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According to the Center for Disease Control, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people ages 5-34 in the United States.1 In fact, between 2000 and 2005, 42,000 people died on our country’s roads and highways.2 Additionally, the lifetime costs of crash-related deaths and injuries among drivers and passengers were $70 billion in 2005.3 While all of these are the result of accidents, a large percentage of these are accidents that could have been avoided through proper application of safe driving techniques.
Safe driving techniques, as taught in defensive driving courses across the country, are methods that one can do to avoid most risky situations and prepare oneself to properly handle those that do arise. Safe driving is all about managing the inherent risk that comes from driving out on the roads. Roads fraught with unforeseen dangers and conditions that can turn an otherwise safe vehicle into a screaming metal deathtrap. In being a safe driver one must learn to anticipate these events in addition to having the skills necessary to counter or mitigate damage should they occur.
These skills are used by safe drivers to manage and minimize this risk and are classified and taught as defensive driving. Defensive driving itself is often classified into sections based upon assessing the various risk factors that appear every day out on America’s roadways. These are all based upon the idea of staying focused, alert and wary of the actions of other drivers. These three ideas are used in conjunction to help a driver to search for, identify, and execute appropriate action when threats occur on the road way.
The first of these, maintaining focus, is the key to both scanning for potential hazards from other drivers and also for making sure that one is maintaining their own safe driving behaviors. This step is the first, and perhaps most important, in the defensive driving chain because in that it forms the basis upon which the other steps are built. Drivers must always maintain focus in order to identify the conditions and rules of particular roadways at particular times. For example, one must always be looking for road signs, unforeseen turn in the road, weather conditions and most importantly, other drivers not heeding these factors. Searching for road conditions such as these is crucial both to one’s awareness of proper driving behaviors and also the identification of possible risk factors.
As operators of massive vehicles that can just as easily become deadly weapons, we don’t consider nearly enough the safety of our actions. All roads are not the same. Speed limits change, lanes end, and some shoulders are gentle. Even the same road given changes in light, traffic and weather can become something entirely new and different; requiring a new assessment of appropriate actions. Thus, what is safe and defensive driving is a dynamic and ever changing proposition that one must be consciously assessing and altering at all times. Unfortunately, not all drivers that one encounters while out on the road are as aware and safe as they should be. Many of these safety infractions are mere accidents or casualties of unawareness. Drivers often misjudge the appropriate vehicular speed at which they should be driving; some drivers fail to see warning signs along the road, and other drivers fall victim to inattentiveness. However, drivers that engage in unsafe driving both knowingly and willingly are also a risk that one faces when they go out on the roads. One must always be aware that there exist a portion of drivers who choose to operate their vehicles while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or fatigue. These drivers underestimate the crucial and widespread effects that their impairment has on their actions and decisions and how this impairment can lead to the endangerment of themselves and others.
Their impairment, whether separate or in conjunction with adverse road conditions, is just another one of the many dangers that safe drivers must be aware of. However, mere awareness of these dangers is not enough to successfully avoid them. The final method of accident avoidance as applied by safe and defensive drivers is maintaining safe and effective driving practices. These driving practices make emergency evasive maneuvers possible by allowing the safe driver more possible options and more time for reaction. Perhaps most important of these driving practices, as well as one of the fundamental teachings of defensive driving is the two second rule. The two-second rule is a tool which allows a driver to safely maintain a safe following distance at any speed. The rule basically states that the safe driver stay at least two seconds behind any other vehicle.
These two seconds dictate the minimum distance needed to reduce the risk of collision under ideal driving conditions. Thus, the allotted two seconds act as a safety buffer: Effectively allowing the safe driver time to respond. The practice has been shown to dramatically reduce risk of collision in addition to minimizing the severity of an accident should one occur. It also helps to avoid tailgating and road rage for all drivers. What is especially useful about the two second rule is that it may be used at all times, regardless of speed or the type of road, with only slight modifications.
For example, experts say that during adverse weather or other hazardous conditions, one should be sure to maintain an even greater distance of three or four seconds. To estimate the time, a driver can wait until the rear end of the vehicle in front passes any distinct and fixed point on the roadway. Fixed points such as road signs, trees, and mailboxes work well for this purpose. As you count to yourself the elapsed time in seconds, the front of your car should pass the same point no less than two seconds later. If the time it takes to pass the fixed point is less than two seconds, you should slow down a little and repeat the process until you are maintaining a safe following distance. In conclusion, safe driving is critical to ensuring the safety of not only yourself, but also the safety of others. It can be easily employed by searching for possible dangers through constant awareness and attention to the road, identification of possible hazards and conditions of the road, and finally through the effective execution of safe driving practices such as the two second rule. These defensive driving strategies help ensure the safe driver that, although they cannot control the actions of others out on the road, they can always be prepared to minimize, or avoid altogether, accidents that kill and seriously injure drivers every day.
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