheel. Do you drive distracted, fiddle with the radio, or text while driving? Are you often in a hurry because you’re late, or speed up and cut off other vehicles? Do you gesture and yell at other drivers?
Being alert, kind and calm behind the wheel not only makes you a safer driver, but also teaches valuable lessons for young people to emulate when they learn how to drive a car.
Educating young drivers about the dangers of the road is an important way to prevent unpleasant encounters. Impact Teen Drivers, a nonprofit formed by law enforcement, insurance and education groups, employs peer-to-peer tactics to teach teens and young adults about the dangers of distracted and reckless driving. Learn more about their lifesaving programs at impactteendrivers.org.
Your NEA Auto and Home Insurance Program is also here to help. Before you hit the road, make sure you have adequate auto insurance protection in case you encounter a distracted or aggressive driver.