Driving in Illinois can be an enchanting experience. From the quiet
river valleys to the bustling big cities, a drive through the heartland
is an incredible experience. However, driving in Illinois also presents
its own unique set of challenges. In order to combat these challenges,
you need to practice defensive driving techniques. Simply knowing how
to operate your vehicle is not enough-you have to know how to drive
defensively. What's the difference between driving and defensive
driving? Driving is merely operating a vehicle. Defensive driving
involves planning ahead and keeping an eye out for trouble, so you can
avoid accidents before they happen. The following defensive driving
techniques will help you stay safe while driving in Illinois, no matter
where the road takes you.
Basic Defensive Driving Techniques
No matter where you are, there is one "golden rule" of defensive
driving that you should be following at all times. Unfortunately, most
of us break it constantly. What is the golden rule of defensive
driving? It's simple: "Stay alert and plan ahead!" If more people
followed this rule, there would be far fewer accidents on Illinois
highways. Even though this rule seems like it would be easy to follow,
in today's fast-paced world there is always something else in the car
clamoring for our attention: a crying baby, a ringing cell phone, a
fast food hamburger combo with fries....the list goes on and on. Also,
our culture glorifies multi-tasking, to the point where it almost seems
wasteful to spend all of our commuting time "just driving."
Unfortunately, driving is not a task that's conducive to multitasking.
We are in our cars so often that it seems routine, but think about it:
when you drive, you are piloting a ton of metal with a combustible gas
tank, moving at high speed along roads filled wit other equally fast
and combustible vehicles. It only takes a few seconds for something to
go horribly wrong, and if you are focused on doing something else for
that short span of time, you could be in trouble. In fact, according to
a study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association in
2006, 80% of auto accidents were caused by drivers being distracted in
the three seconds prior to the crash. So, whether you need to talk on a
cell phone, read a map or eat a burger, do yourself and everyone around
you a favor and pull over!
According to the Illinois Secretary of State's Distracted Drivers Task
Force's Final Report, there are actually three types of distractions:
visual (you look away from the road to do something else), manual (you
take your hands off the wheel to do something else) and cognitive (you
get so lost in thought that you aren't mentally "there" at all). Even
if you aren't actually doing anything other than driving, you still
need to be sure to focus on the task at hand. Keeping your eyes on the
road is important, but it isn't nearly enough. Your mind has to be on
the road, too. If you find yourself worrying about work, family, etc,
do some deep breathing, listen to happy music on the radio, and most
importantly, focus on the road ahead of you!
If your attention is focused on driving, you can keep an eye out for
potential trouble ahead. Observe the other cars, and make sure to give
extra room to drivers who are driving unsafely. Keep your eyes peeled
for potential trouble spots and hazards, and try to always have an
"escape route" in case you need to take evasive action. This defensive
driving technique is useful anywhere. Read on for more defensive
driving tactics for specific situations.
Illinois is home to major cities, including the third-largest city
in the United States, Chicago. With a population of almost 3 million
plus the tourists that come in droves to see the Windy City, Chicago's
streets are packed. The sheer volume of traffic means that driving in
Chicago, or in any of the other large cities in Illinois, can be
especially challenging. Here are some defensive driving techniques to
help you navigate through busy urban streets.
When you drive in the city, you share the road with so many other
drivers that there isn't as much space available for you as there is
when you drive in other environments. Less space means less room for
error, so slow down to give yourself time to react to hazards caused by
other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. By slowing your pace and
staying alert for surprises, you'll be able to react in time. Another
way to shorten your reaction time is to rest your foot lightly on top
of the brake. Don't apply pressure to it-you'll spend a fortune on
brake jobs and keep everyone behind you guessing about what your next
move is going to be. Just keep your foot there in case you do need to
stop. This technique, known as covering the brake, will shorten your
reaction time. This way, you'll be able to stop more quickly if a
Also, try to plan your route beforehand. Think of the time of day you
will be traveling, and try to re-route around streets you know will be
congested with heavy traffic. You'll save time, gas and possibly your
sanity! If you can't change your route to escape the worst of the
traffic, consider going at a different time of day, if possible.
The way you position your vehicle in relation to other vehicles on the
road is also an important defensive driving skill. In the city, you
want to make sure that you can see everyone and everyone can see you.
The best way to position your car is to move with the flow of traffic.
Just make sure that traffic isn't speeding! Don't ride in another car's
blind spot, and try to change positions if you notice someone riding in
yours. Also, make sure you are in the lane that will give you the
smoothest trip to where you want to go. If you've planned your route
ahead of time, you'll know which lane you need to be in before you get
Here are some more tips on lane usage: Don't travel in the far right
lane unless you plan on turning right soon. You might end up in a
collision with a car turning in or out of a side street. Also, be
careful at intersections. If you have less than 30 feet to go and
you're in the wrong lane, just stay where you are. You can always turn
around later. In the meantime, you've got other drivers on the road
with you, and they won't expect you to change lanes that late in the
Illinois has some of the most scenic rural driving in the country.
The famous Route 66, an American institution, provides a more
slow-paced, scenic route from Chicago to Los Angeles or anywhere in
between. Here are some defensive driving techniques to remember while
you tour the countryside of America's heartland.
First, remember that the scenic countryside conceals hazards that are
unheard of in the city, or even in the suburbs. For example, you don't
ordinarily come across a cow blocking your path in the city, but you
just might when you travel through farmland. Slow down to give yourself
more time to react. This is especially important when vegetation from
farm or forest blocks your view. Stay alert for animals, both wild and
domestic, as well as horse-drawn carriages and slow-moving farm
vehicles. These vehicles usually have a bright-orange triangle on
the back. Don't try to pass them. Wait until they pull off to the side
and the driver indicates that it's time for you to pass.
Also, remember that scenic routes usually follow the curves of the
land. When building urban roads, construction crews often smooth the
natural grade of the land for easier traveling, but this is not true of
their country cousins. This means that you may experience prolonged
periods of going up or down steep hills. When you need to slow down,
avoid the temptation to ride on your brakes. They could overheat, and
that's never a good thing. Instead, slow yourself down by shifting to a
Passing can also be tricky on 2-lane rural roads. The first rule of
passing, of course, is to obey the pavement markings. Don't try to pass
if there is a solid yellow line on your side of the road. Even when
passing is permitted, make sure you can see at least 1/3 of a mile in
front of you before you make an attempt. Finally, if someone wants to
pass you, pull off at the next turnoff and let them by.
At night, country roads can get dark. Use your high-beams if there is
no other traffic around. Just don't forget to turn them back down to
low for oncoming traffic! Whenever traffic facing you is approximately
500 feet away, it's time to turn on your low beams. Likewise, turn your
lights down whenever you have another car 200 feet or fewer in front of
you. Driving is much easier when you can see the road in front of
you-don't take that away from other drivers!
Truck and Motorcycle Safety
Big trucks are the backbone of America, hauling goods from one part
of the country to the other. However, driving with them can be tricky,
even a little scary. You can't treat them like you would another
car-it's simply not prudent. Here are some defensive driving strategies
to keep everyone safe and happy when there are trucks on the
First, remember that trucks are much heavier than regular cars. This
increased weight means that trucks take longer than cars to do just
about anything. They take longer to start up and get up to speed,
longer to turn, and longer to stop. Make sure that you use your signals
often and early when you are on the road with a truck. Don't make any
sudden moves or sporadic last-minute driving decisions-the big rig may
not be able to react in time. Also, if you see a big rig stopped in
front of you at a light. don't expect it to move out of the way the
moment the light turns green. The laws of physics will prevent that
from happening. Instead, give the truck some space to get going.
Also, remember that trucks have extra-large blind spots. Don't hang out
in a semi's blind spot. It's not a good idea. How can you tell if you
are in his blind spot? Generally, if you can't see the truck's mirrors,
the driver can't see you. A truck also has a super-size turning radius,
which is a good thing to remember when the road you are on makes a
tight turn. That truck might need your lane, too, so watch out!
Motorcyclists love Illinois' open highways. As the driver of a car, you
need to remember to give them some extra space. Tailgating a motorcycle
is dangerous and could have tragic consequences. What happens if that
motorcyclist has to come to a sudden stop, or the bike slips on some
loose gravel? Remember, your car can do a lot more damage to a
motorcyclist's unprotected body than it can to another car. Leave at
least a four second following distance between you and the motorcycle.
Also, motorcycles are smaller than cars, and they can be easy to miss
if you don't watch for them. Check and double-check your blind
Driving in Fog
Illinois is notable for its many serene lakes and mighty rivers.
However, whenever conditions are right around bodies of water, you can
expect fog to form. High humidity and cooler temperatures can create
ghostly, hazy stretches of road. Fog makes it difficult to drive by
reducing visibility. Here's how to cope: First, make sure your low
beams are on. It may seem counter-intuitive, but high beams actually
reduce visibility in mist or fog. Second, slow down but don't stop in
the middle of the road. You need time to be able to react to obstacles
in front of you, but you don't want to get rear-ended. If you have to
stop, pull as far over on the shoulder as you can. Don't try to pass
anyone, and try to avoid going through intersections if you can.
Illinois winters get extremely cold, and snow and ice are not
uncommon. If you don't know how to drive in winter weather, you'll need
to learn before you try to drive during an Illinois winter. The first
step in making sure your winter trips are safe is to be prepared. Bring
extra clothes, food, and an emergency blanket in case you get stranded.
If you get stuck slipping and sliding across an ice patch, some kitty
litter stashed in your trunk can help your wheels regain traction.
Also, make sure to take your car in for a checkup before the weather
gets rough. Above all, you need good brakes, a good battery, and the
appropriate amount of anti-freeze in your coolant system.
When winter weather arrives, remember to slow down! Speeding over an
ice patch can send your car into a tailspin. Additionally, it's
important to be able to recognize ice patches. "Black ice" is infamous
for being well-camouflaged; it looks just like shiny new black asphalt.
In winter, the road should be light gray. Also, ice collects more
frequently on bridges and overpasses. Even if the rest of the road is
ice-free, you should still use caution in these areas. Skip the cruise
control during winter. You need to be able to slow down immediately.
Additionally, make sure to keep your lights on so that other cars can
Driving in winter can be intimidating, but if you take precautions, you
should be able to get yourself home safely!