Three Defensive Driving Tools to Avoid Great Impact

Three Defensive Driving Tools to Avoid Great Impact

Jeff Hohlstein

What do OODA, Three Mississippi’s, and a vehicle’s front wheels have in common? They can all be defensive driving tools that will alert and prepare you for potential conflict situations and avoid a crash.

In another year or so, I’ll enter that age range of 78–85, when most people decide to quit driving. Over the years, I’ve learned some tools that I hope will allow me to drive safely far beyond that range. I’m not a certified driving instructor, so I’ll describe the tools and how I use them. How you choose to use them is up to you.

The OODA Loop: See and avoid trouble

So what’s an OODA? The OODA Loop is a rapid decision-making tool developed by Retired Colonel John Boyd, USAF. In combat, OODA is used to totally confuse and demoralize the enemy. In defensive driving, OODA is a disciplined way of thinking that helps one see and avoid trouble. OODA stands for Observe > Orient > Decide > Act, and then do it again.

It sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But then there’s a joke—Two crows were sitting in a tree above a corn field. Crow One said, “Let’s fly down and eat some corn.” Crow Two, “We can’t. There’s a man standing in the field.” Crow One, “That’s a scarecrow. If it was a man, he’d be looking at his cell phone.”

How many times do we see people who aren’t even observing? And, as we age, we need a conscious, disciplined decision-making tool to drive safely. OODA can be that tool. Let’s start with an easy example.

Three Mississippi’s: Three second rule

Three Mississippi’s keep you three seconds from hitting a vehicle in front of you. It’s the easiest of the tools to understand, but the hardest to practice. It’s the minimum safe distance to maintain between you and the driver ahead for reaction time. I’ve used two seconds for years, but in researching for this article, the Florida Driver’s Handbook Section 5.26 states, “Keep a minimum following distance of three to four seconds with an additional second for any unusual weather or traffic conditions.” I’ve made the adjustment to three seconds. And as I get older and my reflexes slow down, I may go to four.

Cell phones and all the distractions they create aside, there are legitimate reasons to look away from the road ahead—for instance, looking back before changing lanes. In heavy traffic, it may take more than one look. Also, checking vehicles at stop signs or in the center divider or checking GPS on an unfamiliar turn. Three seconds gives us time to do that. So how does Three Mississippi’s work?

Observe, Orient, Decide and Act

Observe—Am I three seconds behind the driver ahead?

Orient—Pick a timing landmark. The easiest one I’ve found is a specific dashed lane stripe, but any fixed object will do. As your vehicle ahead passes it, count, “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi.” If your landmark hasn’t passed under your hood, you have three seconds. There are other ways to count seconds, but using them, I’ve found it easy to cheat. In counting Mississippi’s, there are enough syllables to keep me honest, no matter how many Mississippi’s I want to count. Each one takes a full second.

Orient—I’m three seconds back, or not.

Decide—If yes, maintain. If no, I Act, back out and do Observe, Orient again. If speed changes, three seconds’ distance will change. I’ll do it again. If someone pulls in front of me, as they often do in heavy traffic, I back out again.

Observe—In today’s world, especially in heavy traffic, many drivers maintain less than one second behind the vehicle ahead. Over the years, I have been struck from behind at least five times, and never because of a panic stop I made. I have found that backing out to at least two seconds has been worth it in the past, because I have never struck someone else from behind. Now I’m using three seconds.

A vehicle’s front wheels tell a lot. I was a certified Traffic Cycling Instructor from 2010 to 2016 , and I taught that you cannot count on where a driver is looking when it came to cyclists. I taught students to look at a vehicle’s front wheels. I’ve carried that to driving.

Observe – The rotation of the front wheels tells me instantly whether a vehicle is slowing, stopped, or accelerating—before I detect the motion of the vehicle. Where the wheels are pointed tells me where the vehicle will follow.

Orient – Wheels’ rotation is useful at intersections to tell me who’s yielding and who’s not and at cross-streets and with left-turning vehicles in a median to tell me who’s yielding and who’s not. Wheels’ direction is useful at a roundabout to determine whether a vehicle is continuing or exiting the roundabout.

This observation and orientation allow me to decide and act defensively and safely during normal traffic flow. So, let’s get into the tough stuff—stop signs and signalized intersections.

Remember the rule, “Look left, right, left,” before proceeding from a stop sign? It’s inadequate and, as I learned on a bicycle, people do look left because that’s where the threat to them will come. But many only glance right before or as they pull out, then back left.

Approaching an Intersection Using OODA

An intersection is any place that a vehicle, pedestrian or cyclist can enter your lane, creating a conflict – including side roads, driveways and center median breaks. Using OODA, as soon as I’m close enough to properly observe, I scan the entire intersection to orient myself. If I see a potential conflict, I keep it in my scan and decide/act as necessary.     

Approaching a Stop Sign

As I approach or stop at a stop sign, I:

Observe – Look right all the way to the sidewalk or, if none, to the road edge. I look for pedestrians and cyclists opposing traffic. Cyclists may legally oppose traffic on a sidewalk, but not on the road, but some do. Then I sweep left, checking cross traffic and the opposite side of the intersection, and finally, look left for my opening.

Now I’m oriented. If there are potential conflicts, I’ve noted them.

Decide, Act—If there are no other conflicts and I have an opening, I go, but as I release the brakes, I look all the way back to the right. Whereas a pedestrian would be picked up in the first sweep, a cyclist may have been too far away. They come upon an intersection almost like from nowhere. If waiting for a traffic break, as it approaches, I again Observe and Orient right to left. If nothing has changed, as the break arrives, I go.

Yield Signs

Most Yield signs are at signalized intersections. If I already have a green light, as I approach the Yield, I sweep right to left, paying particular attention to the sidewalks and opposing lanes across the intersection, looking for pedestrians, cyclists, left-turning drivers, and continue. If I don’t have a green light, I stop, do a similar sweep, ending left, looking for an opening. As it arrives, I again check the sidewalks and crosswalks and across the intersection for left-turning drivers. Then I look left and go.

Green Lights

Going straight through a green light. President Reagan’s time-worn adage “Trust but verify” applies here. Approaching an intersection, in this order, I look right for pedestrians and cyclists, left for red-light runners, across for left turners, and, as I enter it, right for red-light runners.

Red Light Turns Green

Going straight when the red light turns green. To me, this is the most dangerous time to enter an intersection. Stopped cars can tell a lot. Before the light turns green, I check the cross lanes. If they’re all filled with stopped cars, then a red-light runner isn’t a problem. Before the light turns, I again check for bicyclists and pedestrians. If I’m first in line, and the cross lanes aren’t filled with stopped cars, as I release the brakes, I check first left for red-light runners and immediately across the intersection for left turners on a red arrow. I have seen as many as three vehicles in a row turn left against a red arrow. As I enter the intersection, I check for red-light runners and right turners from the right.

How to Integrate OODA into Your Driving

You don’t have to use OODA exactly as I do. The fact that you use it to become more defensive will cause you to make faster and better decisions than many other drivers. In the beginning, you’ll have to mentally run through the steps – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, at each potential conflict. This is called conscious competence. After using it for a while, getting in the vehicle will bring OODA to mind and as you drive, the steps will occur automatically – unconscious competence. If you find yourself becoming distracted, bring it back to your consciousness.

OODA is a great tool for people of all ages, especially for older drivers. But there is more. As we age, we lose strength, balance, and cognitive skills, unless we do something about it. There are many studies that say exercising a few hours a week can benefit all three, regardless of how old you are when you start. Many Medicare Advantage programs offer Silver Sneakers, a free membership to participating gyms. These health-care companies would rather pay for your gym membership than to pay for your illnesses resulting from a sedentary lifestyle.

So, the choice is yours. Do you want to drive more defensively and extend your driving years? OODA is a useful tool, and exercise is the enabler.

Click here to download the article in PDF format.

Jeff Hohlstein PhotoBio:  Jeff Hohlstein grew up near Buffalo, New York. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1960 through 1981, when he retired with the rank of commander. He and the former Miss Jo Allison Manly married on July 19, 1966. He earned his bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from La Verne College, while on active duty. After his career as a fighter pilot, the Hohlsteins settled in Southern California. He worked for Lockheed Corporation in California and Texas. In 1995, he left Lockheed and, together, they opened Management Recruiters of Round Rock, which they operated until 2004. The Hohlsteins moved to Orange Park, Florida in 2005, near Jodi’s childhood home. From 2010 through 2017, Jeff taught traffic cycling; first, Traffic Skills 101, certified by the League of American Bicyclists; also, Cycling Savvy, certified by both the Florida Bicycle Association and the American Bicycling Education Association. Today, Jeff and Jodi are happily retired and active in The North Florida Bicycle Club. They are members of the Florida Department of Transportation District Two’s Community Traffic Safety Team in Clay County.

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Traffic Safety Talk October 2019

FDOT District Two Community Traffic Safety Program News and Information

Click here to download the October 2019 edition of Traffic Safety Talk.

The FDOT District Two Community Traffic Safety Program’s (CTSP) mission statement is to reduce traffic-related fatalities and injuries. The premise of the program is local communities, solving local problems with state assistance.

Highway safety is at its best when we can address driver behavior, road conditions and vehicle factors as three interacting aspects of collision and injury prevention. Through events, on-going educational programs and projects, individuals and agencies are combining resources to improve awareness and understanding of safety issues on a local level.

You are part of our multi-county Community Traffic Safety Teams (CTSTs). By working together we can address all facets of safety, not just parts of the problem. Our “T.E.A.M” philosophy is successful when we all do our part. Augmenting our efforts toward a common goal of reducing the number and severity of traffic crashes and saving lives within our communities. T.E.A.M. = Together Everyone Achieves More

I commend our partners for their active participation and on-going commitment to traffic safety in our 18 county district. I invite you to be a part of the solution. Help us to promote safety on our roadways and move toward zero fatalities.  -Andrea Atran

CTST Meetings and Training

Every year 64 team meetings are planned and take place at eight locations in our district. This year we hosted two training days in Alachua County and Duval County.

Engineering Concerns

Over a 12 month period, 286 roadway concerns have been submitted through our Community Traffic Safety Teams. Some of the safety issues identified include: roadway departure hazards, road surface conditions, narrow roadways and bridges, railroad crossings, work zones, intersections, roadway design limitations, roadway access problems, pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

To submit a concern, click on “Roadway Concerns”. Complete online form with detailed location and issue descriptions. Upload a photo or video and submit. Once knowledgeable team members identify a concern, we can conduct a study, prioritize improvements, schedule and implement, then evaluate effectiveness.

Teen Driving Initiative

Our goal is to improve safety belt use among teenage motorists in their communities. The first step is to accurately identify seat belt usage percentages at local high schools utilizing the Florida Safety Belt Observation Form. Preliminary data collected at two high schools in Gainesville, Florida indicated a lower percentage than the Florida Statewide Observational Survey of Safety Belt Use.   

To view the complete newsletter showcasing our newly illustrated W.H.A.L.E. Check, Celebrate Safely, Activity Book for Kids, and Safety Bookmarks, click here: October 2019 edition of Traffic Safety Talk.


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Safety for Kids

New child safety activity book and safety bookmarks are now available!

Activity Book

Our cool new activity booklet was also developed and printed in a two-part flip book for elementary age children and preteens. For the younger kids, ages 5-10, we have the “Safety Scores! On your way to school, at home, and off to play.” with great safety tips, fun puzzles and activities. The other part targets the older tween age kids from 10-13, challenging them to “Up Your Safety Game! Phone Down. Eyes Up. Buckle Up!”

Important traffic safety messages and activities cover a wide range of topics, including: child passenger safety (CPS), occupant protection, pedestrian safety, bike and helmet safety, ATV off-road safety and school bus dangers and safety. In addition, there are other key safety concerns for kids like swimming, sports, fire hazards and general everyday safety tips. We’ve got mazes, puzzles, coloring, games, crosswords, word searches, scrambles, trivia and safety check lists to keep the kids engaged while emphasizing valuable safety knowledge, reminders of best practices and fundamental safety rules to help prevent injuries or death.

Elementary – Sample Pages
 Activity Book - Elementary Pages - ATV Safety Message  Activity Book - Elementary Pages - Occupant Protection Safety Message  Activity Book - Elementary Pages - Water Safety Message
Pre Teens – Sample Pages
 Activity Book - Pre Teens Pages - Crossing Safety Message  Activity Book - Pre Teens Pages - Bike Helmet Safety Message  Activity Book - Pre Teens Pages - Sport Safety Message


These double-sided bookmarks contain important safety messages for bicycle safety, distracted driving, pedestrian safety, and occupant protection tips for drivers and users. They are distributed to libraries throughout our community. Click on a design below to learn more about that particular topic!



Bicycle Safety Distracted Driving Pedestrian Safety Occupant Protection
Safety Bookmark - Bicycle Safety Message Safety Bookmark - Distracted Driving Safety Message Safety Bookmark - Pedestrian Safety Message Safety Bookmark - Occupant Protection Safety Message


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W.H.A.L.E. Check Program

W.H.A.L.E. CHECK Program

Introducing a fresh new W.H.A.L.E. (We Have A Little Emergency) Check artwork for Florida’s child passenger safety program. Our widely popular and nationally recognized W.H.A.L.E. Check campaign continues as a highly requested and distributed piece on important child occupant protection and car seat safety.  W.H.A.L.E. Check is made available statewide as a digital download courtesy of District Two.

W.H.A.L.E. Check is a child passenger safety education and identification program for parents and caregivers. In the event of an automobile crash, children are often too young to identify themselves or provide helpful information. Parents/guardians are encouraged to complete the sticker and place on the back of the child’s car seat to provide vital contact information for emergency personnel. They are to stick the two smaller labels on each side of the car seat. These alert rescuers that the occupant is participating in W.H.A.L.E. Check.

Please watch and share this short informational video about the W.H.A.L.E. Check program:

Click here to download the W.H.A.L.E. Check as a one-page, printable PDF flyer to distribute at car seat checks, traffic safety events, daycare centers, pediatrician offices, government agencies and hospitals throughout Florida.

Click here to download a social media graphic to help promote the W.H.A.L.E. Check program.


order-formOccupant Protection Campaign – Order Online Now

The W.H.A.L.E. Check informational flyer also includes great child safety seat tips and guidelines! There are five smart safety tips to help prevent injuries in case of a car crash:

  1. WEAR YOUR SAFETY BELT: Studies show that if you wear your seat belt, your kids will too.
  2.  Follow Manufacturer’s instructions: Always check the manual for both your
    car and the child safety seat for proper installation guidelines.
  3. Seat strapped in tight: You should not be able to move the car seat more than one inch
    in any direction at the belt path, and always use the top tether when forward facing.
  4. Chest clip at armpit level & Harness Snug: Straps should be tight enough
    so that you cannot pinch the fabric of the harness at the shoulders.
  5. Back Seat is Safest: Children age 13 and under should ride in the back seat.
    Older children no longer need a special seat if their legs bend comfortably at the
    seat’s edge with their back resting flat against the back of the seat.

We follow these American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and want all children safeguarded in the right car seat!

  • Birth – 12 Months: Babies under age 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. There are different types of rear-facing car seats: Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.
  • 1 – 3 Years: Toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat with a harness as long as possible – until they reach the top height or weight limit of the seat, typically around 35 to 45 pounds.
  • 4 – 7 Years: Young children should ride in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they reach the top height or weight limit of the seat – typically between 40 and 60 pounds.
  • 8 – 12 Years: Children should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lies snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach, and the shoulder belt lies snug across the shoulder and chest, not over the neck or face.
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2019 Training Day

Thank you for attending the 2019 Traffic Safety Team Member Training Days in Gainesville and Jacksonville!

If you were not able to attend—here’s what you missed! All of the presentations are now available for download!
Be sure to check out and share the photos from both trainings too!

Team Packet

Team Member Tools

Photo Galleries

Gainesville Training Jacksonville Training


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2019 Traffic Engineering Manual – Now Available!

The Florida Department of Transportation Traffic Engineering and Operations Office has officially released the 2019 Traffic Engineering Manual. The Traffic Engineering Manual can be found on the Traffic Services Office website at:

The January 2019 Traffic Engineering Manual is effective January 1, 2019.

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