1. Look out.
“Drivers tend to fixate on an object that’s too close like the car bumper right in front of them,” says Jim Clark, lead instructor at the BMW Performance Driving School in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Eighty percent of all accidents could be avoided if a driver had one more second to react, he says. He suggests looking 12 seconds ahead. Find an object in the distancea highway exit, a storefrontthat takes to the count of 12 to reach. “If you look ahead you get a feel for the traffic pattern, but your brain can still process what is happening right in front of you to help you avoid trouble,” he says.
“Driving can be boring,” says Mike Speck, an instructor at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Phoenix, “so we eat, talk on the phone, fiddle with the radio.” Instead, he says, you should be checking side and rearview mirrors, watching traffic ahead, and planning for various “what if” scenariosWhat if the bicycle attached to the roof of the car in front of me came flying off?
3. Slow down.
If there’s weather, construction, traffic, then take your pedal off the metal. Sudden braking is a recipe for an accident: The weight of the car shifts quickly toward the front tires, throwing it off balance. “When this happens, the rear end of the car swings around and sends you into a skid,” Clark says.
4. Don’t panic.
“Often, it turns out that a driver just drives off the road or into another car, without even turning the wheel or using the brakes or gas,” Speck says. Rather than stare at the car that’s sliding toward you, identify an open area and steer in that direction. “Basically, look at the gaps not the trees,” explains Mark Cox, director of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
5. Watch your hands.
In driver’s ed you learned to put your hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the wheel. Clark prefers 9 and 3 o’clock, because this position gives drivers a better range of motion and enables them turn the wheel almost completely without their hands getting tangled up.
6. Leave a way out.
The worst place to be on a multilane highway is in one of the middle lanes surrounded by cars, Clark says. You always want to be able to pull onto the left or right shoulder if you need to avoid trouble.
7. Know your brakes.
Go to an empty parking lot and practice braking. If your car has antilock brakes (ABS) you’ll feel them “lock” up when you press hard on the pedal. “This allows the computer to pump the brakes but gives you some steering effectiveness,” Cox says. If you have traditional brakes, pump them to stop in an emergency; to be able to steer, release the brakes completely.