1. Never take your focus off the road.
This is the biggest area where people make mistakes. Looking away to fuss over some small detail shifts your focus off what's going on in front of you to your phone, purse, back seat, radio, food/drink, or to whatever the heck else you're doing behind the wheel. The focus should ALWAYS remain on the road in front of you. How else are you going to respond lightning fast to unknown thing that happen?
A very sad story that was shown on the Today Show this morning demonstrates this rule #1 too, too well. A brilliant young girl was texting constantly on her 4 hour drive and slammed into the back of a truck going 15 miles an hour while she was going 80 and died instantly. The ironic part? Her last line said, "I can't be talking about this right now. It's not safe to facebook and drive, haha!" THIS IS A WAKE UP CALL, FOLKS!
When you fail to follow cardinal rule #1, you are actually a worse driver than a drunk one. At least they are making an attempt to focus on the road, even if impaired. If you're not looking at the road, you're not even making impaired judgement because your focus is somewhere else. =/
2. Always pay attention to the people around you.
If you know where they are, and are paying attention, you are better prepared. What if the car beside you swerves into your lane, but you were fumbling around, texting, or something? You would get sideswiped. Also this eliminates the blind spot problems. If you've been paying attention, then you already know somebody is in your blind spot. This applies to many situations. I can't tell you how many times an 18-wheeler has veered off into my lane but thankfully, I was paying attention. If I veered right and he veered left, would I be here now? Maybe, maybe not.
3. Always know your "Out."
I learned this in a Defense Driving course at college. It's actually very valuable knowledge. If you're paying attention to cardinal rule #2, you will always be able to find your "Out" very easily. This means a place you can get out of a predicament in case something happens. If you're paying attention to other drivers' locations all the way around you, you can judge their speed and your timing to get over in case you have to. If the car in front of you slams on their brakes, you might have to head left or right to prevent a head on collision into the back end of their car, for example. Always leave an available option!
3. Allow enough space.
There's no need to ride less than a car space away from the car in front of you. If they have to slam on the brakes, you don't want to end up in their back seat, do you? The morning of writing this rule #3, I had a perfect real life example to happen. A truck in front of me was carrying something in the back. He was driving the speed limit but after about a mile on the road, the item in the back bounced, then flew out of his truck bed. If I had been too close, that rack would be on my hood, or maybe even in my windshield. Always think about these things. You might feel that there's room for you to stop when you're riding on somebody's bumper. But if something happens unexpectedly and you break cardinal rule #1 (maybe a bee flies in or a spider drops off your ceiling and distracts you! You never know!!), AND if something happened with the driver in front of you, they might stop suddenly and then -- oops -- now you've had an accident.
4. Know your limits.
Not everyone's reflex rate is the same. Your judgement of somebody else may be spot on. But they may act unpredictably, so don't be stupid. You can't compensate for others' stupidity, no matter how hard you try. Never assume you know what other drivers will do because people will consistently fail you. Follow the cardinal rules above and your limits will be set safely.
5. Don't just watch the car in front of you. Watch the car in front of them. Then you don't have to rely on one driver's weak judgement (or lack of entirely) in case they do something stupid! If somebody isn't following rule #1, why should you suffer because of their mistake? Safeguard yourself! This is why I do not like to drive behind big pick-ups or other vehicles I can't see through or past.
6. Always look twice.
Even if you've been paying attention as in cardinal rule #2, never assume. This makes you as stupid as the rest of the herd. Don't do something like change lanes on the freeway presuming you know exactly where everybody was at on the road: look again anyway! What's it going to hurt? You may be surprised sometimes to see someone there you hadn't expected, or you might see someone start making a lane change you didn't anticipate before you make your change.
7. Put Aside Mental Distractions
It's so easy to be caught up with thoughts of things you're dealing with or working on, or even just momentary things other people in the car, singing your favorite song, or grabbing a drink. But even when your eyes are following rule #1, your mind is elsewhere. Keep your mind in focus, especially when there's other traffic around. Don't endanger yourself and others by mentally being somewhere else.
You may not even realize you do this one but sometimes you can catch your mind wandering, and your focus along with it.
Common sense is the bottom line! Have it. Use it. And NEVER ASSUME.