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Just about every experienced driver has had them . . . a near miss with another vehicle that was a little too close for comfort. A momentary lapse in concentration (whether it’s yours or the other guy’s), the trumpeting of horns, the screeching of tires and two vehicles coming within inches of each other. It leaves our hearts pounding and our palms sweaty as we try to regain our composure and catch our breath after the near auto collision. We appreciate how lucky we were and realize that in that split second we could have experienced serious auto body damage, been seriously injured or even lost our lives.

What just happened? Where did that car come from? If you ask yourself questions like these, chances are you let your guard down. Auto accidents can happen as fast as a lightning strike, which is why distracted driving is so dangerous. Distractions may only occupy our attention for a brief moment, but that brief moment is all it takes for an accident to happen.

If we’re not constantly vigilant, alert, and aware of what is happening around us, we are opening the door to disaster. According to studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), some form of driver distraction is a contributing factor in 20-30 percent of all traffic crashes. These distractions include not only electronic devices, but also eating and drinking, dealing with another passenger or child, personal grooming, and adjusting the radio.

Drive Defensively

We always hear that defensive driving can sharply decrease the chances of having an auto accident, but what exactly does defensive driving mean? It’s an advanced driving technique, over and above mastery of the rules of the road, and the basic mechanics of driving. Its aim is to reduce the risk of highway accidents by proactively avoiding dangerous roadway situations, despite adverse conditions or the errors of other drivers.

Defensive driving means not only taking responsibility for your actions, but also keeping an eye on other drivers and anticipating their mistakes. It’s a cushion of safety that provides a 360 degree view of what is going on around us – and could go wrong — at every and any moment.

The National Safety Council recommends the following defensive driving tips:

• Don’t start the engine without securing each passenger in the car, including children and pets. Lock all doors.

• Remember that driving too fast or too slow can increase the likelihood of auto body collisions.

• If you plan to drink, designate a driver who won’t drink. Alcohol is a factor in almost half of all fatal motor vehicle crashes.

• Be alert! If you notice that a car is straddling the center line, weaving, making wide turns, stopping abruptly or responding slowly to traffic signals, the driver may be impaired.

• Avoid an impaired driver by turning right at the nearest corner or exiting at the nearest exit. If it appears that an oncoming car is crossing into your lane, pull over to the roadside, sound your horn and flash your lights.

• Notify the police immediately after seeing a motorist who is driving suspiciously.

• Follow the rules of the road. Don’t contest the “right of way” or try to race another car during a merge. Be respectful of other motorists.

• Don’t follow too closely. Always use a “three-second following distance” or a “three-second plus following distance.”

• While driving, be cautious, aware and responsible.