Driving can be dangerous, especially for a first-time driver. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the number of deaths from car crashes in 2021 was 42,939. That’s up 10% from 2020.

Tragically, many of these car accident deaths were preventable. Sometimes all it takes to avoid a car crash is defensive driving skills. So if you want to avoid becoming part of another statistic, here are nine defensive driving skills you should develop:

1. Plan ahead

Before you even get on the road, make sure it’s a good time to drive. For example, you may want to check the weather and road conditions. Driving on ice or when it’s raining heavily increases your risk of getting into an accident.

Similarly, you shouldn’t drive when you are sleep deprived or have been drinking. Driving while drowsy or under the influence can seriously impair your judgment and put you and others in danger.

2. Cut out distractions

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it killed 3,522 in 2021.

What counts as a distraction? Anything that diverts your attention from driving. This includes eating, drinking, doing your makeup, fiddling with the stereo or GPS, and using your smartphone in any way. Make it a habit to not engage in any of these while driving.

Instead, keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road and give your full attention to the task at hand: driving.

3. Scan your surroundings

It’s easy to go on autopilot when driving and not pay close attention to your surroundings. However, if you’re not careful, this can lead to disaster.

Make a habit of always scanning your surroundings to anticipate potential obstacles and hazards. For example, try to check your mirrors frequently. You should also look both ways before turning into an intersection or merging lanes.

4. Leave plenty of distance between you and the next driver

Another key to defensive driving is leaving ample space between you and other drivers. This gives you more time to react to sudden changes, such as a driver in front of you slamming on their brakes.

The easiest way to maintain enough space between you and other drivers is to follow the three-second rule. This means that there should always be at least three seconds of driving time between your vehicle and the one ahead of you.

5. Keep out of other drivers’ blind spots

Most drivers have blind spots in their side and rearview mirrors and should turn their heads to check them before merging or turning. But not everyone does.

To avoid going unnoticed by other drivers, try to keep out of their blind spots as much as possible. This means passing other vehicles quickly and not driving behind them too closely. Otherwise, they might not see you and could accidentally hit you.

6. Never go on the offensive

No matter how other drivers are on the road, never go on the offensive. Driving aggressively is the opposite of driving defensively. Remember that you can only control how you drive, not how others do. So keep a cool head and avoid succumbing to road rage, which is a recipe for disaster.

7. Follow traffic laws

Of course, defensive driving means obeying all traffic laws. That includes going the speed limit (or under it if poor road conditions require it), following traffic signs, using your turn signals, and adhering to right-of-way rules.

8. Maintain an escape route

It’s a good idea to always position your vehicle in such a way that you can easily evade a dangerous situation. For example, try to keep to the right lane when not passing so you can easily pull over to the shoulder. Always leave yourself an out in case your path is blocked.

9. Never assume how others will drive

Finally, defensive driving is all about not assuming how others will drive. Don’t expect them to drive well or follow traffic laws. Instead, control your own driving and keep an eye out for poor driving behavior by others. That way, you’re more ready to react and get out of harm’s way.

Of course, some accidents are unavoidable, in which case, you should consult a reputable auto accident attorney to help you get the compensation you deserve.

However, most accidents can be avoided by driving defensively. Remember, never put your fate in the hands of other drivers. It could cost your life!