Defensive Driving: How to Protect Yourself from Dangerous Drivers
Every time you get behind the wheel, you’re putting your safety as much in the hands of other drivers as your own. Just because you take every precaution and follow every rule of the road doesn’t mean everyone else will. Other cars can still weave into your lane, follow too closely, neglect their turn signals, or pose any number of other threats.
So what should you do if you’re on the road and encounter a fellow driver who’s distracted, drunk, or just plain aggressive? Well, you can't control the actions of anyone else. But you can respond as safely and responsibly to them as possible. You might end up saving them, yourself, and innocent third parties from injury or disaster.
Here’s how to deal with human hazards on the road.
Every year it seems we add more distractions to driving. Smarter smart phones, smart watches, in-car Wi-Fi, and theater-style entertainment systems, just to name a few. These days, the roads are full of drivers much more focused on what's in their hand or on their dashboard than what’s outside of their vehicle—like you, for example.
Distracted driving is a very real threat. According to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, texting and other forms of electronic usage cause up to 25% of all car crashes. And according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a car crash.
In short, it’s bad news for everyone.
Now, first things first: if you’re going to respond to a distracted driver, you’ll have to recognize the problem in the first place. You might see the phone in a driver’s hand or notice some other type of distraction in play. But in most cases, you’ll only see the signs in how the vehicle itself is moving. Keep an eye open for drivers who are:
Going much faster or slower than the speed limit or flow of traffic
Needlessly or erratically changing speeds
Stopping longer than needed at a traffic light or stop sign
Weaving unpredictably through traffic
Not maintaining lane position
They could be fatigued or drunk, sure, but they could just as easily be preoccupied with their phone. If you notice the telltale symptoms of a distracted driver, here’s what you should do:
Assume that they're completely unaware of you, other vehicles, or any other objects on or around the road
Give them a wide berth
Try to pull ahead of them or slow down and let them pull ahead of you
Your goal here is to keep yourself away from them in order to minimize the risk their obliviousness poses to you. You can’t grab their wheel, but you can try to make sure that any damage they cause to themselves won’t hurt you.
If right-of-way is an issue, yield to them. This is no time to demand your rights. It’s time to be smart and stay safe. It’s also not advisable to blare your horn at them, as you might well startle them and escalate the danger.
So get away from them as quickly and safely as possible. You shouldn’t have to suffer for their mistakes.
No, we’re not talking about the fun "sports stadium parking lot cookout" kind of tailgating. We mean the kind where someone is cruising so close behind your car you can see the whites of their eyes in your rearview mirror.
Why are they doing it? Maybe they’re mad at you for some reason. Maybe they think you’re going too slow. Maybe they just think it's fun. Regardless, it isn’t any fun for you, and it’s definitely dangerous. If you have to brake for any reason, they may not have time to react safely, and you could have an accident on your hands.
Just like with a distracted driver, you can’t control the tailgater. But you should be able to mitigate the danger they’re creating.
First off, don’t slam on your brakes. While the brake check can be tempting, it’s also very dangerous for everyone involved—including you.
Take a breath and remain calm. Stay focused, keep your hands on the wheel, and pay as much attention to the road ahead of you as the danger behind. Assume that you’re going to have to solve this problem yourself. Tailgaters don’t generally give up or get bored if nothing changes.
This leads to one of the harder rules in many road safety situation: put your ego aside and let them “win.” If necessary (and possible), carefully make room for the tailgater to pass you. Once given an opportunity, they may leave you alone.
If that isn’t an option, you might need to slow down. Make sure you do this slowly enough that the tailgater has time to react without causing a crash. Use your brakes, too. The tailgater is probably watching for your brake lights, and if he or she doesn’t see them, they may not realize you’re slowing down until it's too late.
Hopefully, once you’ve created a way for them to pass safely or have slowed down sufficiently, they’ll leave you alone.
You’ve seen enough PSAs to know how dangerous drunk driving can be. It comes with many of the same risks as other forms of reckless driving, but with the added complication that the driver’s judgment is severely impaired.
The signs of a drunk driver are much the same as a distracted driver: erratic driving, randomly changing speeds, or disregarding road rules and etiquette.
You should respond to this one the same way you would a distracted drive, too. If possible, create distance between yourself and them. Try to remove yourself from their sphere of potential harm. Do not attempt to stop the vehicle or get their attention by honking or yelling—this will only make an accident more likely. The police, EMTs, or other emergency services will be better trained and equipped to deal with the situation.
However, if you can, take note of the car’s make, model, color, and license plate.
As soon as you’re out of immediate danger, pull over somewhere safe, call 911, and report the incident. Here’s what to say:
Tell the dispatcher that you’d like to report a drunk driver
Describe the vehicle and exactly where this incident occurred
Describe the behavior that made you believe the driver was drunk
After that, you’ve done your part. The proper authorities will take it from there.
It can get wild on the road.
The road can be a dangerous place, and no matter what precautions you take or how you respond to bad situations, accidents can still happen.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, you may have a right to compensation. We’re here to help. At SiebenCarey, our team has managed thousands of car accident claims. We’ll see to it you get every cent you’re entitled to by law. Contact us today.