Defensive Driving: Protecting Yourself From Clueless Drivers
Things sometimes go badly wrong when a defensive driver comes across a clueless driver.
Common sense is essential for getting along well, and sharing the road, with other drivers. That’s what makes one a good driver. Unfortunately, some people have no common sense, and it seems that they prove their stupidity when they’re driving.
So what’s a good driver to do? I’ll start with an explanation of what goes wrong, with a few case examples.
Have you ever wondered what causes traffic to suddenly come to an unexpected standstill, such as with stop-and-go traffic? I’ll explain that from the point of view I have as a computer systems programmer who has written code to keep data moving fast. Yes, it applies to vehicular traffic too.
As for driving, anyone with half a brain can anticipate what can happen based on road conditions and driver attitude. I’ll discuss both of these shortly. But first:
What Causes Stop-and-Go Traffic?
In my 47 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 car in front of me hit the one in from of him, and I broke the chain.
In the other accident, just two of us were involved: Me, and the fellow who hit me.
The traffic was stop-and-go prior to both of these accidents. Many times it picked up to full speed, only to come to a halt again. This happened repeatedly during rush hour. That’s when people want to get home fast and stupid drivers think they will save time by tailgating.
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.
This 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 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 buffer is moved 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, the more room there is to keep moving even when the car way up ahead needs to slow down.
“Way up ahead!” - Clueless drivers hate that! They think they need to fill that empty pace.
Clueless drivers don’t seem to be able to apply buffering rules because they are more concerned about themselves rather than the combined success of all drivers sharing the road.
The end result makes things worse for everyone, and defensive drivers need to compensate for the attitude of others.
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 a high speed. Eventually I hope the driver switches lanes and passes me.
I’ve noticed that as 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.
How about you?
Do you slow down when someone is tailgating?
Why Tailgaters are Clueless
When I see a tailgater constantly switching lanes, they never seem to get ahead of me very far. They must be thinking they are getting where they are going faster by jumping from lane to lane because everyone they get behind is going slow. However, they don’t realize that they are the one causing the car in front to slow down.
There are many drivers who defensively avoid being involved in an accident by slowing down when someone is on their bumper. They basically are compensating for the other driver’s foolishness.
The tailgaters never understand why everyone seems to be so slow. They also don’t understand why some drivers leave a lot of space in front of them, and actually an enormous amount of space at high speeds. This is to give them time to react and stop when necessary, but I don’t need to tell 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 own attitude that’s making things worse.
The good 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 a number of people hitting me over the years, because at a slower speed they also have more time to stop when I need to stop.
Leaving that extra amount of 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.
Adjusting to Road Conditions
Unfortunately, clueless drivers don’t understand when a good driver is adjusting for road conditions. A true story of an experience I had once will suffice to make my point.
One time ago on a cold, icy, wintery day, I was driving down a rather inclined street. The road was wet and the weather was freezing that day.
I thought there might be ice on the road down near the bottom of the hill. That’s pure anticipation. Maybe based on some intelligence. Maybe 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. This was a narrow street and there was no other lane for me to go into. I had to stay in front of him.
He finally got so angry that he floored the gas and shot around me into the oncoming lane to pass me. He shot down that hill like a torpedo!
He couldn’t maneuver back into the lane since the street was icy and he slid down the left-hand lane and struck head-on into an oncoming bus.
When I eventually got down to where he and the bus had 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, 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 my 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.
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.
One of the best driving experiences is to go with the flow. It’s relaxing and easy. There’s no stress of trying to beat other cars to a destination.
I have driven hundreds of miles in 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 I can offer as a 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. And 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. Letting them get away from you can also keep you out of trouble and avoid road rage. Angry drivers will cause trouble, 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 over a period of time 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 huge accident. A pile-up. Everyone had to squeeze through on one lane. As I passed by, I recognized one of the cars. It was her!
- Go with the flow.
- Avoid road rage.
- Let idiots get as far away as possible.
- Leave room for the unexpected.
Drivers who do all that can maintain a good driving record.
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 each 10 miles. If you’re going 50 mph, you should leave five cars' 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.
I could feel the obvious while thinking about it—it takes a good 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
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.
Stupid Car Crashes Video (5 minutes)
© 2015 Glenn Stok