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How to Drive Defensively to Avoid Crashes With Clueless Drivers


Glenn Stok observes and examines methods that improve life with better ways of doing things, and writes about what's meaningful to others.

Sometimes defensive driving doesn't go well with clueless drivers.

Sometimes defensive driving doesn't go well with clueless drivers.

Common sense is essential for getting along well with other drivers. Unfortunately, defensive driving doesn't always go well with clueless drivers. If they have no common sense, they actually get angry with those who drive defensively.

So what’s a good driver to do?

Anyone with half a brain can anticipate what can happen based on road conditions and driver attitude. I’ll discuss both of these situations and explain what goes wrong with a few examples.

What Causes Stop-and-Go Traffic?

Have you ever wondered what causes traffic to suddenly come to an unexpected standstill, such as with stop-and-go traffic?

I am a computer systems programmer, and it’s common for me to write code that keeps data moving fast. That same logic can be applied to vehicular traffic, too, as I’ll explain.

In 50 years of driving, I was involved in two highway accidents. In both cases, I was rear-ended when traffic suddenly came to an abrupt halt.

In one of those two accidents, three cars behind me rear-ended each other, the vehicle in front of me hit the one in from of him, but I broke the chain.

In the other accident, just two of us were involved. The fellow who hit me, and me.

The traffic was stop-and-go before both of these accidents occurred. Many times it picked up to full speed, only to come to a halt again. That repeatedly happened during rush hour. That’s when people want to get home fast, and stupid drivers think they will save time by tailgating.

Stop and Go Traffic

Stop and Go Traffic

Why Tailgating Slows Down Traffic

What clueless drivers don’t realize is that the closer they get to the car in front of them at higher speeds, the slower everyone goes. This slowing down causes the fools to get even closer until they have no choice but to slam on their brakes.

That process builds on itself until everyone is too close to the car in front of them. And everyone suddenly needs to brake—hard.

I guess only computer programmers understand the advantage of keeping a proper distance between cars. It’s called buffering.

In the computer data processing world, we control the flow of data by creating buffers. Data fill a buffer, and under a controlled condition, the data moves to its destination. This method avoids bottlenecks and delays. And it keeps the entire data stream flowing consistently.

A buffer on the road is simply the space we leave between cars. The more buffer space we leave between each other, the more room there is to keep moving even when the vehicle way up ahead needs to slow down.

It's helpful to consider what can happen way up ahead! But clueless drivers hate that! They think they need to fill any empty space.

Clueless drivers don’t seem to be able to apply buffering rules because they are more concerned about themselves than the combined success of all drivers sharing the road.

The result makes things worse for everyone, and defensive drivers need to compensate for the clueless attitude.

Anticipation of an Accident Based on Driver Attitude

Good drivers adjust for the behavior of bad ones.

Anticipation is a huge part of being a sensible driver. Accidents can be avoided in stop-and-go traffic. Or, at least one can avoid hitting the car in front. Clueless drivers behind you might still cause trouble.

When I drive on the highway and someone tailgates, my first option is to move into a slower lane. However, if I’m already in the rightmost lane, the only thing left to do is slow down.

I’d rather be rear-ended at a slow speed than at high speed. I hope the driver eventually switches lanes and passes me.

I’ve noticed when tailgaters jump from lane to lane, the other car they get behind slows down! I guess I’m not the only one who thinks that way.

What to do when seeing a tailgater in the rearview mirror.

What to do when seeing a tailgater in the rearview mirror.

Why Tailgaters Are Clueless

When I see a tailgater continually switching lanes, they never seem to get ahead of me very far. They must be thinking they are getting ahead faster by jumping from lane to lane because everyone they get behind is going slow. However, they don’t realize that they are the ones causing the car in front to slow down.

Many drivers defensively avoid being involved in an accident by slowing down when someone is on their bumper. They are compensating for the other driver’s foolishness.

The tailgaters never understand why everyone seems to be so slow. They also don’t know why some drivers leave a lot of space in front of them, and an enormous amount of space at high speeds. That is to give them time to react and stop when necessary, but you that.

Tailgaters don’t use common sense. They don’t think about how long it takes to stop the weight of their car.

So, when a foolish driver encounters an intelligent driver who thinks ahead, they only cause trouble for themselves, and they don’t realize it’s their attitude that’s making things worse.

The defensive drivers are literally adjusting for the behavior of the bad ones around them because they anticipate that a collision is possible and needs to be avoided.

If I need to stop quickly due to what’s happening up ahead, I don’t want the vehicle behind me hitting me at high speed, so I either change lanes or slow down. I have avoided many people running into me over the years because, at a slower speed, they also have more time to stop when I need to stop suddenly.

Leaving that extra space eliminates the need to go slow. Clueless drivers don’t get that! Nevertheless, it avoids getting rear-ended and pushed into a vehicle in front of you.

Driving in bad weather conditions requires anticipation of hazardous road conditions.

Driving in bad weather conditions requires anticipation of hazardous road conditions.

Adjusting to Road Conditions

Clueless drivers don’t understand when another driver is merely adjusting for hazardous road conditions. To make my point, here's an experience I had.

Once on a cold, wintry day, I was driving down an inclined street. The road was wet with freezing conditions.

I thought there might be ice on the road near the bottom of the hill. That’s pure anticipation. It is maybe based on intelligence. Perhaps based on my knowledge that water tends to find the lowest level. Maybe also knowing that water freezes when the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Anyway, due to my anticipation, I took it real easy going down that hill. The fellow behind me was getting very upset. He came right up on my bumper. I had no choice but to go even slower. That was a narrow street, and there was no other lane for me to go into, so I couldn't get out of his way.

He finally got so angry that he shot around me and floored the gas into the oncoming lane to pass me. He shot down that hill like a torpedo!

He then discovered he couldn’t maneuver back into the lane since the street was icy, and he slid down the left side of the road, striking head-on into an oncoming bus.

When I got to where he and the bus collided, the bus driver was already standing in the street, but the idiot driver was still behind the wheel. He never got out. I think he must have slammed his knees into the dash on impact and couldn’t move.

Since I was not involved in the accident, I just kept going. Besides, if I had tried to stop, I might have lost control on the ice and skid off the road. I knew that since I was moving at a constant speed, I’d maintain control as long as I didn’t lock the wheels.

I had controlled momentum going slowly down that hill, and I wasn’t going to screw it up by touching my brakes. You understand this, but clueless drivers don’t get it.

Clueless drivers slam on their brakes when they lose control on ice. They don’t realize that the car just goes into an uncontrolled skid.

Driving Defensively by Going With the Flow

One of the best driving experiences is to go with the flow. It’s relaxing and pleasant. There’s no stress of trying to beat other cars to a destination.

I have driven hundreds of miles on a single trip several times in my life, and I avoid fatigue by just staying in a single lane and pacing along with others, no matter what the speed is.

There will always be those times when a stupid driver comes near you. The best solution is to move over to the right lane if you have a tailgater. If they are tailgating a car next to you, maybe they want to cut in front of you. Let them. Then let them get as far ahead and as far away from you as possible. Don’t take things personally. It’s not worth it.

You never know what state of mind these other drivers are in, and letting them get away from you can help keep you out of trouble. Angry drivers will cause problems, not only for you but for themselves too.

I remember once I had a maniac in the lane next to me. She cut behind me, but I couldn’t change lanes since everyone was tailgating, and there was no safe way to switch lanes.

She quickly jumped back into the other lane, as if that would be better. Eventually, she was towards my right front, tailgating the car in front of her. I suspected that she was trying to cut in front of me, so I slowed down to give her room. She did, and without signaling. She continued to play that game until she was so far ahead she was out of sight.

Suddenly all the traffic stopped dead. It took a while for me to move along, and eventually, I saw what had happened. There was a massive accident. Everyone had to squeeze through on one lane. As I passed by, I recognized one of the cars. It was her!


  1. Go with the flow.
  2. Avoid road rage.
  3. Let idiots get as far away as possible.
  4. Leave room for the unexpected.

Drivers who do all that can maintain a safe driving record.

A safe distance requires one car length per 10 mph, or a 3-second following distance.

A safe distance requires one car length per 10 mph, or a 3-second following distance.

How Much Distance Should You Keep in Front of You?

When I took driving lessons way back when I was 18, I remember my instructor telling me to leave one car length for every 10 miles. That means if you’re going 50 mph, you should leave five car lengths.

Since then, I read something new. It was a suggestion from the AARP, saying you should remain three seconds or more behind the car you are following.

I tested that by counting out three seconds while driving, and noticing that as long as I kept more than one car length per 10 mph speed, my car got to the same spot where the car in front had been when I started counting.

It's obvious when you think about it. It takes at least three seconds to react and stop the car. Try it. Think it through in your head. Try the experiment I just described. It’s interesting.

Stupid Driving Behavior (5-Minute Video)

You’ll notice that most of these accidents in the following video could have been avoided with common sense.

The drivers causing many of the accidents in this video were simply driving too close. They raced right into danger and made things worse, unfortunately involving other drivers.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Glenn Stok


Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on February 01, 2016:

paperfacets - Very interesting. You brought up a very useful point to consider. These same people who drive that way may very well do the same stupid actions throughout other aspects of their lives. No matter what it is, they are non-thinkers. Or they don't have the ability to think logically. It is always totally illogical to get in front of a non-moving line, rather than noticing that standing farther back in a moving line can get them through quicker.

Sherry Venegas from La Verne, CA on February 01, 2016:

I live in LA County where driving is a top most survival tactic. Maintaining space between others is my goal when driving. Why is it men who like to constantly change lanes and race to the next mini traffic jam and need to be in front of the car in front?

This may sound crazy but it is because of their need to touch. Those very same people probably did not keep to themselves in the gym line or lunch line. They got their needs met because some thought them funny, or shoved back, all in playful ear slaps or butt whacks.

Please take note I am not talking about men drivers in general just those very heavy on the brakes and that cut in and out.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 20, 2015:

MsDora - That defensive driving course should also get you a discount on your insurance. Thanks for stopping by.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 19, 2015:

Poor clueless woman driver! Your article brought back memories from a defensive driving course I was forced to take (or pay the ticket). You laid it out here very wisely and clearly. Thanks for the lesson!

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 19, 2015:

Thank you to everyone for your positive comments about driving defensively. It's nice to see so many safe drivers here.

Old Poolman on November 19, 2015:

Well written and some great advice Glenn. I live in a popular retirement location and we have many drivers who should really not be on the road any longer. The mix of very elderly drivers with the young cowboy drivers can make for some exciting times.

I worked many years for a public utility that actually required employees who drove company vehicles to have a company drivers license. This company license also regulated the size and type of vehicles one was allowed to drive. As I recall, this license had to be renewed every three years with classroom training and a driving test. I learned a great deal about driving from this company, and have never had an accident in over 60 years of driving.

At the time the majority of accidents involving company vehicles were backing accidents. The joke was that if you were ever involved in a backing accident they would remove the reverse gear from your vehicle.

Gordon Wright on November 19, 2015:

We can mimimize the consequences of others' stupidity, but we can't eliminate them entirely.

It's best not to drive more than you have to. Telecommute when you can. (I won't lecture about public transportation because I know its limitations.)

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 19, 2015:

I can relate to this Glenn. Have only been rear-ended once and that was going through a roundabout, but often have impatient tailgaters. Like you I go slower when that happens. Never driven on icy roads or snow though, that must take extra care. Good hub, thanks for sharing.

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on November 18, 2015:

Yes- lots to think about and a lot of stupid drivers are out there. One does not need to look long to find them. I worry about being rear-ended all the time, as I imagine you do!!!!! Well done.

RTalloni on November 18, 2015:

Good things to think through anytime, but especially when seasons change the road conditions.

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