It’s often easy to get frustrated when you’re behind the wheel, especially when one child is yelling from the backseat about a snack they promise they didn’t eat 10 minutes ago and you’re racing to get your oldest to soccer practice on time. Some people drive too slow in the passing lane, some don’t bother using their turn signal, and others drive in two lanes at once. 

It can be tempting to react to these irritations by driving aggressively. Of course, this can quickly become exceptionally dangerous, especially aggressive driving, which is responsible for one-third of all accidents. Plus, you aren’t being a good role model if you’re constantly honking the horn and using colorful language and gestures. There’s nothing you can do to control other drivers, but you can upgrade your driving skills and improve your chances of avoiding an accident to keep you and your family safe.

Don’t Lose Focus

Things happen so fast on the road that a second or two of lapsed attention can result in tragedy. Staying focused on what you’re doing is the single most important thing you can do to be a safer driver. Your brain is constantly engaged when you’re driving, processing information nearly every second. Distractions inhibit the brain’s ability to stay attentive and represent a major traffic hazard. Talking on your phone, scanning texts or emails, searching for a funny video to entertain your child, and worst of all, sending a text while driving makes it impossible to foresee potential dangers as they arise. Put your smartphone in the trunk or lock it in the glove compartment so you’re not tempted to dial or text.

Another way to stay focused is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep and proper nutrition because poor sleeping and eating habits can make you sluggish which can cause a loss of focus. To improve your sleep, make sure to have a calming routine before bed and to keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet (this goes for the kids too). You can also raise your energy levels by avoiding sugar and eating a balanced diet. If you’re not getting the nutrition you need, consider taking a daily multivitamin which can also affect your energy and focus, or packing snacks in the car to keep everyone’s tummy happy. 

Drive Defensively

Ultimately, the safest practice is to drive defensively and watch out for the other driver. Most of us are taught to use defensive driving tactics, but overconfidence and a lack of patience often prove too tempting. You might have a ‘Baby on Board’ sign or stickers depicting each of your family members, but other drivers aren’t paying that any mind. Remain aware of other drivers so you can anticipate what they might do. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll be unprepared when someone suddenly darts in front of you or forces themselves into traffic from an entrance ramp. Be a courteous driver and merge into traffic carefully. Allow the other person to go first when you arrive at a four-way stop simultaneously. Defensive driving is all about anticipation, avoiding danger, and making adjustments when the unexpected occurs. You can’t do that if you aren’t paying attention.   

Understand Your Coverage

It’s easy to assume that auto insurance has you covered, no matter what happens. After all, you pay all that money every month. Unfortunately, that isn’t always true. So, ask yourself some important questions about your coverage. For example, does your car insurance cover repairs in the event of an accident, and will they cover any medical bills that may arise as a result of a crash? Make a point of knowing exactly what you are and aren’t covered for, and understand the financial consequences of not driving safely. You’re more likely to drive defensively and pay careful attention if you know what your financial liability will be if you get into an accident (people sometimes forget that their rates may skyrocket or that they could be dropped altogether).   

Watch Your Distance and Slow Down

Have you ever tailgated a driver thinking it would somehow intimidate him to drive faster? Unfortunately, the reverse sometimes happens — the person in front of you decides to slow down or hit the brakes instead. It can easily result in a high-speed accident, especially if the road is wet. Obey the three-second rule, leaving enough room for you to slow down if the driver in front brakes suddenly. Obeying the speed limit is a great way to stay out of trouble and avoid that awkward situation where you get pulled over and your child loudly talks about how fast you drive. 

Also, don’t act like the passing lane is your personal property. If someone comes up on you fast, be smart and let them pass. A few seconds in the right lane doesn’t mean you’re a coward or a slow driver. On the contrary, it means you’re paying attention and driving defensively. 

Being a safe driver is about making good decisions and with children in the backseat, their safety hangs in the balance. One of the best decisions you can make is to be a defensive driver and to anticipate the actions of drivers around you. Above all, never take your eyes off the road or allow your focus to wander. 

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