You may be a safe, smart driver who doesn’t take unnecessary risks. What about the other drivers on the road? Although you can’t control the behavior of other drivers, you can use defensive driving techniques to stay safe regardless of what happens around you. Defensive driving means staying prepared, alert, and aware of the road conditions directly ahead of you as well as a few hundred feet down the road. When you drive defensively, you will take precautions based on the likelihood of an upcoming accident or other potential dangers. You will also be careful to avoid distracted driving behaviors that can endanger you and others around you. Here is an overview of the basic aspects of defensive driving.

Be Prepared

Preparedness begins before you even get into your car. Have an emergency kit in your trunk with medical supplies, a jack, basic snacks and water. In winter, you should also carry a blanket and extra clothes. Check the pressure of your tires and the oil, gas, and water levels in your vehicle to make sure that the car is in safe driving condition. When you enter the car, check the positions of the mirrors and make certain that the lights are working.

Once you are on the road, stay alert to what is happening around you. As you travel, make a note of safe areas where you can escape a potential accident if needed, such as a clear lane or a drivable area of the shoulder. If you spot dangerous behaviors in a driver near you, take action to remove yourself from that driver’s immediate vicinity. For drivers up ahead who seem likely to cause an accident, keep your distance by slowing down or changing lanes to avoid danger.

Stay Calm

Road rage is a serious danger to all drivers. Even if you are normally a calm and reasonable person, it can be tempting to allow yourself to indulge in road rage behaviors when subjected to another person’s bad driving. If other drivers are behaving badly, simply create space between yourself and that driver. Don’t give in to the temptation to react with anger or try to teach the person a lesson. Emotional reactions will negatively affect your driving, and the end result could be an accident or a traffic ticket.

3-Second Rule: Create Space

The simplest way to create a safe space when driving at high speeds is to use the 3-second rule. In other words, allow three full seconds to pass between the time that the car in front of you reaches a landmark and the time that your own car reaches it. In bad weather conditions such as rain or heavy wind, increase this time to 4 seconds. If the road is icy, 10 seconds is the best policy. Using the 3-second rule for most driving situations, and giving plenty of space to any driver with erratic behavior or existing car damage, is the best way to stay safe on the road. Never tailgate other drivers, which is likely to result in an accident and can get you into legal trouble as well.

Be Seen — Stay in Sight

Even respectful drivers may cause an accident if they cannot clearly see another car. When your car is highly visible, you will be safer on the road. According to some statistics, most drivers do not see 9 out of 10 other cars on the road around them. You can increase the likelihood of being seen by using your headlights appropriately, such as on rainy or overcast days. If you are driving at night with your brights on, make sure to dim them for oncoming cars in order to avoid blinding the other driver. Keeping plenty of space between you and other drivers is another good way to stay visible. If you are traveling in another driver’s blind spot, he or she may collide with your car while merging into another lane or making a turn. Keep in mind that large vehicles such as trucks, buses, and tractor-trailers have an extremely large blind spot, so avoid traveling behind or right next to these vehicles when possible.

Avoid Hazards: Accidents and Driving Impairments

It may seem obvious that alcohol or drug use will impair your ability to drive a car safely and may cause accidents. There are many other types of impairments and distractions that can also cause car accidents. Many people do not realize that over the counter medications or prescription drugs can cause drowsiness or reduced alertness, leading to dangerous driving. Distracted driving is also a serious problem. This can include any activity that takes your attention away from the road, including things like texting, eating, putting on makeup, or fiddling with a CD or mp3 player. If you have passengers in your car, do not allow them to create disturbances that make it difficult for you to pay attention to the road. If you pass an accident or stalled vehicle on the road, focus on the road ahead rather than craning to see the details of what has occurred.