Part 3 of 4: Putting It All Together
Drive defensively. Driving defensively is a very important concept that too many drivers either take for granted or don’t understand. Driving defensively will help save you money, ensure a pleasurable driving experience, and — most important — help you stay alive. Driving defensively is an umbrella term for several different concepts:
- Don’t assume that people will follow the rules, or pay attention, or be cautious. Rules of the road are enforced to make sure that everyone is safe. Often those rules are broken by selfish or clueless drivers. Don’t assume that drivers will use their blinkers before they turn, for example. Don’t assume that drivers will slow down for you to merge. Don’t assume that drivers won’t run red lights.
- If you see a potentially dangerous situation, avoid it before it happens. Don’t linger immediately to the right of a big semi truck, for example. Don’t try to pass a drunk driver who’s swerving in and out of lanes.
- Use all your senses to be aware, at all times, of what’s happening on the road. Drivers often learn to tune out the rest of the world and “get in the zone,” simply because they’ve done the same thing hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Don’t get too complacent behind the wheel. Use sight to monitor other cars’ speeds and their habits. Use hearing to listen for car horns and the sounds of screeching. Use smell to be aware of burnt rubber or other caustic aromas that may indicate an accident.
Stay in the right lanes for slower speeds and the left lanes for faster speeds. On highways, and to a lesser extent on streets, the leftmost lanes are usually reserved for faster traffic, while the rightmost lanes are reserved for slower traffic. It’s rude (and dangerous) to tailgate someone going slower than you in the right lane. At the same time, it’s selfish to hog the left lanes when you’re going considerably slower than other traffic. Get in a lane that’s going roughly your speed and stay there until you need to turn or get off.
Whenever possible, pass cars on the left side instead of the right side. Because the general speed of traffic increases going right to left, it’s important to pass on the left. Your speeding your car up and going faster than the car ahead of you, so you want to pass using a lane that’s meant for faster cars. Follow this general rule of thumb even if it’s not a “law” where you drive! Remember: drive right, pass left.
- Try to never pass a truck on the right. Trucks and semis are far larger than normal cars, meaning that their blind spots are far bigger. Trucks often stay in the rightmost lanes and switch lanes to the right, rarely switching lanes to the left. Passing trucks on the left, therefore, means you’re driving your car out of their territory, lowering your risk.
Abide by the speed limits. Speed limits are there for a reason. They’re not there to make driving less fun; they’re there to make the road a safer place for all. Make sure that at most, you’re only traveling 5 mph faster than the speed limit. At least in America, cops will rarely write a ticket for speeding if you’re only traveling 5 mph above the speed limit.
Be extremely careful in abnormal driving conditions. When the weather acts up, tone it down a notch and drive even more defensively than normal. When it rains, for example, the water interacts with the oil on driving surfaces, making it very slick and slippery. In these conditions, it’s hard for your tires to get good traction. In heavy rain, when small pools of water have accumulated on asphalt, you’re especially at risk of hydroplaning.
- Winter time creates more difficult driving situations. Learn how to drive your car during the winter time.
Be courteous on the road. Being courteous simply means acknowledging that there are other people on the road, each with his or her own agenda, and many of whom don’t want to be stuck in their car. Make their life on the road a little easier if it’s easy for you; the thought is that they’ll pay it forward at some point, and you may be the beneficiary of their largesse.
- Use your horn to alert other drivers, not to chide them. A horn is a powerful device. Use your horn when someone merges into your lane without seeing you, or when a light has turned green but they’re still daydreaming. Don’t use your horn because you’re stuck in a traffic jam.
- Use a wave to thank someone. When someone let’s you into their lane, wave your hand to thank them. It doesn’t take much effort, and it’s a nice acknowledgement of “thanks” for keeping you in mind.
- Don’t disobey the rules of the road just in order to be courteous. This is important. If you stop at a four-way stop and you get there first, you’re the one who gets to go first. Don’t stop and let the person who got there after you go. It holds up efficiency and often creates confusion.
Have fun. Driving can be dangerous, and there sure are a lot of rules that you need to remember, but it’s important to have fun while you behind the wheel. Even while staying responsible, driving can be incredibly exhilarating. Just remember that the road doesn’t belong to you alone and you should be fine.
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