For most people across the United States, driving is a daily necessity. Whether you commute to work on weekdays or need to visit the grocery store, it’s important to practice safe driving techniques that will help keep you and your passengers from harm. Defensive driving refers to a set of driving practices that protect you and your loved ones from collisions caused by poor weather, distracted drivers, and other roadside hazards, according to Jake Sanborn, who recently wrote an article on defensive driving for Safer America, an organization with consumer safety information.

In past “Did You Know?” articles I have promoted the Driver Improvement/Point Reduction courses available for NYS drivers. The rewards include 10 percent off your liability and collision insurance premiums for three years and up to four points on your driver record, but the biggest reward is that you will learn the key points in defensive driving and may be able to avoid a serious crash. To avoid mistakes yourself or being involved in a traffic crash because of someone else’s mistake, learn to drive defensively.

Some key components of defensive driving, says Jake Sanborn, include:

Maintaining Awareness of Your Surroundings: It’s essential to stay alert and focus on your surroundings while driving. If you’re not focused on the road, your response time to an unexpected problem increases and you may not be able to react quickly enough to avoid a problem.

Identify and Process Roadway Hazards: You need to be able to quickly identify potential hazards while driving. By constantly scanning the roadway and staying aware of what’s going on around you, you can identify and avoid potential obstacles or unsafe situations.

Evaluate Evolving Roadway Conditions: You’re enjoying a nice drive on the freeway, maintaining a safe following distance behind a pickup truck that’s transporting furniture. Suddenly a recliner armchair falls onto the roadway. Do you have enough space and time to safely change lanes and avoid the obstacle? What happens if you collide with the object at your current rate of speed? When a hazard arises, you need to be able to quickly decide on the best course of action without causing additional risk to yourself or other drivers.

Decide on the Best Course of Action: A crucial component of defensive driving is the ability to make good decisions under pressure. In the previous example with the pickup truck, you need to find a way to avoid the obstacle without endangering yourself or other drivers further, perhaps by an unsafe lane change. It’s important to keep calm and make a rational decision.

Carry Out the Best Course of Action: Now that you know which defensive driving maneuver you’d like to carry out, it’s time to implement your plan. Safely perform the actions necessary to protect yourself and any passengers.

Defensive driving is critical to being a safe driver. We all should practice defensive driving whenever we are behind the wheel.

For the full content of Sanborn’s article on defensive driving, go to: Safer America, Consumer Safety Information at: safer-america.com/impor

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— Dave Werner is vice chairman of the Franklin County Traffic Safety Board.

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