10 tips for defensive driving

November 2, 2022 by PEMCO Insurance

GettyImages-999354494.jpgIf “defensive driving” conjures up images of  high-skill evasive maneuvers, we’ve got great news for you! It’s much, much simpler than that. Anyone, regardless of driving experience, can improve their safety on the road and cut their risk of falling victim to road rage. 

These 10 defensive-driving tips are an easy place to start. Plus, you can save up to 20% off your PEMCO auto policy when you sign up for temporary safe-driving monitoring with PEMCODOMETER™ My Driving Discount. 

What is defensive driving?

Defensive drivers are attentive, proactive and committed to the idea that “driving is a team sport.” Rather than simply avoiding accidents, they take common-sense steps to make driving safer.   

Defensive drivers faithfully follow the rules of the road – everything from obeying speed limits to signaling – and they adjust for drivers who don’t. They stay engaged throughout the drive and don’t give in to distractions or “zoning out” on familiar routes.  

Top 10 defensive driving tips

Customers tell us defensive driving feels empowering, because they focus on controlling their own behavior rather than getting frustrated with fellow motorists. Here’s how you can get that take-charge feeling, too: 

  1. Plan extra time for every trip. Rushing to make up for a late start or getting stuck in traffic tempts drivers to push the speed limit and “beat the light.” Starting a few minutes early eliminates stress. Finding that just-right amount of extra time may take trial and error. Commute times in the post-pandemic world still can be tough to predict with many workers adopting a hybrid workstyle.   

  2. Tune in to your environment. Wet streets, dark conditions or construction zones require an extra level of attentiveness and driver adjustments. At minimum, that means adding following distance to improve your ability to react and stop. The old three-second rule between cars (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand) often isn’t enough. 

  3. Plan escape routes. Most of us travel the same roads over and over. Play “What if?” on your next drive: 

  • “How would I avoid a collision if a driver suddenly cut in front of me here?” 

  • “If I started having mechanical trouble, where would be safe places to pull off?” 

  • “Is my usual entrance/exit prone to backups and difficult merges? Could I take safer route?” 

You may decide to stick to the right lane as much as possible so you could use the shoulder as an escape route. Visualizing how you’d react in an emergency improves your chances of avoiding a collision. 

  1. Unplug from distractions. Both Washington and Oregon have e-DUI laws, but electronics aren’t the only distractors that cause trouble on the road. Eating, shaving and laughing it up with friends all reduce your ability to control your car and react to other drivers’ mistakes. One often-overlooked distractor? Extreme emotional states. If you’re angry or crying, park until you regain your composure.

  2. Avoid a fixed gaze. Staring straight ahead limits your ability to detect pedestrians and drivers who may be entering your lane. Also, frequently checking rearview and side mirrors keeps you aware of vehicles approaching from behind. 

  3. Give large trucks ample space. Truckers are among the safest drivers on the road, but shepherding a big rig has challenges that passenger-car drivers often don’t understand. If you can’t see the truck driver’s face in their side mirrors, they can’t see you. Pass trucks only on the left and don’t slow down once you merge back in front of them. Also, don’t pull alongside a truck that’s turning right. They often need to swing into the left lane to accommodate their trailer during the turn.  

  4. Brake gradually. When you brake, you don’t just slow or stop your own car. You alert the drivers behind you that they need to slow down, too. By braking early, you give them added time to react to your brake lights and avoid a rear-end collision. Hard braking is one of the driving behaviors (along with hard acceleration, hard turns, speeding and phone distraction) that PEMCODOMETER identifies as a potential concern.   

  5. Use high beams effectively. Drivers use their high beams less than half as often as they should on dark rural roads, according to a joint study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the University of Michigan. High beams double drivers’ ability to see objects ahead of them, giving about 400 feet of visibility compared with around 200 feet for low beams. You can use your high beams any time there are no oncoming vehicles and when you’re more than 300 feet behind another car. Headlight effectiveness correlates so strongly with accident reduction that IIHS has recently prioritized good lighting as a requirement for vehicles to earn its top safety designations

  6. Obey all traffic laws. At first, this sounds obvious. But laws vary state-by-state, road configurations change (installation of roundabouts, for example) and sometimes, we weren’t taught a particular rule. Yielding right of way, proper turns and legal lane travel rank among the top “Road Rules” questions we get. Our Road Rules 101 collection is a great place to brush up: 

  7. Avoid road-rage triggers. In a 2019 PEMCO Poll, drivers noted more aggressive acts on the highway than they did in a similar poll in 2015. Not only that, but they admitted to more aggressive acts themselves, with Millennials topping the list, saying they made an average of 3.3 risky maneuvers a month. While we don’t know what’s sparking the uptick in short-fused drivers, we do know that avoiding certain behaviors can help take the road-rage bullseye off your back. Top triggers include driving slowly in the left lane, tailgating, honking (other than to avoid a collision), cutting off other drivers and blocking the intersection after a light changes. And if a rager focuses on you, the key is de-escalation – forgive, rather than retaliate – and secure your safety with these steps.  


How can I save money with my defensive driving skills? 


Defensive driving is its own reward, reducing stress and your risk of an accident. But it can pay off in cash, too! 

Safe driving can help you cut your auto policy premium by up to 20% with PEMCODOMETER™ My Driving Discount. Talk to your local agent or reach out online or call 1-800-GO-PEMCO to sign up for 91 days of safe-driver monitoring. Any driver on your policy can participate. All they’ll need is a account (using their own email address) and our Go PEMCO app on their smartphone. 

Also, drivers age 55 or older can take a certified defensive-driving course to qualify for a discount



Improve your night-driving safety | PEMCO 

Winter driving myths debunked | PEMCO 

Prevent parking lot accidents | PEMCO

Following distance – you’re likely doing it wrong | PEMCO 

e-DUI laws are working | PEMCO 

Maintain a safe distance around trucks | PEMCO 

Road Rules 101 collection | PEMCO 

Could you be saving more on auto?

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