Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer

UPDATED: Jun 9, 2021

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Many people think about “defensive driving” only after they’ve received a ticket and are considering taking a class to get their ticket dismissed. But the best time to think about your driving technique is before you see those dreaded flashing lights behind you. Being conscious of your bad driving habits and taking precautions to avoid other bad drivers on the road can keep you from getting a ticket, whether it’s from traffic violations or fault in an accident. Think about these defensive driving tips the next time you get behind the wheel, and you won’t have to worry about getting in trouble with the law.

  1. Keep a safe following distance:

    Not only can you receive a ticket for tailgating, but tailgating is also a leading cause of rear-end accidents. Both of these are excellent reasons to always maintain a safe following distance while driving. A good guideline is to use the “two-second rule” in normal driving situations (or “three-second rule,” according to some experts). This means you should always be two seconds behind the car in front of you, so the distance changes with speed. You can test your following distance by counting the time between when the vehicle in front of you passes a stationary object and when your front bumper passes it. On a wet road, you should use the four-second rule, and in icy conditions, you should be 10 seconds behind.

  2. Move out of the way:

    A large portion of defensive driving moves involve avoiding run-ins with aggressive drivers. It can be frustrating to just step aside and let a bad driver do whatever they want, but it’s the safest thing to do. If you’re being followed closely by someone driving too fast and pressuring you to go faster or move over, just get out of the way. If it’s a highway, move to another lane, even if it means going slower. If there’s only one lane, move into the shoulder as much as is safely possible so the bully can pass you more easily. Don’t let them pressure you into speeding; Murphy’s Law says it’ll be you who gets pulled over, not them.

  3. Yield:

    Defensive driving teachers like to say that no one has the right of way until someone yields it. Sometimes the other drivers on the road will yield the right of way according to the law, but other times, drivers are idiots. You have to be prepared to sacrifice the right of way when not doing so could lead to a dangerous situation. This means slowing down if someone is refusing to merge onto the highway behind you and not fighting for your turn at a stop sign. You’ll never get a ticket for yielding when you didn’t have to, but not yielding could put you in a sticky situation if an accident occurs.

  4. Have a plan:

    Be aware of the cars around you and your surroundings at all times. This will help you form a plan for a worst-case scenario, and alter it as your situation changes. You should always have an exit strategy, meaning a space in traffic (or even the shoulder) where you can go if cars stop suddenly or veer into your lane. You should also recognize potential accidents; if there’s a bad driver ahead of you, slow down or change lanes so you’ll be prepared if he gets into a wreck. You could end up rear-ending him, which could earn you a ticket in some states.

  5. Don’t get distracted:

    Distracted driving is dangerous driving. Whether you’re actively taking your mind off the road by looking at a text message or putting on makeup, or just haven’t gotten enough sleep to keep you alert, you miss a lot when your head’s not completely in the game. Defensive driving is about more than making complete stops and following the speed limit; it’s about anticipating what other drivers are going to do and looking ahead for potential hazards. It only takes a few seconds for an accident to happen, so don’t lower your guard.

  6. Stay calm:

    Something about driving, especially in traffic, seems to bring out the worst in us. People feel entitled to bypass long lines of cars, cut other drivers off, and ride your back bumper. Don’t be one of these people and don’t retaliate! It can be very easy to get caught up in the road rage atmosphere, but getting emotional will distract you from what’s going on around you and you’ll start driving more aggressively. You might even miss that cop hiding behind the underpass waiting to pull over a reckless driver who couldn’t keep calm.