The A-S-C-R Method of Defensive Driving

by John Fabel | Last Updated: February 15, 2021

If you are curious as to the meaning of the acronym “A-S-C-R,” it is likely your Google search has been less than satisfying. The problem is, this combination of letters has been co-opted as a mnemonic device for multiple disciplines. For example, if you are a TV technophile, ASCR refers to a dynamic contrast ratio that results in sharper images, especially when you’re watching or playing something that tends to be darker.

But, if you are hoping to be a more defensive driver, A-S-C-R has a very different meaning indeed. This acronym was devised to remind every driver that safe driving requires you to Anticipate, Search, Concentrate, and React. If followed closely, the A-S-C-R technique can be very effective in keeping you and others safe while out on the road.

Topics Covered in this Post:

How to Anticipate While Driving

Things to be Searching for While Driving

How to Stay Focused While Driving

How to React Safely While Driving

For maximum safety, it’s not enough to simply “avoid distracted driving.” Just putting down your cellphone is no substitute for being actively engaged in the driving task. If all drivers would take to the road with “A-S-C-R” in mind, the roads would be safer for all of us. Let’s break down each of these to see how the four of them work together to keep you safer behind the wheel.

How to Anticipate Surprises the Road Might Throw at You

Let’s start with the most obvious. Just as listening is different than hearing, looking is different than seeing. To anticipate what the road might throw at you. It’s not enough to just put down your phone and fight off the temptation to fiddle with the radio. You have to actively scan the environment around you.

The potential for an accident can develop from any angle. That’s why you must be aware of what is going on ahead of you, behind you, and to the side. You can do this by keeping your eyes moving. Don’t focus solely on what is happening immediately in front of you; scan the middle and far distance as well. You should also check your mirrors every 10-15 seconds.

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What Are You Searching For?

When actively scanning the roadway, what are some of the situations that should put you on alert?

On city streets—Pay close attention to places where other drivers may be entering or exiting the flow of traffic. Entrances to restaurants, gas stations, stores, or other businesses represent opportunities for other drivers to pull in or out suddenly. Watch for turn signals or motion from the sides.

At intersections—Don’t limit your attention to cars traveling in the same direction as you. Look as far as you can in both directions down the cross street. Just because you have the green light doesn’t mean a driver coming the other way is going to obey his red one.

On the highway—Keep an eye on the drivers in the lanes next to you and the distance between their tires and the lines on the roadway. If that gap starts to narrow, they could be drifting towards you or about to change lanes in front of you.

Watch for other road users—Pedestrians, runners, and people on bicycles add a unique set of variables to the driving environment. Traveling under their own power, they sometimes forget that they are just as much a part of the traffic landscape as the vehicles that surround them. Be ready to brake in the event that they act unexpectedly.

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What Are You Thinking?!?

The third verb of our acronym is Concentrate and, after reviewing all that Anticipating and Searching requires, it’s easy to see why you need it.

When performing a repetitive task, it’s easy to let our minds wander. For example, while washing dishes (or mowing the lawn or walking the dog or taking a shower), our brains can go to lots of weird places.

Mindless tasks can be mentally refreshing because we can allow ourselves to ponder, to dream, to escape. Unfortunately, driving is not a mindless task. No matter how many years of experience you have behind the wheel, the driving environment is a dynamic and potentially dangerous place. The road is no place to lose focus.

Decide before starting the engine to leave the cares of the day outside the car. If something is troubling you, deal with it before driving or find a way to file it away until you reach your destination. If you’re a fan of talk radio, be prepared to change the station if you find yourself caught up in the discussion to the point of distraction. We’ve all seen the devastation that can result from drivers who allow their emotions to rule the day. Think about driving while you’re driving.

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That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen. Now What?

One of the primary causes of collisions is often written into accident reports as “improper evasive action.” This phrase means that the driver may have been aware of the danger, but didn’t employ the right maneuver to compensate for it.

#1. The Yellow Light—While approaching an intersection, the traffic light changes to yellow, perhaps a little sooner than you expected. In this situation, it is best not to proceed if you think you can stop safely before the light changes to red. You will need to take into consideration any vehicles approaching from behind you, but you can’t trust that traffic on the cross street is paying attention to anything but the green light ahead of them.

#2. Animal in the Road—Swerving to avoid an animal in the road is never a good plan. The animal can act unpredictably, and you take on the risk of swerving into cars to the side of you or striking stationary objects ahead. Stay calm, reduce your speed if you can, and keep both hands on the wheel. Not to put too fine a point on it, if your choices come down to Mr. Squirrel or Mr. Telephone Pole, take Mr. Squirrel.

#3. Being Tailgated—You glance into your rearview mirror and notice that the driver behind you is alarmingly close to the back of your car. Stay calm and resist the temptation to engage with the other driver. Now is not the time to evaluate the reasons why they are driving this way. The best approach here is to let them pass, whether they have a legitimate emergency or are just a jerk.

#4. Sharing the Road with a Drunk—If your search of the roadway has revealed someone who is driving erratically, it could be that they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Your first strategy here is to put as much space between your car and theirs as possible. If you have the opportunity, pull over to a safe spot, take note of their license plate number and call 911 to report the incident.

#5. Water Covered Road—If you encounter a section of roadway submerged due to flash flooding, it is recommended that you not drive through it. It is difficult to judge how deep the water might be from the front seat of your car. Four inches of standing rainwater can affect the engine, transmission, and electrical components of most cars, and as little as six inches can sweep one away. Best not to risk it.

#6. Oncoming Vehicle in Your Lane—If an oncoming car is approaching in your lane, attempt to get the driver’s attention by flashing your lights and/or honking your horn. If the driver does not respond, continue driving towards them until the last possible moment and then swerve to the right. Never swerve left as this maneuver will put you directly into their path if they correct.

Give Yourself Time to Let the ASCR Method to Work It’s Magic

The best way to take in all that’s going on around you and to react safely to it is to put as much space between yourself and the vehicles around you as possible. One of the most often neglected space areas is the distance between your car and the one ahead, and it’s the one over which you have the most control.

An easy way to manage this distance is to use the “2-second rule.” It’s easy.

Pick a fixed object and note when the driver ahead of you passes it. Then count “one thousand-one, one thousand-two.” If the front of your car passes the object before you reach “two,” you are following too closely. This simple method will ensure a safe following distance at any speed in dry, daylight conditions. Be prepared to count off three, four, or even five seconds in poor weather or after dark.

Operating a motor vehicle is a task that carries with it an enormous amount of responsibility. It is up to you to keep yourself and those around you safe. Following the principles of A-S-C-R every time you are on the road is a simple and effective way to do just that.

John Fabel

I have a long and checkered history with defensive driving. I took my first "court invited" course at age 15 and realized immediately that there had to be a better way. Since that first experience, I have gone on to teach defensive driving classroom courses and to author four internet courses in 2 states. After nearly 25 years in the industry, I can help you find a course that will be the best fit for you.