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How you can become a terrific defensive driver

Defensive driving helps prevent accidents essentially by acknowledging that others are going to cause them. They're going to make mistakes. Human error is going to cause crashes and take lives.

Once you admit that, you can then focus on avoiding these accidents. You take extra steps to stay aware at all times and to react in advance.

This may mean doing things that you feel like you don't have to do. For instance, if someone starts weaving back and forth in the lane ahead of you, it's wise to give them some space. That may mean backing off by driving under the speed limit. You could feel frustrated, as you have a right to drive the speed limit, but going that extra step could keep you safe when they finally make a critical error and cause a crash.

So, how can you become a terrific defensive driver? It's not as hard as you may think. Here are a few key tips:

1. Form a mental picture of all traffic around you.

Don't just focus on the road ahead of you. Watch the mirror. Check your blind spots. Pay attention to every car around you.

If you thought there was a motorcycle a few car-lengths back, for instance, and now you can't see it, what does that mean? Is it in a blind spot? Did it pass you? Did the rider exit the highway?

Some driver's ed teachers use a trick to teach this, reaching up periodically to cover the rear-view mirror. They then ask the student driver for the type and color of the vehicle behind them. You should always be able to answer that question.

2. Give other cars extra distance.

Never tailgate; that's the start. But take it a step further. Instead of giving the car ahead of you three seconds of space, give it four. The more distance you leave between you and another vehicle, the more reaction time you have when they make a mistake.

3. Never get distracted.

This is perhaps the most important tip. Distractions ruin defensive driving because they simply mean you are not focused and you are not aware.

Start by resolving never to text and drive. Another important tip is to pull over if you ever want to pick a new music playlist or program your GPS; don't do it while you drive. Furthermore, if you talk to people in the car while driving, do not look at them. Sure, it's a social convention, but set that aside and keep your eyes on the road.

Did you get into an accident?

Defensive driving helps you avoid accidents, but it doesn't guarantee it. If you got into a crash, be sure you know what legal options you have.

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