When you spend hours of each workday on the road, you get to know the drivers in your area. Not personally, of course, but their styles and patterns. You know the cruise-controllers and the bully-speeders.
The all-week Sunday drivers and the trucks just trying to roll through. You learn to flow through the obstacles and around the nut jobs like water, whether you yourself are rushing to make an appointment on time or chilling in the steady lane because your schedule is on-point.
But the one thing every fleet driver needs to have top-of-mind is defensive driving. There are crazy, aggressive, and unsafe drivers on the road at all times.
Knowing how to handle them like a pro is your best bet to both keeping your vehicle and passengers safe and making it to your appointments on time without hassle. So let's take a look at some pro defensive driving tips learned from years on the roads.
A Policy of Friendly Distrust
You know to stay alert and aware of your surroundings. But assumptions while alert can be just as dangerous.
Defensive driving is all about distrusting the other drivers. Not in a hostile way, just with the knowledge that you can't count on them to know what they're doing or to follow the rules of the road.
They may not signal, they may brake suddenly, they may try to pass you on the right or swerve dangerously from lane to lane. They may also need your help in getting where they're going if they do signal or have to dodge someone else who is dangerous.
So the first aspect of defensive driving is an attitude of friendly distrust. You never really know what a vehicle is going to do until they do it.
Getting Tailgated? Engage Cruise Control
The single most annoying and common hazard on the road is tailgating. You know that tailgating is dangerous and results in fender-benders or worse.
But people in a hurry who like to bully will pull right up on your bumper, maybe even flash their brights. Even if you can't physically go faster than the car in front of you.
The answer? Cruise control. Find your speed, hit that cruise control and don't let tailgaters influence your instincts or your foot. Make them wait.
If appropriate, start signaling that you'll move back into the right lane a few seconds before you do, then give the appropriate time and distance so as not to cut off the car you just passed.
Try to avoid the temptation to tap your brakes to teach tailgaters a lesson in polite spacing. We know. Tempting. But you don't need to deal with a fender-bender today.
Keep Your Distance From Anyone Driving Erratically
Defensive driving is all about trying to accurately predict the behaviors of vehicles around you. Trucks will go truck speed, speeders will zoom by.
But if you see someone whose speed is varying wildly, who is swaying in their lane, or who is changing lanes or driving erratically; avoid them.
Keep your distance if you are behind them and pass quickly if you must pass them. Try to have at least one car between you and the erratic driver. They are not in their right mind and there's no telling what that car will do next.
Check Your Mirrors - Know When Someone's Speeding Up Fast
One of the most dangerous situations is if someone zooms into your blind spot right before you are about to change lanes. Always double and triple check your mirrors and blind spot just in case.
And keep an eye on your rear view to know if someone is speeding up on you quickly. Or has changed lanes from two lanes over into your target spot.
When you're in a tight merging situation, use the zipper rule. When it's your 'turn', let one car from the merging line in, then move forward.
If there's a line of merging cars, leave a polite space large enough to let someone know that if they choose that space and signal, they can have it.
And if you see someone practically trapped and signaling, be the nice person to let them in. Polite merging is an important skill for any experienced professional who works on the road. Remember, what's one car length in backed-up traffic anyway?
[Continued in part 2