Aerial view of cars in traffic

Defensive Driving In Heavy Traffic

The holiday season is a wonderful time to hit the road for a visit with family and friends. But it often means long drives in heavy traffic. To help you stay safe (and sane) on the road to your destination, here’s a list of defensive driving tips to prepare you for the drive.

Planning: The First Line of Defense

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), defensive driving means taking reasonable action to prevent a collision. But defensive driving starts before you even get on the road. Checking weather and road conditions in advance helps you plan a route and know what to expect along the way. It’s also important to pack the car with basic supplies. A first aid kit, flares, snacks and blankets ensure you’re ready for emergencies on long drives.

Traffic Watch

The holiday season is not only one of the busiest travel times, but this year’s low gas prices mean many people will probably choose to drive. And more cars on the road means a higher chance of fatal crashes, so it’s extra important to stay alert this year and learn to spot and avoid hazards using these NSC-approved tips.

–              Defensive driving instructors recommend checking your mirrors every three to five seconds and continuously scanning ahead for possible dangers.

–              Always give the right of way to fellow motorists, but be prepared to react to unexpected lane changes and turns.

–              During heavy traffic, keep a safe distance from other vehicles and give yourself ample response time by slowing your speed.

–              Look for signs of impaired, distracted and even aggressive driving and develop techniques like deep breathing to keep calm under pressure.

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Collision-Proof Your Drive

hands protecting chalk drawing of carThe NSC has identified six unsafe driving behaviors that most often lead to collisions. By understanding each infraction and learning how to avoid them, holiday travelers can develop safer driving habits and collision avoidance techniques.

1)            Improper speed. Keep a close eye on both the posted speed limit and weather conditions. Even if you’re obeying the limit, you may need to slow down to drive safely on a wet or icy road.

2)            Violating right of way. To make sure you’re yielding properly and following all traffic signals and stop signs, drive at an appropriate speed to give yourself time to react and take a moment to scan intersections before entering them.

3)            Driving left of center. Patience and foresight are key to avoiding this unsafe behavior. Slow down and stay behind cyclists or pedestrians until it’s safe to pass them, and watch the road ahead for animals or other obstacles so you can brake or safely steer around them instead of swerving into the other lane.

4)            Turning improperly. Always use turn signals to let other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists know where you’re going. (Most traffic laws require you to signal within 100 feet of a turn, but you should check local regulations.)

5)            Passing improperly. When passing, be sure to use your turn signals and check your blind spots, as well as in front of and behind your vehicle. You should be able to pass without getting too close to the car ahead or going over the speed limit; if you can’t, it may not be safe to pass.

6)            Following too closely. At low speeds, this can lead to irritating fender benders; at high speeds, it can be deadly. Give yourself at least three seconds of distance between your own vehicle and the one ahead. If someone is tailgating you, don’t speed up! Maintain your speed and move over to let him or her pass if and when it is safe to do so.

Did you know? GEICO policyholders who complete defensive driver training could qualify for discounts on their auto insurance, depending on the state they live in. To learn more about defensive driver courses in your state, visit

By Katherine Palbom & Kristen Koch

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    Leave a comment

  1. john says,

    Very helpful. I will asking my family & friends to read this instructions. I believe me & all of people read this instructions will slowdown or driving carefully all the time on the road . Thanks

  2. Lucia Diaferia says,

    Great safe driving tips, thank you for sharing..Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all GEICO employs

  3. Gerald Markley says,

    Follow not less than 1 car length per 10 mph. “Leave yourself an out” means always try to drive where there is a lane open beside you on a multi-lane road.


  4. ronald chase says,

    your six are very good, also Improper driving for road conditions. { weather, construction,} and poor vehicle maintenance. { Tires, brakes and lights }

  5. Kathleen Tripp says,

    Thank you for the email sometimes people do get angry at heavy traffic thanks for tips on remaining alert and calm .great reminder to help us all get where we are going safely .

  6. Clarke E. Gordon says,

    The defensive driving cautions listed above reflect a study procedure that should significantly enable senior citizens to experience amore successful holiday and 2016 year.

  7. Carl Rehwin kel says,

    Thanks for safe driving tips. I always make sure that a intersection turning arrow is available in planning a trip across town on all left turns

  8. Jan says,

    My boyfriend is a professional driver and both he and I noticed that none the comments that we have read stated DO NOT USE YOUR MOBILE PHONE WHILE DRIVING. THAT INCLUDES TEXTING !
    The comments we have read are all very good.
    Thank you

  9. Betty says,

    I realize not everyone has the luxury to do this but I’m retired, so this may sound overly cautious (or simple). When I know I’m going to be driving during high-traffic times, I try to plan other things I need to do that are near my destination and leave early enough to beat the traffic. If grocery shopping needed, I take a cooler with ice packs; if I have other errands that I can do near my destination, I plan to do those, too.

    When all else fails, I simply leave early enough to beat the traffic and park at my destination or a nearby coffee shop, take a good book along and read (or sometimes even cat nap – lol) until it’s time to go to my activity. This saves a lot of frustration.

  10. Marcoma says,

    And if you drive in CA, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE remember that motorcyclists are allowed to split lanes. Just hold your line, don’t swerve either way and they’ll pass and go on their merry way. Happy Holidays!