Driving is serious business, or at least it should be. Every year here in the United States, 41,000 lives are lost in traffic accidents. Another 3,236,000 injuries are suffered by motorists and those with whom they collide.

Two of the primary causes of highway fatalities are impairment — 38 percent — and excessive speed — 30 percent.

Some of these deadly collisions could potentially have been prevented had the drivers known how to drive defensively.

What does that even mean?

Almost every adult has likely heard the term “defensive driving.” But what does that term really mean? According to the website SafeMotorist.com, defensive driving “utilizes safe driving strategies to enable motorists to address identified hazards in a predictable manner.”

The good news is that drivers can take classes and learn how to develop and enhance their defensive driving skills. They can learn how to anticipate and identify driving hazards in order to avoid them and make safer driving decisions. In order to drive defensively, motorists consider such factors as road and weather conditions, among others.

What are the benefits of defensive driving?

Some states have defensive driving classes set up to reduce the number of negative “points” that restrict motorists’ drivers’ licenses after they rack up tickets for speeding or other traffic violations. This can also lead to a drop in the insurance rates of drivers who complete these courses.

But even when that is not the case, learning how to be a defensive driver can save lives, both the drivers’ own and any passengers they carry, as well as the lives of others on the roads with them. That can be a benefit of incalculable value.

How are these classes conducted?

Defensive driving classes typically last for several hours and may be done in a single daylong session, a couple of half-sessions or in a series of hourly increments. Courses can be held online or in classroom settings and may include:

  • Statistics about traffic collisions
  • Common causes of accidents
  • The actual cost of traffic fatalities and injuries
  • Psychological factors which can cause or contribute to dangerous driving
  • Which population demographics have higher accident risk rates
  • Crash dynamics

Do I need to take a class?

Sometimes a motorist is under an order from the court to attend defensive driving classes. This typically might happen after an accident occurs that was deemed to be the motorist’s fault. Even when that is not the case, many drivers can benefit from this additional tool to remain safer on the roads and highways.

Both young drivers and senior citizens can benefit from honing and/or refreshing their defensive driving skills. For instance, defensive driving classes can teach motorists techniques to employ that can help them avoid collisions. Some may include:

  • Using the two-second rule when following the car ahead
  • Scanning the highway and adapting driving to road and weather conditions
  • Understanding the stopping distances for your own vehicle, as well as for other vehicles, e.g., large commercial trucks
  • Realizing how long it typically will take you to react appropriately to a highway crisis
  • Learning to share the road safely with other motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians
  • Reviewing traffic and safety laws
  • Understanding the distance needed to safely pass other vehicles

It’s important to understand that defensive driving classes cannot always protect you from another driver’s dangerous behaviors behind the wheel. If you are injured in a collision, you may need to take legal action to hold the at-fault driver liable for your damages.