How Can You Become a Defensive Driver? Top 10 Tips

Last Updated on November 28, 2022

The best way to save money on car insurance is to avoid an accident. The best way to avoid an accident is to be a defensive driver.

Many people claim to be defensive drivers. However, some people are better defensive drivers than others.

A good defensive driver avoids crashes and improves safety for everyone on the road. A defensive driver is different from an aggressive driver. Instead of aggravating tensions on the road and increasing the risk of an accident, a defensive driver makes the road safer.

Below, we explain some of our favorite defensive driving tips and strategies. By implementing these tips into your daily driving habits, you can reduce your risk of an accident.

defensive driving tips

Top 10 Defensive Driving Tips

1) Stay Focused & Alert

The first defensive driving tip seems obvious, yet many drivers don’t follow it. Staying focused and alert when driving is one of the best defensive strategies to follow. Avoid using your phone. Avoid driving when tired. Pull over to rest if you feel sleepy.

Many are surprised that driving after a long night shift is nearly as bad as (often worse than) driving drunk. Tired drivers are roughly as dangerous as drunk drivers. By staying focused and alert when driving, you give yourself the best possible chance of avoiding an accident – which is your goal as a defensive driver.

Staying focused and alert is about more than just staying awake and putting away your cell phone; it’s also about eliminating distractions in the vehicle. Turn down your music, avoid taking your eyes off the road to check the backseat or chat with passengers.

2) Assume Other Drivers Are Bad Drivers

This rule is reinforced repeatedly in driving school. When you assume other drivers are bad drivers, you instantly become a more defensive driver. Some driving schools even take this tip further, recommending that drivers assume other drivers are actively trying to hit you.

However you frame it, you should assume other drivers aren’t very good. Assume other drivers will make mistakes. Many of the defensive driving tips on this list are based on this assumption.

3) Follow 3 or 4 Seconds Behind

Leave 3 or 4 seconds between you and the driver in front of you. This may be more than the recommended 3 or 4 car lengths, yet it gives you more reaction time when you need it most. You never know when the driver in front will slam on the brakes. When you leave yourself 3 or 4 seconds of space, you reduce the chances of a serious accident.

This rule works best in normal traffic and good weather conditions. In poor traffic or slippery conditions, you should increase your following time. You should also increase your following distance at night or in other conditions.

4) Reduce Speed (Within Reason)

This tip is obvious. Good defensive drivers will maintain a safe speed. Speed limits are designed for a reason: they were chosen for being the safest speed for most drivers in most conditions on that roadway.

Of course, driving slowly on a certain roadway isn’t safe. You should not drive 20mph below the speed limit on a freeway, for example, if everyone else is going 10mph above the speed limit. Keep up with traffic when safe. If you are not comfortable keeping up with traffic, then pull over.

5) Avoid Other Drivers’ Blind Spots

When you drive in another driver’s blind spot, you make it difficult for the other driver to see you. If the other driver does not check their blind spot, then the other driver will not see you before changing lanes or making a turn.

This tip goes back to the ‘assume other drivers are bad drivers’ strategy. Bad drivers don’t check blind spots. When you drive in someone’s blind spot, you’re depending on the other driver being smart – not dumb. For that reason, avoid driving in another driver’s blind spot (near the rear wheel on the front or left side of the vehicle).

6) Know How to Escape

As a defensive driver, you need to know where to go when the unexpected occurs. If the car in front brakes, or if another driver swerves into your lane, then do you know where you can turn? Do you know which lanes have cars – and which lanes are wide open?

To know where to go, you need to constantly check your surroundings. Driver safety experts recommend scanning your surroundings every 15 to 20 seconds. Take a few seconds to check your blind spots (even when not turning or changing lanes). Scan the lanes in front and to your sides.

It may not seem like a big deal – until you need to escape. If someone swerves into your lane and you need to make a split-second decision, then your brain subconsciously knows where to turn – and what to avoid.

7) Invest in Maintenance

Vehicle maintenance is a crucial part of defensive driving. You might follow all of the lessons above and think you’re a good defensive driver – only to discover your brake lights are burnt out and you and other drivers can’t see you.

When you invest in vehicle maintenance, you reduce the risk of an accident. It means your brakes work better. It means your windshield wipers clear your windshield more effectively. It means your tires grip the road, and it means other drivers can see all of your lights and turn signals. For all of these reasons and more, invest in maintenance to be a good defensive driver.

8) Scan Far Ahead

Normal drivers look at the road directly in front of the vehicle. Defensive drivers scan further ahead, looking multiple seconds up the road to see any potential hazards or issues before they occur.

Always scan ahead of your car. Don’t just stare at the bumper of the car in front of you. Look past that vehicle down the road. Check to the right or left, especially if you’re about to go around a corner. Some drivers just stare in front of the vehicle when going through a corner. Defensive drivers anticipate the turn. Remember: plenty of accidents occur because drivers were unprepared for what was around the corner.

9) Avoid Excessive Lane Changes

Excessive lane changing can easily lead to an accident. When a driver frequently switches lanes, it increases the risk of side-swiping another vehicle. Even if you’re using proper turn signals, and even if the lane appears clear, you should avoid excessive lane changes. Another driver might be driving into your lane from the other side or slipping through cars. Defensive drivers pass on the right and only change lanes when necessary.

10) Stay Calm and Avoid Road Rage

Defensive drivers stay calm on the road. They don’t let their emotions stake control. Defensive drivers don’t get road rage – no matter what happens.

Staying calm is about more than just road rage. It’s about avoiding nervousness or jitters. It’s about remaining in complete physical and cognitive control of your actions. You’re driving a 3,000-pound object at high speeds. You need to stay calm and in control to be a good defensive driver.

Final Word on Defensive Driving

Defensive driving is about more than just saving money on insurance: it’s about saving lives. Driving defensively can save your life and make the road safer for everyone. Follow the tips above to become a defensive driver today.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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