Drive Defensively

Don't trust the other driver to do what you think he is going to do, or what you would do in his place. For example, when his turn signal is flashing, don't assume that he will make a turn. Plan ahead and decide what to do if he doesn't turn as well as if he does. Don't assume that every driver will stop when there is a stop sign or a red traffic light. Some drivers deliberately "run" stop signs and traffic lights; others may be daydreaming.

You should constantly be thinking of an "escape route" as you drive. After a few weeks of practice this will become second nature. Then, if a sudden emergency arises, you will have a plan of action ready. For instance, if you see an approaching vehicle start to pass and you think he may not have room, slow down of course; but having studied the shoulder and nearby area, you will know where you can go if necessary. The same consideration applies to curves, bridges, and hills.

How Well Can You See?

If something is in your path and you need to stop, you need to see it in time to be able to stop. It takes much longer and further to stop than many people think. If you have good tires and brakes and dry pavement:

  • At 50 mph, it can take about 400 feet to react to something you see and bring your vehicle to a stop. That is about the length of a city block.
  • At 30 mph, it can take about 200 feet to stop. That is almost half a city block in length.

If you cannot see 400 feet ahead, it means you may not be driving safely at 50 mph. If you cannot see 200 feet ahead, you may not be driving safely at 30 mph. By the time you see an object in your path, it may be too late to stop without hitting it.

Here are some things that limit how well you can see and hints you can follow to be a safer driver.

Darkness

It is harder to see at night. You must be closer to an object to see it at night than during the day. You must be able to stop within the distance you can see ahead with your headlights. Your headlights will let you see about 400 feet ahead. You should drive at a speed that allows you to stop within this distance or about 50 mph.

Rain, Fog or Snow

In a very heavy rain, snowstorm or thick fog, you may not be able to see much more than 200 feet ahead. When you cannot see any farther than that, you cannot safely drive faster than 30 mph. In a very heavy downpour, you may not be able to see well enough to drive. If this happens, pull off the road in a safe place and wait until it clears.

Hills And Curves

You may not know what is on the other side of a hill or just around a curve, even if you have driven the road many times. If a vehicle is stalled on the road just over a hill or around a curve, you must be able to stop. Whenever you come to a hill or curve where you cannot see over or around, adjust your speed so you can stop if necessary.

Parked Vehicles

Vehicles parked along the side of the road may block your view. People may be ready to get out of a vehicle or walk out from between parked vehicles. Give parked vehicles as much room as you can.

Sight-Distance Rule

Drive at a speed where you can always safely stop. To tell if you are driving too fast for conditions, use the "Four Second Sight Distance Rule." Pick out a stationary object as far ahead as you can clearly see (e.g. a sign or a telephone pole). Start counting "one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand." If you reach the object before you finish saying "four-one-thousand," you need to slow down. You are going too fast for your sight distance. You must not drive faster than the distance you can see. If you do, you are not safe and could injure or kill yourself or others.

You should also use the "Four Second Sight Distance Rule" at night to make sure you are not "over-driving your headlights."

Speed Limits

You must comply with speed limits. They are based on the design of the road, and the type of vehicles that use them. They take into account things you cannot see, such as side roads and driveways where people may pull out suddenly, and the amount of traffic that uses the road.

Remember, speed limits are posted for ideal conditions. If the road is wet or icy, if you cannot see well, or if traffic is heavy, then you must slow down. Even if you are driving under the posted speed limit, you can get a ticket for traveling too fast under these conditions.