Defensive Driving and Sharing the Road

This section of the Florida Drivers Handbook explains how to drive in the State of Florida. Topic covered include defensive driving, protecting children, speed limits, making turns, passing, parking and others.

Topics Addressed in this section of the Florida Driver Handbook include:

Defensive Driving in Florida

Good driving is based on practice and being alert at the wheel. When driving, you must make sure that nothing interferes with your ability to see the road, react to situations or operate your vehicle properly. You must look down the road, to the sides and behind your vehicle and be alert for unexpected events. Be alert to what is going on around you and do not take your eyes off the road for more than a few seconds at any one time. Do not have objects inside your vehicle that might interfere with your ability to drive safely. This might include objects that obstruct your view of the road or mirrors.

Distracted Drivers

Good drivers develop habits that focus their full attention on driving. Some drivers can develop bad habits that can be very dangerous when driving. Some bad habits that distract your attention away from driving are:

  • Driving when ill, upset or angry.
  • Driving while eating and drinking.
  • Driving while adjusting the radio or changing CDs/tapes.
  • Driving while calling, answering or talking on a mobile phone.
  • Reading while driving.
  • Driving while drowsy or fatigued.

Getting Ready to Drive

Before you start your engine:

  • Make sure all windows are clean. Remove anything that blocks your view of the road.
  • Adjust the seat so you can reach all controls.
  • Adjust the inside and outside rearview mirrors. You should not have to lean forward or backward to use them.
  • Lock all car doors.
  • Put on your safety belts. Ask all passengers to do the same.
  • Make sure your car is in park or neutral gear before starting the engine. Never move your car until you have looked in front, behind and to the side for pedestrians and oncoming traffic. Then, signal and pull into traffic when safe.

Defensive Driving

Defensive driving means doing all you can to prevent crashes. As a defensive driver, you will "give" a little. You will change your driving to fit the weather conditions, the way you feel, and the actions of other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. Follow these steps to avoid crashes:

  1. Look for possible danger. Think about what might happen. If there are children playing by the road, plan what you will do if one runs or rides into the street.
  2. Understand what can be done to prevent a crash. See the defensive driving tips which follow and Handling Emergencies.
  3. Act in time. Once you have seen a dangerous situation, act right away to prevent a crash.

Use these defensive driving tips if you see that you are about to be involved in a crash:

  • It is better to swerve right instead of toward oncoming traffic to prevent a crash.
  • Hitting a row of bushes is better than hitting a tree, post or solid object.
  • Hitting a vehicle moving in the same direction as you are is better than hitting a vehicle head-on.
  • It is better to drive off the road than skid off when avoiding a crash.
  • It is better to hit something that is not moving instead of a vehicle moving toward you.

When You Back Up

Check behind your vehicle before you get in. Children or small objects cannot be seen from the driver's seat. Place your right arm on the back of the seat and turn around so that you can look directly through the rear window. Do not depend on your rearview or side mirrors as you cannot see directly behind your vehicle. Back slowly; your vehicle is much harder to steer while you are backing. Whenever possible use a person outside the vehicle to help you back up.

Avoiding Rear-end Collisions

Many crashes happen because one vehicle runs into the back of another one. Here are some things you can do to lower the risk of someone running into the rear of your vehicle.

  • Check your brake lights often to make sure they are clean and working properly.
  • Know what is going on around you. Use your rearview mirrors.
  • Signal well in advance for turns, stops and lane changes.
  • Slow down gradually. Avoid any sudden actions.
  • Drive with the flow of traffic (within the speed limit). Driving too slowly can be as dangerous as driving too fast.
  • To avoid striking the vehicle in the front of you, keep at least two seconds following distance. This is accomplished by using the two-second rule. Information for the two-second rule is found under the section, Minimum Safe Following Distances.

Basic Driver Improvement

Any driver can take a basic driver improvement course. The course teaches ways of keeping crashes from happening. One driver can sign up, or a group can request a class. Consult your yellow pages under Driving Instruction for the location nearest you.

Safety Belts

The driver and front seat passengers must wear seat belts. The seat belt law applies to passenger cars manufactured beginning with the 1968 model year, and trucks beginning with the 1972 model year. It is unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle in this state unless every passenger of the vehicle under the age of 18 is restrained by a safety belt or by a child restraint device, regardless of seating position.

If the passenger is 18 years of age or older and fails to wear a seat belt when required by law, the passenger will be charged with the violation.

The law exempts the following from the seat belt requirements:

  • Any person certified by a physician as having a medical condition that causes the seat belt use to be inappropriate or dangerous.
  • Employee of a newspaper home delivery service while delivering newspapers on home delivery routes.
  • School buses.
  • Buses used for transportation of persons for compensation.
  • Farm equipment.
  • Trucks of a net weight of more than 5,000 pounds.
  • Motorcycle, moped or bicycle.

In a crash, you are far more likely to be killed if you are not wearing a safety belt. Wearing shoulder belts and lap belts make your chances of living through a crash twice as good.

In a crash, safety belts:

  • Keep you from being thrown from the vehicle. The risk of death is five times greater if you are thrown from a vehicle in a crash.
  • Keep you from being thrown against others in the vehicle.
  • Keep the driver behind the wheel, where he or she can control the vehicle.
  • Keep you from being thrown against parts of your vehicle, such as the steering wheel or windshield.


Wear a lap belt around your hips, not your stomach. Fasten the belt snugly. Wear a shoulder belt only with a lap belt. Don't just use your safety belt for long trips or high-speed highways. More than half of the crashes that cause injury or death happen at speeds less than 40 MPH and within 25 miles from home.

Protecting Children


The number one killer of young children in the United States is traffic crashes in which children were not restrained at all. Over 90 percent of the deaths and 80 percent of the injuries in car crashes could be prevented by using crash-tested child restraints.

Children should be secured in the rear seat. Never secure a child in the front passenger side, especially if your vehicle has an air bag.

The law requires every driver to properly secure children five years of age or younger in child restraint devices riding in a passenger car, van, or pick-up truck, regardless of whether the vehicle is registered in this state. Infant carriers or children's car seats must be used for children up to three years of age and younger. For children aged 4 through 5 years, a separate carrier, an integrated child seat or a seat belt may be used. All infant carriers and car seats must be crash-tested and approved by the U.S. Government.

Children being carried or riding bicycles should wear properly fitted bicycle helmets.

What is the Best Child Seat?

  • The one that fits your child.
  • The one that fits your vehicle.
  • The one that you will use correctly every time.

For more information on the best child seat, please visit: and obtain information on Occupant Protection & Child Passenger Safety News.

Leaving Children Unattended or Unsupervised in Motor Vehicles

Do not leave children unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle and never leave a child unattended for any period of time if the motor vehicle is running or if the health of the child is in danger.


On a hot summer day, the interior of a car can get dangerously hot. One study found that with the windows up and the temperature outside at 94 degrees, the inside of a car could be 122 degrees in just half an hour, or 132 degrees after an hour.

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