Defensive Driving: The Fun of It

The roads are far more dangerous since the COVID-19 pandemic because we've changed, and our driving behaviors have too.

Ryan Pietzsch, MS
May 24, 2024

I grew up in a suburban area in the Midwest, where houses, office buildings, restaurants and retail centers were as accessible as the vast corn fields just outside of town. As my daughter approaches high school graduation, I am reminded of those days when I too was approaching graduation. One of our favorite pastimes was driving around. I remember my mother asking, “Where are you going?” “Don’t know,” I would answer. I think she thought I was lying, but that was the absolute truth. We would drive until we either found something to do or ran out of gas (and no one had $2 to add more). We drove because it was fun. It provided us with a sense of freedom. 

Today, fewer people seem to be driving for fun. Everything has to be some sort of competition where you either win or you lose. If you feel like our roads are more dangerous since the COVID-19 pandemic, you are correct. In fact, they are drastically more dangerous. Deaths increased 11% in 2021 following an 8.3% increase in 2020. So, what’s changed? We have, and our driving behaviors have too. Our society has moved from caring about our neighbors and fellow drivers to a society of don’t lose at any cost. Unfortunately, too many Americans are losing. They are losing their lives on our roadways. 

Driving doesn’t have to be your primary job for you to receive a workplace injury on the roads. If you are reading this, you likely travel from worksite to worksite. Therefore, even though your primary work task may be something other than driving, you are considered a fleet driver. Fleet drivers have a lot more at stake than driving for personal reasons. The company reputation, your employment status and your ability to do your job all depend on the behaviors that you choose when you are behind the wheel of a vehicle. Yet, when was the last time your employer provided you with some form of driver training? Many have told me that their employer has never provided them with driver training. We need to change that. 

Roadway-related incidents are consistently one of the leading causes of work-related injury and death. In fact, until two years ago it was No. 1 for several decades. Only overdoses now exceed the number of fatalities in the workplace. 

Defensive driving is more important now than ever before. There are six choices that every driver can make to improve their chances of survival on the roads. Those include:

1. Slow down

2. Choose a 3-second-plus following distance

3. Give 100% of your attention to the act of driving (don’t drive distracted)

4. Don’t drive impaired, while fatigued or under the influence of substances (alcohol, over-the-counter medications or illicit drugs)

5. Share the road and yield the right of way 

6. Make safe and controlled turns

If you properly execute and choose these driving behaviors every trip, you will greatly decrease your likelihood of being involved in a collision. Having trouble holding yourself accountable? Try downloading one of the many telematics apps. Your insurance provider likely has one that they use or recommend. In addition to providing self-accountability to drive defensively, you could earn a discount on your insurance premium. Who doesn’t like to save money!

You can learn more about defensive driving techniques from the many in-person or online training programs offered by the National Safety Council. Our Defensive Driving programs are celebrating their 60th anniversary, with over 80 million attendees to date. Our most recent addition to our catalog includes vehicle-specific training as requested by many employers. Visit nsc.org for more information on our Fleet Essentials programs and offerings.   

Driving may not be as fun as it used to be but is it a necessity in our lives today. You are an important part of your organization and can make a difference in the broader roadway community. The decisions that you make every second of every day that you drive affect hundreds of people around you, their loved ones, and of course all of those that rely on you (your employer, your co-workers, your family, those you love and that love you). Pay attention to your own driving habits. Don’t compare yourself to anyone but yourself. Are you a responsible and respectful driver? Could you be better? 

Remember, the only way to win on the roads is to arrive at your destination safely. Borrowing a great line from another safety professional; when you drive for work, the most important delivery that you can make is delivering yourself home. 

Ryan Pietzsch, MS

Ryan Pietzsch is program technical advisor for driver safety at the National Safety Council.

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