How to Become a Better Driver

"Where'd you learn to drive, punk?" It's a thought you've probably had during long hours on the road when someone pulls a questionable maneuver in traffic. The thing is, we've all probably been on the other side of that sentiment, too. Modern cars are easy to operate, but driving well takes practice and education.
Wanting to improve your driving skills makes a lot of sense. It'll make you and your passengers safer, and when you understand car control and performance, driving can be a lot of fun. No matter your motive, there are many ways to get better behind the wheel.

What Makes a Good Driver?

Before you can drive better, you've got to have some definition of what that means. Is a good driver someone who can cut a 20-minute commute down to 10 minutes? No. Performance driving can be a tool for good drivers to use. However, being a good neighbor to your fellow roadgoing Americans doesn't involve putting the pedal to the metal. Instead, focus on understanding how to make the right decisions in traffic. There's more to driving safely than merely understanding road laws. Learning how to maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you, when it's best and safest to pass someone on the freeway or how to avoid putting yourself in a dangerous situation are all qualities that separate a good driver from a mediocre one.

Stop Rushing

One piece of advice you'll hear law enforcement officers emphasize is to slow down. It doesn't matter whether you arrive somewhere a few seconds sooner, and generally, that's the only difference you make. Attempting a foolish move like overtaking a car too aggressively, or diving for an off-ramp you overlooked while daydreaming might save you a few minutes. But, if it leads to an accident, think of all the time, money and quality of life you'll have sacrificed. It's not worth it.

Learn to Drive Defensively

After you've come to grips with the fact that rushing gets you nowhere, you still have to deal with other people. Sharing the road can be a chore, particularly when your neighbors are bad drivers. That's why you've got to learn to drive defensively, to always think about where you've got a way out if traffic behaves badly.

The concept of defensive driving has been around for some time. You probably learned to practice it as a new driver, but what does it mean? First, always be aware of the cars around you and how they are moving either toward or away from you, so you know where there's space on the road. From there, understand what you can do that is not erratic, but that will put you in a situation where you're least likely to suffer a crash.
Defensive driving isn't necessarily driving slowly. There might be times when you've got to punch it to put some space between you and the unsafe driver in the next lane, who keeps hanging out in your blind spot. Since you can't always rely on other drivers to obey the rules of the road, you'll have to use your intelligence to make the best decision you can.

Understand Cars and Car Control

Maybe you've got a friend who drives a manual transmission car. They're always talking about how it lets them "feel what the car is doing" better. There is some truth tothis idea, because when you are controlling the transmission, you have to put your focus on driving. That means your attention can't be elsewhere, like on your phone or drifting off to think about what you're going to make for dinner.
In general, getting a feel for how your car operates and what it's capable of will make you a better driver. It's a good idea for everyone to attend a car control school at least once. You might not think you'll use the training, but we've all found ourselves in challenging situations or inclement weather where driving becomes tricky due to factors beyond our control.

Taking an interest in what the feedback from your car means and how cars behave at their limit will ultimately make you a better driver. So even if you're not trying to become the next Mario Andretti, it's a smart idea.

Give these suggestions a try, and you'll see becoming a better driver is straightforward and fun. You'll enjoy more peace of mind behind the wheel, you'll be a better steward to your passengers and you'll be making all of us out there on the road with you just a little bit safer.