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How to Avoid a Car Accident (Tips for Dealing With Bad Drivers)

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

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

There are many clueless drivers on the road, and they are usually the ones who cause accidents. Luckily, you can often anticipate an accident based on observing the attitude of other drivers and taking steps to avoid being involved.

I've been driving for over 50 years, and I recently took a driver's ed class to lower my insurance. In this article, I'll tell you what I learned and explain how clueless drivers affect driving patterns, such as by creating stop-and-go traffic and slowing everyone down by tailgating.

Stop-and-Go Traffic

Stop-and-Go Traffic

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, 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, and I broke the chain. Another accident involved just two of us: me and the fellow who hit 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. Aggressive drivers who are unaware of their actions create stop-and-go conditions by tailgating.

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.

Remember to Leave a Buffer

Perhaps 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.

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

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

What to Do If Someone Is Tailgating You

Drivers can often avoid collisions in stop-and-go traffic by keeping the proper distance, but if you're dealing with an aggressive driver, that may come down to you.

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 a high speed. At this point, I just 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.

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 in traffic and an enormous amount of space when moving at high speeds. (They do so to give them time to react and stop when necessary, but you already knew 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.

Defensive Drivers Observe the Drivers Around Them

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, changing lanes or going slow can help you avoid getting rear-ended and pushed into the vehicle in front of you.

How to Change Lanes Among Aggressive Drivers

I'm sure you've experienced a time when you needed to change lanes, and you signaled, but the car in the other lane sped up so you couldn't get in. That has happened to me too often to mention.

Slow Down and Let the Driver Pass

Of course, the safe thing to do is slow down to make your lane change when another driver honors the fact that you are signaling. In other words, don't try to get in front of a driver who doesn't want to let you merge. Yes, this does slow down traffic in your lane, but you do need to (safely) change lanes before you miss your exit.

If all drivers were courteous, this problem would never occur. But by slowing down and waiting for a driver who responds to your signal, at least you avoid an accident that might happen if you tried to get in front of the idiot.

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

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

Adjust to Road Conditions Before a Clueless Driver

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.

Ice Is Especially Dangerous!

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 might be 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.

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.

Driving Is Safer While 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 staying in a single lane and pacing along with others, no matter what the speed is.

Let Idiot Drivers Get Ahead and Away From You

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!

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.

Remember These 4 Tips to Help You Drive More Safely

Drivers can maintain a safe driving record with the following effort:

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

Driving among clueless drivers that have aggressive attitudes can cause stress and lead to poor judgment.

It's best to focus on controlling your emotions in those events and not let them interfere with safe driving. When you use good judgment and common sense, your driving time will be less stressful. It might even save your life!

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