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Defensive driving courses teach drivers safe techniques to proactively anticipate and effectively react to a variety of hazards including careless actions by other drivers, poor visibility and road conditions due to dangerous weather conditions, and dangers triggered by various physical and emotional states.
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Defensive Driving: The Basics
You may have heard the phrase “defensive driving” talked about by driving instructors, but what actually is it?
Defensive driving is a particular style of road driving that makes use of various techniques and tactics to help you stay safe and keep away from problems caused by other road users.
Safety is the main benefit of defensive driving, as you are less likely to be involved in an accident if you follow a few simple rules. There are other advantages too, including better fuel economy and putting less strain on your car.
Here are a few ways you can become a defensive driver and stay safe on the roads.
Control Your Speed
An obvious place to start, the most basic principle of defensive driving is to make sure your vehicle is travelling at a controlled speed at all times.
You should never feel uneasy or like the car is getting away from you, particularly when going around corners.
In wet or icy conditions, controlling your speed is even more important because your car’s tyres will have less grip than if the roads are dry, meaning they are more hazardous than normal. Of course it’s perfectly safe to drive in the rain, provided you keep your speed down and your awareness up.
Just because the speed limit is 60 mph doesn’t necessarily mean that the conditions are appropriate to be travelling at that speed.
Keep Your Distance
The best way to avoid collisions with other road users is to keep away from them, and create a “safety bubble” around your own vehicle, as much as is practical.
Keeping your distance is important when following other cars, at all times, but particularly on the motorway.
The “two second rule” is an accepted safe distance between you and the car in front of you, so if the car in front stops suddenly, you give yourself enough time to slow down and avoid a collision.
Glance at an upcoming road sign, you should be able to count at least two seconds between the time the car in front passes the sign and you pass the sign. In wet conditions, this becomes the four second rule to allow for increased stopping distances on wet roads.
Expect the Unexpected
No, this isn’t about gazing into a crystal ball and predicting the future. It’s about not being too trusting of other road users, and taking steps to anticipate other drivers making mistakes.
If you are waiting to pull out at a junction and a car is indicating to turn, don’t assume that it will. Wait until it has turned to pull out into the road.
Similarly, if a car is waiting to turn across your right of way, you could slow down in advance, so that if the car does pull out, you are able to stop before hitting it.
A big one is people flashing their lights to let you in – do not assume that it’s safe to pull out just because someone has flashed their lights, do your own checks first.
It’s not just cars you need to anticipate the behaviour of, there are cyclists and pedestrians to keep an eye on too.
Stay Alert and Be Aware
Being aware of your surroundings is a key part of defensive driving. You are taught to check your mirrors regularly on your driving test for a very good reason – it keeps you mindful of what’s going on around you.
As well as knowing what’s going on behind, it’s really important to check the road several cars in front, rather than just focusing on the car in front of you. This will let you anticipate potential stops earlier, helping you to stay safe, use less fuel and brake earlier and lighter.
As mentioned above, it’s not just other cars you need to be aware of. A cyclist on the road may wish to turn right and therefore move across your direct line of travel, and you need to be alert to that.
You should also keep an eye on your blindspot, especially when doing any form of overtaking or changing lanes on a motorway.
Using all of the above defensive driving techniques and tactics will ensure you stay as safe as possible on the road.
Keeping your distance will create a safety bubble around you and your car, while controlling your speed is absolutely vital. Make sure to check your mirrors regularly and your blindspots when required, and try not to be too trusting that all drivers will behave in the proper manner – there is always a chance that they are driving distracted or just aren’t as safe of a driver as you!
Don’t make assumptions about another drivers intentions. If you expect drivers in parked vehicles to remain parked at all times, always yield at intersections, or remain in one lane at all times, etc., you risk being caught off guard when drivers do not do what’s expected.
Expect other drivers to make mistakes and be prepared to react. If a mistake is made, you will be ready to defend yourself.
Never assume that other drivers are sober, alert, and follow the rules of the road at all times.
What is defensive driving?
It is a set of driving skills that allows you to defend yourself against possible collisions caused by bad drivers, drunk drivers, and poor weather.
If you look ahead and keep your eyes moving, you will spot potential hazards more easily. Once you have identified a potential hazard and decided what to do, act immediately.
Defensive drivers are able to avoid dangers on the road by using their safe driving practices.
The standard Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations, ANSI/ASSE Z15.1, defines defensive driving skills as “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.” This definition is taken from the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Course.