Boost Your Defensive-Driving IQ


The safest car technology? You.

We can put all kinds of technology into our vehicles to make them safer, like smart braking systems that reduce the chances of a collision. Ultimately, however, you are the most reliable device to ensure safe driving. That’s because all of the innovation on the planet will never serve as a substitute for sound, defensive driving practices. With this in mind, here are eight ways to immediately boost your defensive-driving IQ:

Eliminate blind spots. This may require a mirror adjustment. You need to position the side mirror so there’s little to no visibility gap between the rearview and side mirrors. “If you see a car in your rearview mirror trying to pass you to the right, for example, you should immediately be able to see it in that right-side mirror,” says Jordan Perch, chief blogger for, a clearinghouse of driving-related news (and resources for finding a defensive-driving class near you). “This position may be confusing for most drivers. You won’t be able to see the back portion of your car, but it’s the safest way to neutralize blind spots.” As for the side view mirror or mirrors, most people adjust them so they can see the side of the car on the inside edge of the mirror. If you adjust your mirrors using those criteria, you create large blind spots and overlap with your rear view mirror. To eliminate the blind spot, simply adjust the side view mirrors just beyond the point where you could see the side of the car on the inside edge of the mirror. Be on the lookout. Don’t get tunnel vision by focusing only on the vehicle ahead of you. Keep your eyes moving in order to be aware of everything that’s going on around you. “Observe traffic signs and changing road conditions,” Perch says. “Anticipate your next turn well in advance so you don’t have to make abrupt lane changes.”

Resist distractions. In 2010, more than 3,000 people were killed as a result of being distracted and crashing, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). So put the device away. Make adjustments to your car stereo, temperature controls and navigation systems before you head out, instead of while you’re driving. “You need to keep these to a minimum—or eliminate them completely,” Perch says. “You should never talk on the phone or send text messages while behind the wheel. Taking your eyes off the road for just a couple of seconds can turn out to be fatal.”

Hold on tightly. Driving experts recommend the 10 o’clock/2 o’clock or 9 o’clock/3 o’clock positions. Either way, make sure both hands are firmly gripping the steering wheel.

Don’t speed. Understand that the speed limit is just that—a limit. In bad-weather conditions, you should stay under that maximum speed. “If you feel cars around you are driving too fast and you’re pressured to keep up, move to the right lane, where vehicles go slower,” Perch says.

Don’t tailgate. You should leave no less than three seconds of space between you and the vehicle ahead—and even more space in bad conditions. Increase your visibility. Make sure all headlights, brake lights, etc. are in good working order. Always use your turn signal, and turn your headlights on during any bad weather, fog or heavy overcast conditions. Stay alert. Drowsy driving causes some 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and about $12 billion in losses, the DOT reports. Hydration and proper nutrition—cutting back on the sweet and salty stuff and getting in a mix of fruits, vegetables and proteins—will increase awareness on the road. “You need a good night’s sleep too,” Perch says. “That’s especially true for senior drivers, who experience more difficulties staying alert.”

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