It’s amazing how simple it is to get a driver’s license. Passing a written exam plus a white-knuckled few turns around the neighborhood near the DMV is about all it takes to get a license. And yet the average American commuter spends 38 hours per year on the road. It seems to me that we should have better training on how to drive if we’ll be doing so much of it. Unfortunately, all too often the first time drivers have to practice accident-avoidance skills is the time they’re in one. Knowledge and practice can put the odds in their favor.

Here are some tips on how to handle various driving emergencies. Please read and share with friends and family. While driving is for so many second nature, I hope these tips will help you think about accidents before they happen. It doesn’t go without saying anymore that the first thing to do is focus on the road – put the cell phone down, and only drive sober. No safe driving can happen when someone is drunk or distracted behind the wheel.


Emergency #1: Tailgating


First and foremost, don’t do it! Also called “following too closely”, it is generally against the law, along with the accidents proven to have been caused by this behavior. Washington State prohibits it, so keep that in mind when you are driving along Bellingham and Whatcom County roads. Tailgating is one of those things that is easily preventable – if you find yourself following the vehicle ahead of you too closely, simply slow down or attempt to pass when it’s safe. Remember, speeding doesn’t get you there any faster, so if you feel your blood pressure rising you can take a few deep breaths and count to ten. Use the 3-second rule when you’re driving to avoid tailgating.


What if you’re the one being tailgated? You aren’t responsible for another driver’s careless driving, but there are a few things you can try to get out of this unsafe situation.


1.    Stay calm, and focus on your driving. It’s not the time to pick up a cell phone to try to report the behavior. Take a few deep breaths.

2.    If you are in the left lane(s) (also called the passing lanes, for good reason) then get over into the right lane. That should take care of it pretty quickly. However, if you don’t have another lane to drive in, pull over onto the shoulder when it’s safe to do so. Most likely, if you’re being aggressively tailgated by another driver, this person just wants to be able to go faster (the “hurry up and stop” school of driving). Use your turn signal and let the person pass you, then continue on your way.

3.    If you can’t safely pull over, you can slow your vehicle a bit, and drive closer to the shoulder. This may prompt the driver behind you to pass you once it is safe for them to do so. Avoid speeding up or slowing down, as that may spark more aggression behind you. Try to maintain a steady speed.

4.    Prepare yourself for annoying behavior if you can’t get over and they can’t pass. You can flip your rearview mirror to the nighttime driving position to avoid the flashing lights and rude gestures that may ensue. Focus on your driving, as it’s the only thing you have control over – not the other driver’s behavior.

5.    Lastly, you might be tempted to tap your break, to let the driver know they’re tailgating, or even to teach them a lesson. Do not do this, as it may prompt an accident or even more aggressive driving.


Above all, remember cars are meant to get us to our destination safely, and they’re not driving themselves. The more you can do to be a safe, responsible driver, that’s one more vehicle on the road we could all get behind.

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