Defensive Driver

I love my little Nissan Versa. I bought it in 2015 with only 31,000 miles on it. It’s been a pleasure to drive, a pleasure to park, and a pleasure to look at. I’m a satisfied customer. The only thing I don’t like is the expensive insurance. Even when I moved into a safer place with private off-street parking, GEICO wouldn’t lower my rates.

After searching around for a better deal and not finding one, I discovered an online defensive driving course that would lower my annual premium by $100. It cost $19.95 to take the course. I signed up, passed, and got the discount. I’m happy with GEICO now, and I’m a defensive driver now, with a certificate to prove it.

In the course, defensive driving is defined as “driving to save lives, time and money, in spite of the conditions around you, and the actions of others.

Some sobering facts:

-Violations are the cause of most collisions, and result in 38,000 deaths yearly.

-54% of those killed while driving were not wearing a seatbelt.

-Speeding reduces control of steering, and increases stopping distance and the severity of a collision.

The major takeaways for me:

Never allow other drivers to determine how you drive, or react to the behavior of other drivers. This is a big one for me. I get upset when people pass me on the right, tailgate, or weave in and out of the lanes at high speed. And sometimes I speed up just to keep them from passing, or slow down to keep them from tailgating. Not smart. Not defensive.

I was surprised to learn that stress is the root of aggressive driving. I’m checking to make sure I stay relaxed when I’m behind the wheel, no matter what other drivers do.

Keep a 3 second following distance at all times. I like keeping space between me and the vehicle in front of me, and when other drivers pull into it, I just adjust the space again.

Head-on collisions are usually the most destructive, and are often caused by driving too close to the center line. I’m being careful now to stay closer to the right line and keep my eye on oncoming traffic.

Distracted driving is a real thing and most of us are guilty of it (phone, food, fatigue, and failure to pay attention to the road). I’m not allowing myself to check that message like I used to. The average time is 4 seconds for a distraction, and a lot can happen when you take your eyes off the road for that long.

Check the rear and side mirrors once every 4 or 5 seconds. Know what’s going on around you at all times.

The new suggested side view mirror adjustment is safer and reduces the blind spot. To adjust the left side mirror correctly, lean left while strapped into your seat until your head touches the rolled up window. Adjust the mirror until the side of your vehicle is no longer visible. Same with the right mirror: lean as far right as possible with the seatbelt on and adjust mirror until the side of the vehicle disappears.

At first the cars in the side mirrors looked HUGE, and it was a bit of an adjustment to get used to that. Now, after a few weeks, I can’t remember anything else 🙂

WHAT IF? This was one of the best teaching points for me: Imagine what might happen and be prepared for a quick response. For example, on a neighborhood street where lots of kids are playing, what if a ball rolls out suddenly from between the parked cars? Would I be ready to stop in time? Or driving down a two lane country road, if the driver of an oncoming vehicle looks down to check his phone and crosses the center line, where would I go? Am I ready?

I still have a few things to check out: my airbag for example. I’m not a tall woman, and the steering wheel even at its lowest position is directed more toward my face than my chest when I’m seated and strapped in. Airbags are an important safety feature, but they also need to be understood and used correctly or they can be dangerous. I’m going to the Nissan dealership this week to check out my airbag placement.

I also have to change my rear right brake light. I’m going to do it by myself (thanks to excellent youtube tutorials!) and save myself the crazy high labor charges.

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