Defensive Driving Tips: Safety Cushion Driving

Motorists face various hazards while on the road, such as heavy traffic, dangerous driving behaviors, and inclement weather. Even if you only drive occasionally, the combination of road safety hazards can significantly influence your risk of crashing. 

Motor vehicle crashes are often complex and rarely have a single cause. But while they are usually a result of many interacting factors, 94% of car accidents are the driver’s fault. This is because drivers encounter numerous elements requiring their attention while driving. 

Recognizing hazards in time is crucial to proactively preventing a crash. However, distracting elements in the vehicle can affect their capability to focus. This can jeopardize the driver’s safety and those of other road users. 

No one can fully control what happens on the road. But defensive driving techniques can help motorists lower the likelihood of a collision by staying alert and monitoring road changes. An essential element of defensive driving is maintaining a safety cushion. Find out what it is, why it’s necessary, and how it can help you reduce the dangers associated with driving.

Key Takeaways
  • Following too closely is one of the common causes of motor vehicle crashes, which can result in devastating injuries.
  • With defensive driving tips, drivers can be more proactive and minimize their chances of getting into an accident.
  • Space cushion driving is a form of defensive driving that helps motorists take proactive steps to prevent a collision. It’s the practice of maintaining adequate space or a safe following distance from other cars around them.

What is a safety cushion in defensive driving?

Defensive driving involves managing the road space around your vehicle. There should be enough space in front, behind, and on both sides of your car. The area is the safety cushion, also typically referred to as a space cushion. 

A space cushion is the safety margin or margin for error for you and other drivers in all directions. It prevents you from getting into a position where a collision is unavoidable. The rationale is that even if you follow traffic rules meticulously, another driver in your area could make a mistake. 

A space cushion establishes a buffer area around your vehicle, ensuring you have plenty of room to maneuver. This is critical when driving in congested traffic and other cars suddenly move.

Following the 3-second rule between you and other vehicles applies under good daylight driving situations. But that may not be the case under different road and weather conditions. Defensive drivers know when and where to adjust the space cushion to ensure road safety. 

Knowing your vehicle’s space cushions is an essential defensive driving technique. Below are the areas of space around the car that drivers need to maintain while on the road. 

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Front-end space cushions

Following the vehicle ahead of you too closely increases your car accident risk. It reduces your visibility, especially when you’re behind a larger transport vehicle, like a truck or trailer. You must be able to see the road ahead to respond to upcoming changes in traffic appropriately.

Additionally, tailgating hinders your ability to avoid a crash when the car in front of you stops or slows abruptly. Create enough front-end space cushion when following another vehicle. This gives you a full view of the road ahead and allows you to react appropriately to potential hazards. 

What’s a safe following distance to keep an adequate space cushion on your front end? You should have a least a 3-second space cushion between your car and the one in front of you. 

To establish this, count off the seconds from when the driver ahead passes a fixed marker. If you pass the same marker on or after three seconds, you have adequate front-end space cushion.

You should also consider the driving conditions. Add additional seconds or space for any less-than-ideal situation, including poor visibility, inclement weather, or other distractions. You may need less distance in heavy traffic since your speed is low, but be alert for drivers that try to switch lanes.

Estimating a reasonable distance between your car and the vehicle you’re following can be difficult. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula to determine this. However, staying alert can help you adjust to whatever unique circumstances you’ll encounter. 

Side space cushions

A car next to you could move into your lane without warning. They can also block potential escape paths when you encounter any danger in your route. Another vehicle may pull out suddenly, or someone may open their door. 

Without enough side space cushions, you may collide with another vehicle next to you. Thus, keep the lanes next to your car clear as much as possible. You can do this by always driving in the middle of your lane and ensuring you don’t drift to either side. 

All vehicles have blind spots in the right and left rear corners. When creating a side space cushion, it’s essential to be aware of the areas drivers cannot see in the mirrors. This is because being in another driver’s spot will increase the chances of side-to-side collisions. 

To reduce the chances of being in their blind spots, avoid driving alongside other cars at the same speed. You can be entirely in front of or behind them. Avoid being too close to a passing vehicle or adjust your speed to allow other cars to pass you.

If you want to change lanes, put on your turn signal and ensure the lane next to you has plenty of space. You’ll need at least eight feet of space on at least one side of your car to use as an escape path.

Rear-end space cushions 

Motorists often don’t have much control over the space cushions on the rear end of their vehicle. It is usually the driver behind you that should ensure a safety cushion. 

As a result, creating rear-end space cushions largely depends on the driver following you. But you can still avoid potential tailgating hazards.

If a driver is following too closely, change lanes and allow the driver behind you to pass. However, pay attention to how close and fast the other vehicle travels. Give a signal before you slow down for a turn, and always check your blind spots before changing lanes. 

The Importance of Driving With an Adequate Space Cushion 

Many drivers on the road are in a hurry and want to arrive at their destinations faster. They think to save a few seconds by going over speed limits, running stop signs, or tailgating another vehicle. 

However, all that keeps you from maintaining enough space cushion, which is crucial to preventing motor vehicle crashes. A lot of things can happen when you’re driving. You can avoid crashing into another vehicle and getting injured by responding quickly to hazardous traffic conditions. 

But when confronted by danger, you must always allow for the reaction time necessary before you brake, steer, or accelerate. Reaction time refers to the time between recognizing a road hazard and taking suitable action, like turning or applying the brakes. 

Every person has different reaction times at various speeds. When the vehicle ahead of you suddenly stops, you can crash into them if you don’t have enough space. This often results in rear-end collisions that can cause various injuries. 

By creating a space cushion, you can increase the safe following distance. This will give you and other drivers adequate time to react to sudden movements or other hazards in the traffic. Instead of colliding with another vehicle, you have more room to brake or maneuver your car away from potential danger. 

5 Keys of the Smith System to Space Cushion Driving

Several driving systems are available, but many drivers use the Smith System because it is effective. Invented by Harold Smith in 1952, he designed it to decrease the likelihood of accidents and ensure safe driving. 

The Smith System employs five rules when operating a motor vehicle, with space cushion driving as the central concept. With enough space between cars, visibility to spot dangers, and time to react promptly, drivers can adjust to traffic conditions. 

Below are the five keys to reducing the chance of motor vehicle crashes with a space cushion. 

1. Aim high in steering

The first rule of the Smith System is always to look as far ahead as possible. You should observe what’s happening around your vehicle, but the most focus will be out front. 

Early detection of potential hazards will allow you to steer clear of them in the first place. It’s essential to look out above the steering wheel. Instead of only seeing a few feet ahead, you should have a complete view of the road. 

Twelve to fifteen seconds of eye lead time ahead of your vehicle will give you an additional margin of safety in urban areas. But when driving in a rural area, practice looking ahead for at least 20 to 25 seconds. This will help you see oncoming hazards before you get there, giving you more time to react. 

2. Get the big picture while driving

Besides looking farther ahead, you should also scan the sides and rear of your vehicle to get the whole picture. Note that you’re constantly moving into new areas and situations as you drive into traffic. These things can catch you off guard and hinder your ability to make better driving decisions. 

By scanning your mirrors every 5 to 8 seconds, you stay alert for any changes in your driving environment. Eliminate any visual barriers that prevent you from getting the entire picture. You can obtain the visibility you need to drive safely by establishing a safe following distance. 

3. Keep your eyes moving

Staring at any object for too long can diminish your peripheral vision, which is essential for safe driving. Good peripheral vision lets you see dangers that aren’t right in front of you. It also enables you to detect other cars passing you while focusing ahead.

Because traffic situations are constantly moving, you must also move your eyes frequently. Consistent eye movement keeps you alert and aware of every driving condition ahead of you. It’s the key to getting and keeping the big picture. 

Move your eyes every two seconds to prevent you from entering a trance state and missing something on the road. Ensure to scan all intersections before you drive into them. Remember that many car accidents happen at intersections. 

4. Leave yourself a way out

Planning for the driving errors of those around you is also crucial. Think about the escape routes if you encounter emergencies. When positioning your vehicle while on the road, maintain a space cushion in all areas of your car. Leave plenty of space on the front, rear, and sides. 

When selecting your lane, ensure that other drivers don’t box your vehicle. Do your best to leave the front and side of your vehicle open. Follow other cars sparingly and constantly anticipate other drivers’ other moves.

5. Make sure you are visible

Being aware of what’s going on around you is essential to ensure road safety. But other drivers must also recognize your presence on the road and anticipate your move. This means you must ensure that your car is visible to other motorists. 

You can do that by making direct eye contact with another driver and using warning devices on your vehicle. If you notice you’re heading into another driver’s blind spot, you can gently tap your horn to get their attention. 

Relevant Traffic Rules for Following Distance

Maintaining a safe following distance is essential to prevent an unexpected collision. Different states may have relevant traffic rules that help drivers create an adequate space cushion while driving. 

Some states may have maximum speed limits in specific areas and circumstances. Such limitations allow drivers to increase their following distance and safely stop in dangerous conditions. 

Others may have rules prohibiting drivers from tailgating or following a vehicle too closely. Many states also require drivers to leave enough space for passing cars to merge in front safely.

Did you know?

States with higher levels of tailgating violations are more likely to have increased levels of other aggressive driving behavior.

Involved in a Car Accident? Visit The Personal Injury Center Today 

Space cushion driving is a great way to avoid potential accidents on the road. While it can significantly help reduce your risks, there’s no way you can control how other drivers will behave. An experienced lawyer is valuable if you are in a car accident and sustain injuries. 

It can be overwhelming to search for a reliable lawyer you can trust, but we can help with that. The Personal Injury Center can help you connect to the best lawyer specializing in your case. Obtain a free evaluation of your case today. 

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Protect your rights as a driver. Get valuable legal help and resources from The Personal Injury Center. 

FAQs on Defensive Driving Tips: Safety Cushion Driving

New drivers are still getting used to being on the road. Because of this, they tend to make errors that can contribute to motor vehicle accidents. Below are the common mistakes that new drivers usually make. 

  • Driving too fast or too slow
  • Stopping abruptly without warning
  • Not looking at the big picture
  • Failing to check their blind spots
  • Not keeping a proper distance from other vehicles

Some drivers might be unaware they're following the vehicle in front of them too closely. But the following are a few reasons that other drivers tailgate in traffic: 

  • Distracted driving
  • Impatience 
  • Intimidate the other driver in front of them so they can pass
  • Pressure to get to their destination quickly
  • Poor driving habits

Several factors affect how far away you should be from the vehicle in front of you. Drivers may need to increase their following distance when they encounter the following conditions. 

  • Inclement weather
  • Poorly designed roadways
  • Nearby intersections