Driver’s Ed: Being a better defensive driver could save your life. Here’s what you should know.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Every year, more than 30,000 people die in car accidents in the U.S.

Experts say most of those crashes are preventable.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in 2020 alone, more than 3,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes that involved distracted drivers.

Ben McCorkel with the Northeast Florida Safety Council said being a defensive driver at all times makes all the difference in saving lives.

“The worst part is this: if you have to go tell a family member their loved one is not coming home anymore,” he said. “I want people to prevent that. I don’t want people to have to receive that notice.”

Ben McCorkel with the Northeast Florida Safety Council gives Amanda DeVoe a lesson in defensive driving. (WJXT)

McCorkel is a former sheriff’s deputy and state trooper and has taught defensive driving courses for more than 40 years.

He’s seen it all during his time in law enforcement.

“I’ve seen people reading a newspaper, doing checkbooks, women putting on makeup, men shaving,” he said. “Wait until you get home.”

He said before a driver even opens their door, they need to check outside of the car and make sure everything under the hood is running smoothly.

“We want to check our fluid levels,” McCorkel said. “Check your oil. Make sure your oil is good. Check your windshield wiper fluid and the radiator fluid. Now it’s called coolant. Make sure your fluids are level. Check to see if the windshield wipers are in good shape. Clean it off. Make sure it’s all clean before you get into it.”

For those who say this is a lot to do just to go to the grocery store, McCorkel had an important stat.

“The majority of accidents happen within 2 miles of your home,” he said. “Improper fluid levels can cause an accident.”

Defensive driving can save lives, insists Ben McCorkel with the Northeast Florida Safety Council. (WJXT)

McCorkel said it’s the simple steps that people often forget, and that it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

If you see a wrong-way driver, McCorkel said to keep this tip in mind...

“Generally speaking, if a person is going the wrong way, they’re going to be to your left. The more to the right you can get, the better off you are,” he said.

When getting behind the wheel, McCorkel wants drivers to remember not to take any moment for granted.

“Two thousand pounds of steel rubber and glass. That doesn’t give. If it hits you, it’s not giving. But your body is really fragile, and it will give,” he said.

Ben McCorkel with the Northeast Florida Safety Council gives Amanda DeVoe a lesson in defensive driving. (WJXT)

McCorkel also suggests backing into your parking spot if you can, which can help lower your chances of parking lot crashes.

He also wants drivers to especially be alert for drunk drivers, no matter the time of day.

He said that’s a major point he brings home to his students who take his defensive driving course.

6 deadly mistakes

The National Safety Council says there are six deadly mistakes that drivers make.

It says most crashes that end in serious injury or death involve one of these:

  • Speeding
  • Violating the right of way or ignoring whose turn it is to go
  • Distracted driving
  • Improper turning or pulling out in front of people
  • Following too closely
  • And driving left of center, which is when someone crosses into the wrong side of traffic on a two-lane road

It can be intentional, like trying to pass someone or accidental because of a distraction or DUI.

Experts say drivers should be constantly aware so that they can react quickly and keep their distance from dangerous drivers.

It’s all about stress, patience, caution and consistency.

Trapped or submerged?

More than 400 people die each year in North America from their vehicles becoming submerged underwater.

Thousands more have trouble on land escaping their vehicles.

Whether you’re trapped in your vehicle on the road or find yourself submerged in water, McCorkel said there are a few options to remember.

This first aid kit is good to have in your car for emergencies. (WJXT)

If you are in danger and need to escape immediately, you can use a glass breaker that typically comes in an emergency car kit. Many of them double as a seat belt cutter as well.

If you don’t have one, he suggests using something inside that all vehicles have: a headrest.

“You got your headrest. You got metal pieces there and it will definitely break a window. If you don’t have anything metal to break it with, then use your elbow,” he said.

If you end up submerged, officials say to handle this situation differently. They say in this instance, time is short, and you need to save yourself.

They say your best chance of survival is in the first 60 seconds, so there is no point in calling 911 or a family member.

The first three things they say you need to do:

  • Brace for impact
  • Remain calm
  • Unbuckle your seat belt

After doing that, it’s time to escape by rolling down your window and climbing out.

If the window is stuck and you don’t have a glass breaker, McCorkel said to start using your feet.

“Once that car goes underwater, and the water’s there at the windows, you’re not going to be able to break it as easy. But you still can break it. Also, you can use your feet and kick it out. The best thing to kick out will be your windshield. They come out easier than the windows on the side would if you’re submerged in water,” he said.

Officials said once you escape, swim out headfirst.

If you don’t know which direction is up, follow the bubbles, which will always rise to the surface.

Also, be extra careful when driving in high flood areas and around areas adjacent to bodies of water.

If there is a flash flood warning, avoid driving if possible.

People can drown in less than one foot of water.

About the Author:

Amanda DeVoe joined the News4JAX team in March 2022 as a morning news and traffic anchor