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Teaching a person to drive usually means letting them read a book, giving them some time behind the wheel, and then let them learn.  We don’t teach them true “principles” of driving.  The mental part of driving is the most important part: Being prepared and thinking ahead.  Below we outline the differences in driving styles and the BEST principles to teach a new driver on how to be prepared.


We have all heard the term “defensive driving.”  There are plenty of instructional courses taught on this, but what does it really mean to drive defensively, and what is the benefit?


Two Approaches to Driving

Some people today tend to fall into a category called  “aggressive driving”.  In a simple sense this means that they always try and take that extra few feet, try and be the first to go at a 4-way stop, try to take any indecision on other drivers to gain the extra distance.  As soon as a light turns green, they go.  When coming into a cross street, if there is no stop sign, they just go forward.  The problem comes when you have 2 aggressive drivers near each other, both going for that same extra few feet.  The risk of accident grows significantly more.  Driving this way may get there a little quicker, but is it worth the risk?


The alternate approach is being defensive.  This skill is the hardest to teach and takes a very long time to master.  The thought process:  you assume in all cases that there is an aggressive driver on the other side and that the other driver will make a mistake.  If you always assume this, then you should always be prepared when the emergency situation comes up.  Because eventually it will.  How does this work?  Here are a few examples:


When you are at a red light and it turns green, take that green as a suggestion, not the law.  Assume that the opposite side will have a driver who will ignore the yellow and blow right through it.  When the light turns green, you don’t automatically go.  You look to make sure it is clear on the opposite side before proceeding.  If you assume that the other side will jump the light, you will be prepared when they actually do.  And this happens often.


When coming to a cross-street where the other side has a stop and you don’t, you should not just speed through assuming they will stop.  Again, take their stop sign as a suggestion to them.  What happens if they don’t stop, or don’t stop long enough.  If you speed through you are not prepared if they blow the stop sign.  Slow down, make sure they are actually obeying the stop sign.  Have your foot resting on the brake if possible, ready to hit it the moment that person blows the stop.  Be ready to blow your horn.  When that moment comes that they actually do it, you will be prepared.


When pulling out onto a multiple-lane major highway, if your lane looks clear but there are cars in the other lanes, don’t assume that your lane will always stay clear.  Assume that the person in the other lane will cross over into your lane just as you are pulling out.  This also happens fairly frequently.  It is sometimes better to wait until there is enough clearance from the other drivers before proceeding.  In the event that they did cross into your lane, is there enough room for them to see you where they can turn back?


The term “right of way” should also be taken as a suggestion.  Just because the law says you have the right, doesn’t mean the other person will follow that.  If you are the closest to a turn at an intersection, don’t assume the other person will wait for you.  Are you prepared if they jump out in front of you?


When driving on a major road at high speeds, do you know how you would handle an accident, or a deer if it jumped in front of you?  Sometimes you don’t have enough time to look around you and make a good decision on whether to hit something or avoid it.  You should know at all times where you have clearance.  If you swerve into the left lane to avoid something and wind up getting hit by another car, your accident can be much worse than hitting something yourself.  What if you are in the middle lane, in a split second, will you swerve to the right or to the left?  If you are aware of who is behind you and which lane is open, you can save yourself from a serious accident.  If you must hit something, is there utility poles on one side of the road but not another?  Is there a ditch on one side not the other.  Knowing this ahead of time can help you make that split second decision rather than just taking your chances.  The same could be said for if you have a mechanical issue, say a tire blows.  You may lose control of the car, which way should you steer to avoid a serious accident?  When that tire blows and you panic, you may not have enough time to make this decision.  If you are prepared, you can save those split seconds and have a minor accident as compared to a major one.


Cars today have these nice new blind spot systems in them.  They are good warnings, but not all cars have them.  And not all people pay attention to them.  There is a simple way to improve your chances of another driver not seeing you:  Never be in someone’s blind spot.  If you are next to another car and you have room, either speed up to where they can see you, or slow down where you could avoid them if they moved over suddenly.  


Keep an eye on not just the car in front of you, but what is in front of them.  This can help you determine if a person is going to stop short.  The same holds for cars behind you.  Assume the person behind you is distracted and needs extra time to stop.  If you are coming up to a sudden stop, make sure you stop with some distance between the car in front of you.  Then if you see the person behind you coming up too fast, you can move up those few extra feet and hopefully prevent that fender bender.  Use your break not just to stop, but also to turn on your brake lights to help slow the person down behind you.  Even if you don’t need to start braking yet, use that pedal to turn on your brake light a few seconds earlier.


These are all examples of the same common theme:  If you assume that in every instance the other person will pull out on you, or that they will disobey lights or stop signs, you are prepared when they actually do it.  If you are prepared ahead of time for how you will react with a split second emergency, your odds improve of avoiding a bad accident.  And in some cases, you can’t avoid an accident.  Your only choices will be a minor one or a major one.  Cars are replaceable, lives are not.  Prepare yourself for how you will take that minor accident and avoid the major one.  


How do you teach this to a new driver:  It is simple, practice it and talk it out loudly.  When you are in the passenger seat with a new driver here is what you do:  When they are at a red light and it turns green, ask them if they checked the other side, similar to when they were little and crossing the street.  When passing an intersection with a car on the other side, quick ask them what they would do if that person pulled out on them.  When driving on a highway at high speeds, ask them what would they do if a deer flew out in front of them.  Or if their tire blew.  


You can also frequently ask them which lane is clear to pull into if needed.  If they first need to look at both sides, they aren’t prepared.  As you drive with the new driver you take every situation you see and ask them to make a quick decision.  And reinforce that as they drive, they must always think in their head what they will do if an emergency happens.  And you go over it and over it whenever you are with them.  


This is similar to  those old style driving video games where obstacles were thrown at you all the time as you drove.  In those games it was all about avoiding the obstacles.  In those games you drove along waiting for the next obstacle the game threw at you.  That is how you need to drive in real life.  Some may say that this is much more stressful to drive this way.  That is not true at all.  What you will find is that eventually it becomes second nature and you don’t even realize you are driving this way.  It will come naturally to just assume things will go wrong.  And when they actually do, you are more prepared.  Be careful and be safe!

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