Guide to Being a Defensive Driver

Most accidents are preventable; you may have even been involved in one at some point. A ‘preventable accident’ can be defined as one that causes injury and/or property damage as a result of the driver in question not using every possible precaution within reason to stop the accident from occurring.

If you’re only paying attention to your own driving skills, you’re putting everyone on the road at risk. Drivers who do this are offensively driving, whereas someone who’s using defensive driving has a heightened awareness of road conditions, and is driving in anticipation of other drivers’ mistakes.

Defensive driving goes further than simply mastering the rules of the road and basic driving skills. It can be seen as a general set of rules and the use of particular driving techniques that take into account outside circumstances that can cause accidents.

If you’re doing the following, you’re driving defensively:

  • Committing no driving errors
  • Controlling your vehicle in accordance with conditions such as road quality, weather or traffic
  • Controlling your vehicle in order to avoid mistakes caused by other drivers

Ways to drive defensively:

  • Avoid distractions: Driving distractions range include texting, smoking, eating and drinking, using the radio or GPS, talking with passengers and talking on a cell phone. Don’t forget you should be able to recognize these factors in other drivers and it’s a good rule to assume that other drivers are not being completely attentive to the task at hand. You can think of these distracted drivers as your biggest challenge to driving safety.
  • Recognize hazards: A big part of being a proactive, defensive driver is being aware of what’s happening on all six sides of your vehicle. You can do this by visually scanning the environment around your vehicle and using distance scanning by looking ahead one or two blocks which gives you extra time to react to any possible hazards. Distance scanning has another positive side effect: It reduces fatigue. Crosswalks, intersections and school zones are all places to be extra attentive.
  • Manage speed: More accidents with more damage are more common as driving speed increases, both over the posted speed limit and for the road and weather conditions.
  • Manage space: Allowing yourself enough room for stopping is a crucial part of defensive driving. 
  • Communication: A good rule of the road to follow is to communicate your driving actions in a clear manner and as early as possible, within reason. Never assume that other drivers are aware of your signals, you should always give them enough time to see them and be able to react accordingly.
  • Emergency maneuvers and escape routes: Common emergency situations include oncoming traffic, stopped or merging traffic and a front tire blowout. You should always be ready for sudden emergency maneuvers, being able to take an alternative route into a different traffic lane or road shoulder. You should always plan ahead and look for an escape route if you see a possible hazard. Be proactive rather than reactive if possible and give yourself room when you see possible dangerous situations and traffic situations that can rapidly change and pose issues.

What steps do you take to be a defensive driver? Share in the comments below.

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