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The Three Principles of Safe Driving

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

I am concerned that my grandkids are now driving their own cars. Madison, age 7, drives around in a Cinderella Princess car. Max, age 4, drives a little Jeep. Fortunately, they drive in a safe neighborhood where neighbors protect each other and there are plenty of kids in the street.

However, just as I was concerned as a parent of driving children decades ago, I am concerned with my grandkids' lack of concern on the road. So, I mentioned to the grandkids’ parents, uncle, and aunt that I wanted to impart to the grandkids the three principles of safe driving. Madison and Max’s aunt, my daughter, lit up, saying she’s (literally) lived by those principles while driving.

With the parents’ permission, I will begin to introduce the three principles of safe driving to my grandkids. The principles are represented by the words Distance, Intent, and Escape. I’ll explain each.

Rushing Through Life

While my grandkids are not yet licensed to drive, they will one day be out on the road on their own. For now, they are mainly passengers, completely dependent on mom and dad for rides. Mom and dad spend countless hours on the road, taking the family from place to place (even when gas is nearly $5.00 a gallon!). Parents are constantly on the go, getting to the next thing. They drive kids to school, go on errands, and drive themselves to work.

With life’s demands, we often end up rushing. We start the week and hurry to get the kids to school before class starts. As employees, we speed to work to make it to the office on time. Your child forgets their backpack, you forget your phone, there’s traffic on the highway and it all accumulates into a flurry of lateness. In that kind of chaos, it is easy to stop paying attention and become the culprit – or victim – of a collision.

The D.I.E. principles can be the life saver to get you through the busy seasons. Each principle (distance, intent and escape route) plays in a special role in preventing and avoiding collisions. And now, I want to pass on these principles.

Principle I: Distance

Become aware of your distance from current threats and potential future threats. Threats consist of anything one might collide with. Threats include other vehicles, objects, and people. The traditional rule about vehicle distance has been to not follow the vehicle in front by less than one vehicle length per each 10 miles per hour speed. As the first principle, it’s critical to go beyond the basics. Let’s increase the likelihood of safely getting to the destination.

Expand your perspective from looking only in front of you to also noticing the distance all around you. Become aware of vehicles coming at you, vehicles going away from you, stationary vehicles, or vehicles that may come later. Take a global glance and identify all potential threats. For instance, when I am at a two-way stop sign, I make sure that I can safely clear the intersection. I usually estimate the seconds (about 4) it will take for me to get through the intersection, compared to the average seconds between the vehicles crossing the other direction; I like at least 5 seconds.

In addition to other vehicles, it is an excellent precaution to also judge your distance from stationary objects such as potholes, curbs, mailboxes, trees, toys and garbage cans. Judge your distance from people and animals that might move into your path or the path of someone else, which could result in a disastrous domino effect. This last distance threat from people is closely tied to the second principle of safe driving: Intent.

Principle 2: Intent

Another way to stay protected on the road is to consider the intent of anyone nearby or approaching your vehicle. Anticipate the most harmful intent of any driver, passenger, pedestrian, child, or any other person. Try to anticipate movements from any nearby animals as well. If you can anticipate what someone intends to do, you can recognize the myriad of possible outcomes. This prepares you to take evasive action.

(Often this means prejudging, with bias, for driving safety, which we do not recommend for developing relationships.)

Evaluate other drivers to try to predict their intentions. What are they thinking or not thinking? Do they have a blind side? Are they deep in conversation or distracted? Is it possible they could be texting or studying a map? Are they looking around for their destination or street?

Are they weaving in and out of traffic? Do they have out-of-state license plates? Do they have dents in their car, suggesting a track record of tagging others? Do they have a new car sticker, indicating that they could be unfamiliar with the dashboard and controls?

Do they look like an aggressive driver? Remember the difference between assertive and aggressive. Assertive makes you uncomfortable. Aggressive makes others uncomfortable.

Principle III: Escape Route

While estimating distance and intent are critical precautions, you still may not be out of harm’s way. The road can become hazardous in an instant. So, if the worst is about to happen, you must be able to find an adequate escape route. This principle takes into account your speed, surroundings, and ability to quickly react.

If the car in front suddenly brakes because of someone on a bike, are you ready to stop yourself or go around the car safely without hitting the kid the other driver is braking for? Can you quickly respond and redirect? Which direction will by the safest and result in the least amount of destruction? There are many escape route scenarios: you might stop or slow down; you might switch to alternative lanes or streets; or you could speed up. For any worst-case scenario, have you pre-planned an escape route that will keep you and others safe?

Slowing Down for Safety

Let’s look at an example. There I was, tooling along from the expressway, with my two lanes combining with the local road to make four lanes.

The car on my right was coming in from the local road and merely a few feet away. Here, I was evaluating the distance from my car. Then I noticed, I was in the blind spot for the driver and knew he might not thoroughly check his mirrors. Furthermore, I could imagine the intent of the driver might be to turn left at the next intersection. And one more thing, the driver’s side of the car was dented. It’s possible that he was the instigator in a side swipe collision similar to the current situation.

I looked for an escape route. The lane to my left was taken, so I slowed down, and sure enough that driver swerved into my lane. By following all three principles, a potentially dangerous situation was evaded and there was no car contact, I prevented a collision. Both of our cars were saved by calculating distance, intent, and escape route.

The D.I.E. principles have saved my life on many occasions. My hope is that this simple acronym will continue to save lives. I hope that it will continue to protect my daughter, and one day my grandchildren, when the rubber meets the road.

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