Friday, September 10, 2021

Defensive Driving

I received my first driver's license a long time ago. (No, we weren't taught how to drive on dinosaurs, but they were still in some of the older books.  David Blackard might remember them, though). The year after getting my license I worked a job that required all new employees to pass a “defensive driving” class taught by the State Patrol, and it was a four-hour class with lots of video and text presentations peppered with real-life examples from the personal experiences of the two trooper that gave the class. Most of what they taught hasn't changed, although “distracted driving” has been added as a hazard since cell phones have been invented in the time since then.

The definition of defensive driving varies a little bit depending upon the source of instruction, but it boils down to “driving to save lives and money despite the conditions around you and the actions of others”. Most of it is basic driver's education stuff, like:
  • Leave a 2 second gap between you and the car in front of you
  • Obey traffic laws and signs
  • Slowing down before a corner rather than hitting the brakes while turning
  • Manage your speed to match the road and weather conditions
  • Don't drive distracted, leave the cell phone on “hands-free” or ignore it while driving.

Some of the other points are a little more obscure and need some explanation.

Always leave yourself an “out”
Regardless of your speed or location, always have an option to get away from trouble. Bumper-to-bumper traffic is a good thing to avoid, since you're trapped between cars and if someone has an accident, you're stuck with it, and leave room to maneuver around the car ahead of you since you can't do much about the idiot behind you. I do this in parking lots and drive-throughs, always leaving a path out of the line instead of pulling up tight to the car in front of me. It may slow the line down a bit, but I've seen cars break down in a drive-through and everyone sat there until a tow truck could move the dead vehicle.

Driving down the road at the posted speed, keep looking around and noting where you can go if you have to leave your lane. Cars crossing the median, sudden break-downs ahead of you, and drivers going the wrong way down a highway are all things I've seen in the 40+ years I've been driving. Can I drive into the ditch safely, or is the median a better bet? Can I move over a lane or two at any time to get around debris on the road? Is the shoulder wide enough and in good enough shape to slow down on? Those are the kind of “outs” you should be looking for.

Know your surroundings
This should be second nature to a prepper, but some folks tend to zone out once they get behind the wheel. Nothing should surprise or scare you, so keep your head on a swivel and check all of your mirrors regularly. Watch for the speed-demons flying up behind you as well as the idiot towing a camper with a boat trailer behind that (I had to take a special test for towing doubles/triples, but CDL rules don't apply to cars). As long as you're obeying the rules, the sight of a police car shouldn't be a problem, but they have a tendency to make abrupt lane changes and U-turns to go after other drivers.

Terrain plays a part in this as well. Going up a decent hill means that the truckers may slow down, only to speed up as they go down the other side. Watch for the impatient smaller vehicles that will weave in and out of the trucks, only to get passed on the downhill side. Cool mornings or early evenings and valleys can create fog, which will limit your visibility, so be ready to slow down as needed.

What time do the bars close in your area? Around here it's between 0100 and 0200 hours. I live near the border between two states with differing laws, and there's often a rush of drunks at 0100 headed to the bars that don't close until 0200 for one last round, then a mass migration of drunks on the roads until about 0230 when they get home or locked up in the drunk tank of a local jail.

Expect the unexpected
I could tell lots of stories about the stupid things I've seen on the roads. What people will do while guiding a couple of tons of metal and plastic down the roads at high speeds boggles the mind, and the more unique things like tires bouncing across the median on an Interstate or a sheet of ice flying off the roof of a minivan into oncoming traffic on a two-lane highway can be (and were) lethal.

Pedestrians are some of the worst at pulling the unexpected on you. Kids darting into the street, idiots on cell phones walking into traffic, and jaywalkers popping out between parked cars to cross the street are all things you have to keep an eye out for.

Treat the other drivers on the road like they're all drunk
I've also heard is phrased as “treat them all like they want to kill you”, but the sentiment is the same: don't expect them to act the way you would, don't expect them to follow the laws or obey the signs, and don't expect logical thinking from any of them. Running red lights, refusal to use their turn signals, ignoring “Yield” or “Merge” signs, and the various incarnations of road rage all fall into this category. Treat them like they failed driver's ed. and don't know how to safely operate a vehicle, which when you see how some people get confused at four-way stops and those accursed roundabouts, is probably true. This means giving them plenty of space and letting them get away from you; if they're going to cause an accident, let it be somewhere that you're not.

Defensive driving courses are handy in some states for removing “points” from your driver's license and avoiding increased insurance payments. For preppers, anything that avoids unnecessary cost or delay is a good thing, so if you've been ticketed for your driving and can find a class, take one. 

Now that I look back on what I wrote, most of this advice is also applicable to interpersonal interactions on many levels outside of a car: maintain situation awareness, know where the exits are, avoid unnecessary confrontation, and don't assume competence. 

1 comment:

  1. Nope sorry, no dinosaurs for me, but we did have to wear the corners off the square wheels.


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