Top Techniques You Can Use to Help Avoid a Crash

A distraction is something that interferes with concentration or takes attention away from something else. Distractions have a tendency to take precedence over more serious issues in the traffic scene. Looking at crashes and vehicle breakdowns, driver fatigue and looking at scenery are leading causes of distracted driving.

This article will cover the top techniques you can use to scan the raod, ensure a safe following distance and allow adequate stopping distance to help you reduce your risk of a crash

Scanning the Road

To be a defensive driver, you have to see what's going on.

The best way to spot potential trouble is by scanning. Avoid a fixed, straight-ahead stare that may let you drift off into daydreams while on the road. We are all subject to many distractions while driving, both inside and outside the motor vehicle, which can reduce a driver's concentration on the driving task. (The driving task encompasses all social, physical, legal, and mental skills required to drive.)

Inside your vehicle, devices such as cellular phones and stereos can interfere with driving. Reaching for a ringing phone, searching for your tunes, eating, tending to personal hygiene (i.e., shaving, applying makeup), reading (i.e., books, magazines, maps or directions), and dealing with children instead of devoting your full attention to driving can increase the potential for a traffic crash. Even conversation between vehicle occupants is a driving distraction.

  • Look Ahead: Good drivers keep an eye on what's happening about 10 to 12 seconds ahead. That's about a block in city driving.
  • Look to the Sides: As you approach any place where other cars, people, or animals may cross your path, look to both sides.
  • Look Behind: Check the traffic behind you frequently (several times a minute) so you'll know if somebody is tailgating, coming up too fast, or trying to pass.
  • Be Aware of Blind Spots: These are areas near the left and right rear corners of your vehicle that are not visible in your mirrors.
  • Never Rely on Your Mirrors Alone

The keys to safe driving are:

  • Good vision (look with your eyes, but see with your mind);
  • Obeying traffic laws;
  • Proper care of your car (don't depend on annual inspections alone);
  • Courtesy (safety comes before right of way); and
  • Physical fitness (let someone else take the wheel if you are not physically and mentally alert and up to the driving task)

Maintain a Safe Following Distance

How we interact with other drivers on the roadway environment is very important. This interaction will get us home safely or make us another statistic that someone else will talk about in another driver improvement program. This section covers picking a path through traffic, following distances, and dealing with tailgaters.

What following distance should you keep between your car and the car in front of you?

A safe following distance is a minimum of two (some states suggest three) seconds of space that you should maintain in front of your vehicle. You should use what is called the "Two-Second Rule." This method of time and space management is easily measured as you are driving along. For our example, we offer the following scenario:

  1. While following another vehicle, select a 'marker,' which could be a crack in the road, an overhead sign, a shadow across the road, a bridge abutment, or any fixed mark on or along the roadway.
  2. The two-second rule for following begins when the car ahead of you approaches a checkpoint (the sign or object you have picked). When the rear of the vehicle passes the checkpoint, count:
  • Begin counting seconds as the rear bumper of the vehicle that you are following passes the checkpoint ('one thousand and one'')
  • It should take at least two seconds for the front of your car to reach the same checkpoint ('one thousand and two''). If so, your following distance is adequate. If not, slow down and back off some more and perform the steps again after picking another sign or object

How do you deal with a tailgater?

Drivers being tailgated are advised to slow down to encourage the tailgating driver to pass. If possible, change lanes and allow the tailgater to pass. If the tailgater persists, go to a well lit public place or police station and pull off the road.

If a crash is inevitable, letting off the brake in some instances (make sure no car is in front of you and you are not at an intersection) might also ease the force of the impact.

Try not to let other drivers intimidate you by closely tailgating you and possibly blowing their horn. Not everyone is patient or considerate of other people's travel plans.

Move into another lane if available and the way is clear, signal, and then change lanes. You can also pull into a business on the side of the road to let the tailgater get by and get directions on how to find the place you are looking for. By getting out of the flow of traffic, you can give yourself a break and allow the inconsiderate driver to go by and be on their way.

Stopping Distance in Relation to Speed

Any regular passenger vehicle traveling at a speed of 20 MPH should be able to stop within a distance of 25 feet. Heavier vehicles and vehicles traveling in combination with other vehicles (towing) have longer stopping distances. Yet, remember that having stopping distance between vehicles is the best braking device.

What are the four parts to stopping distance?

Perception Distance (1) + Reaction Distance (2) + Braking Distance (3) = Total Stopping Distance (4)

  • Perception Distance (1) — This is the distance your vehicle travels from the time your eyes see a hazard until your brain recognizes it (from your eyes to your brain).
  • Reaction Distance (2) — The distance traveled from the time your brain tells your foot to move from the accelerator until your foot is actually pushing the brake pedal (from your eyes to your foot).
  • Braking Distance (3) — The distance it takes to stop once the brake is pressed (from your foot to your muscle input).
  • Total Stopping Distance (4) — At 55 MPH, it will take about six seconds to stop; and your vehicle will travel about the distance of a football field

As speed increases, so do all of the above elements. Whenever you double your speed, it takes about four times as much distance to stop, and your vehicle will have four times the destructive power if it crashes. Driving Safety Articles:
This article was written by defensive driving staff writers and reviewed for accuracy by defensive driving instructors. All articles are based on current traffic laws and defensive driving practices. This article is intended for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice or literal interpretation of any specific traffic law.