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Defensive Driving 101

Serving Families Throughout Jacksonville
Looking in mirror in car

Defensive driving involves training that goes beyond mastery of the rules of the road and basic driving mechanics—its purpose is to reduce the risk of collision by anticipating dangerous situations, despite adverse conditions or the mistakes of others.

Are you a good defensive driver? Review the simple principles below to brush up on the basics.

Distracted Driving Is The Opposite Of Defensive Driving

Being alert, focused on the task at hand, and distraction free is the cornerstone of defensive driving. If you’re using a smartphone, eating behind the wheel, or fussing with children in the backseat, it’s impossible to practice good defensive driving. If you find yourself reaching for your smartphone or spending too much time adjusting built-in GPS or infotainment systems, put these devices away, switch to voice-assist mode, or unplug them for a while until you learn to stay focused on the sole task of attentive driving.

Control Your Speed to Avoid Common Pitfalls

Modern cars have more horsepower than most drivers need to get safely from point A to point B on time. Exceeding the speed limit isn’t just at odds with defensive driving, it’s actually a form of aggressive driving. Moreover, excessive speeds increase the likelihood of other dangerous behaviors such as tailgating (i.e., driving behind another vehicle while not leaving sufficient distance to stop without causing a collision if the vehicle in front stops suddenly) and passing in all lanes (not just the left passing lane). By respecting posted speed limits, your fuel economy will be better, you’ll inflict less wear on your brakes and tires, and you’ll be one step closer to being a good defensive driver.

Safety Technology Is No Substitute For Your Own Eyes

Driving is a demanding visual task. And in every modern car there are three mirrors—use them! Good defensive drivers are always focused on the road ahead, but mirrors provide important visual data about the road conditions around you. Where did that semitruck go? What about the guy on the motorcycle? Use your eyes to scan mirrors obsessively—even if your new ride comes with driver-assist features like adaptive cruise control or blind-spot warnings. These technologies are certainly useful, but they’re no substitute for your undivided attention.

Drive Like You Don't Have Cup Holders

Defensive drivers drive smooth and steady—so smooth, in fact, that good defensive drivers can put a small bowl of water on their dashboard and not have it spill! You can do this by finessing your ride: don’t punch it when the light turns green, and don’t slam on your brakes (if you don’t speed and maintain a safe following distance from the car in front of you, you should never have to). Accelerate and decelerate in a smooth, linear fashion to minimize steering inputs. And try to keep both hands on the wheel as much as possible. If you’re completely focused, you should be able to plan any maneuver safely in advance. Remember the tortoise and the hare? Smooth and steady wins the race.


Mastering defensive driving takes practice, and it’s especially important for young drivers to learn. Inexperience, coupled with risk-taking behavior, means a heightened crash risk for teens.

Share these defensive driving tips with the young drivers in your life and model these behaviors every time you get behind the wheel.