When you’re in the process of getting a license, taking a defensive driving course is probably the last thing on your mind. You may not even be aware the course exists unless you find yourself on the wrong end of a moving violation.
But do you really need to take a defensive driving course? There are clear financial incentives for taking a defensive driving class. The incentives include:
Point reduction on your license
More importantly, defensive driving courses can save lives. Sharing the road means being prepared for dangerous drivers and driving conditions. A study from the American Automobile Association found over 50% of fatal collisions in the US are caused by aggressive drivers, speeding being the most common contributor. In 2015 alone, distracted drivers caused over 3,400 deaths and nearly 400,000 injuries.
Defensive driving schools teach best practices for safer driving, including how to identify and avoid potential accidents, providing driver safety knowledge and tips on how to respond to danger. Below is some information on aggressive driving that can benefit anyone even if you don’t take a defensive driving course.
Signs of Aggressive Driving to Watch Out For
You can never tell who will be an aggressive driver until they are out on the road. Your really nice neighbor may be dangerously aggressive behind the wheel. There are various types of road ragers, but road rage alone does not make for dangerous driving. It’s how people respond to their emotions that may or may not lead to aggressive driving.
Below are common behaviors that signal you’re next to an aggressive driver.
Speeding - This includes driving faster than posted speeds and ignoring road conditions that require slower driving such as bad weather or traffic.
Weaving - Frequent lane changes, particularly ones that are sudden.
Hogging the Road - Taking the right-of-way and not allowing people to merge or change lanes.
Disrespect for the Rules - Ignoring traffic signs, not slowing properly yellow lights and failing to use a turn signal are just a few examples.
Hostile Behavior - Acting hostile on the road includes heavy use of the horn, hand gestures, yelling, intentionally cutting off people, brake checking, racing and creating a negative driving environment in general.
Improper Passing - Be on the lookout for drivers that use the shoulder to pass or drive around others in a no-passing zone.
Tailgating - Driving right behind another car, especially on the highway, is a very dangerous form of aggressive driving.
Identifying Aggressive Drivers
Scan Ahead - One of the most effective defensive driving techniques is to continuously scan the road ahead. Doing so will increase awareness of road conditions (traffic, potholes, debris, etc.) and other drivers.
Watch for Dangerous Drivers - Pay attention to how other drivers are behaving. Be leery of drivers that are weaving, speeding or acting erratically.
Check Your Blind Spots - It’s important to know what is going on around you even when it’s not directly in front of or behind you. Use your mirrors to check blind spots regularly and be aware when you are in another person’s blind spot before changing lanes.
Ways to Be a More Courteous Driver
Signal - When changing lanes or turning always remain aware of other drivers and use your turn signal.
Yield - Yielding the right-of-way and allowing people to merge can counteract aggressive driving.
Be Polite - Do not lay on the horn and avoid negative gestures, expressions and speech. Give the benefit of the doubt to other drivers.
Wave, Smile, Defer - Use the same courtesy when sharing the road that you would be expected to have in a grocery store and face-to-face with others.
Be Well-Rested Emotionally and Physically - Being emotionally preoccupied or drowsy impairs your ability to pay attention to the road and slows reaction times.
Do Not DUI - Remember that driving under the influence includes prescriptions and over-the-counter medication in addition to all other intoxicants.
Respect Speed Limits and Driving Conditions - This includes the flow of traffic and environmental conditions.
Leave Room For Others to Pass - There should be at least three seconds (check on a fixed point) between you and the car ahead of you. Increase the gap to 4-5 seconds in rain, fog or snow.
How to Avoid Aggressive Drivers on the Road
Move Over - Moving to the side allows tailgaters to pass.
Do Not Respond - If another driver is harassing or antagonizing you it’s best to not respond or engage in any way.
Slow Down and Give Space - If someone is driving dangerously, such as weaving or speeding, the safest option is to let them get ahead of you. The more space there is between you and an aggressive driver the better.
Take Steps to Prevent an Accident Before It Happens
Obey Traffic Signals and Signs - You can’t control whether other drivers follow the rules of the road, but doing so yourself helps tremendously. Things like slowing to a stop at yellow lights and yield signs and making complete stops at stop signs make a difference.
Do Not Rush - You have a better chance of getting where you’re going by driving safely. Remember, you’ll definitely be delayed if you get stopped by a cop or have an accident.
Eliminate Distractions - Talking on cell phones, texting, loud music, eating, drinking, getting ready - basically anything other than driving - can be a dangerous distraction that drastically reduces response time.
Plan Ahead - Know where you’re going, set your GPS ahead and send ETA's or texts before you start the vehicle.
Maintain a Safe Vehicle - Regular maintenance, inspections and tune-ups that check tires, fluid levels and alignment are important for road safety.
The Emotional Connection to Driving
How you feel when you are driving is a good indicator of whether you are driving defensively or aggressively. A defensive driver is patient, focused and alert. An aggressive driver is impatient, quick-tempered and in a hurry.
If you encounter an aggressive driver, remain calm and be nice. Never respond or retaliate. Slow down and put distance between the two of you. Aggressive drivers that feel slighted can escalate their behavior and increase the likelihood of an accident.
So keep it cool, and stay safe out there on the road.
*This article was updated on 7/22/2020