Essential Defensive Driving Skills

Operating a motor vehicle does take skill and knowledge of local, state and federal traffic laws. Defensive driving skills are taught to every new driver and there are defensive driving courses that anyone can take, at any time in order to refresh their memory and tighten up their driving skills. Throughout this article we will take a look at some essential driving skills that are needed in order to drive safely on the roadway. 



Maintaining focus on the road and the surrounding areas around you as you drive is by far the most important driving skill. Scanning the road ahead of you and utilizing your vehicle’s mirrors to see on the sides of the vehicle is something that should be done often while driving. By scanning the road ahead of you often, you are aware of any road hazards that may be up ahead. Scanning the sides of your vehicle will let you know if there are any hazards, such as a vehicle attempting to merge into your lane. 

Distracted driving is a major problem among drivers and when a driver is distracted, they are not maintaining focus on the road. Never drive while using a cellphone to text or make a phone call unless you have a hands free device. Limit messing with the vehicle’s interior buttons, such as the radio and if you are interacting with passengers, talk to them without taking your eyes off of the road. 


Always Be Prepared

You always want to remain cautious while driving. Situations such as hazardous weather, road construction and even the time of day can all impact how a driver drives. When you drive aware and prepared you are always in control and are ready to handle any circumstance that comes at you. 

A good rule of thumb is to always be predictable when driving. Never make sudden movements when driving. If you must change lanes, put on your turning signal in advance to let other drivers know your intentions. By limiting erratic and sudden behaviors while driving, you and others on the road will be safe. 


Hazardous Weather Conditions

Understanding how to drive safely in various hazardous weather conditions are key defensive driving skills. 


If you find yourself driving during a rainstorm or constant rain, the road will be wet and water will collect on the roadway. This means that vehicles could easily hydroplane. Hydroplaning is when a vehicle’s tires lose traction with the road and begin hovering on top of a thin layer of water. When this happens, the vehicle is very hard to control. If you find yourself hydroplaning you follow these steps:

  1. Immediately let off of the gas pedal. Do NOT hit the brake pedal. Allow the vehicle to start slowing down naturally. 
  2. While the vehicle is slowing down naturally, place both hands firmly on the steering wheel and make sure to keep the vehicle going in the direction it wants to pull in. Do NOT try to over correct the vehicle to go in another direction. 
  3. Once the vehicle slows down enough you will find that the tires will regain traction with the road and you can resume driving. Just remember to keep your speed at a minimum to avoid hydroplaning again. 


If you find yourself driving on roads that are covered with snow and ice, the best course of action is to slow down, way down. It’s better to drive slow and arrive at your destination safely, rather than drive fast and get into an accident.  

In high winds, you should always keep both hands on the steering wheel and maintain absolute control of the vehicle. A strong wind gust has the power to move the car from left to right quickly. 


Road Emergencies

Road emergencies happen and they can be very scary if you don’t understand how to handle them. Let’s take a look at some common road emergencies that a driver may encounter. 


Blown Out Tire

If you are driving and one of your tires blows out, don’t panic. Immediately take your foot off of the gas pedal, place both hands on the steering wheel and as the vehicle slows down, keep it straight in the direction that it wants to pull you. Never hit the breaks because this could cause the vehicle to spin, roll or lose control. Once the vehicle has slowed down, safely move over to the side of the road, put the vehicle in park and get out safely to assess the damage. 


Brake Failure

Losing the ability to brake while driving is not a common occurrence, but it can happen and it can be incredibly scary. If you find that you have lost the ability to use your brakes, do the following:

Stay calm, take your foot off of the gas pedal, take a deep breath and start looking at your surroundings. Try to find a clear path to navigate your vehicle towards as it slows down to a stop. 

Try pumping your brakes, faster and faster. Modern vehicles may regain their brakes after they are pumped hard and fast a few times. 


If you have the ability to downshift the vehicle, do so as the car slows naturally. 

You can apply the parking brake, but you must understand that you have to apply it slowly. Just pulling or stepping on the emergency brake could easily cause the vehicle to spin out of control. Apply it slowly and be prepared to release it if you find you are losing traction. 


As you find a safe escape route to let the vehicle slow and come to a stop, put on your hazard lights and you can even hit your horn to let other vehicle’s know that you are in an emergency situation. 


Once the vehicle has stopped, keep your hazard lights on and call for help. 


While these are not all of the essential defensive driving skills needed to be a great driver, they are at the core of safe defensive driving!