With practice, driving should be easy. But however great you are, there are many others out on the roads who aren’t. One of the ways to ensure you’re doing everything you can to remain safe and sound on the roads is to drive defensively.
Aggressive drivers, nervous drivers, fast drivers, extra slow drivers, tailgaters, the ones that can’t be bothered to signal before switching lanes or turning, the ones daydreaming and wandering into a different lane – there are a huge range of bad drivers.
People rate their own driving highly (even when it’s terrible)
Everyone likes to think of themselves as an excellent driver, the epitome of courtesy and rule-following. However, people consistently over-rate their skills as drivers and most people have at least one bad habit when they’re behind the wheel. It might be driving distracted due to eating, talking or texting on the phone, rocking out to their favourite songs and changing radio channels, applying makeup, or weaving in and out of traffic, but everyone has at least one terrible habit when driving. Did you know that aggressive drivers are the cause of a third of all traffic crashes? It’s not just bad or slow driving that causes big problems.
With so many hazards on the roads, what can you do to ensure your safety while you’re driving? Become a defensive driver. You can’t change other people’s driving habits, but you can upgrade your own. Defensive driving means that you are aware of, prepared for, and ready to deal with whatever the road warriors have in store for you!
Let’s take a look at what you can do and some easy ways to maintain road safety when you are behind the wheel.
Stay alert and focused
This may sound obvious, but the truth is we live in a world of multiple distractions. But when you’re driving you should focus on the road. There is a lot going on already: road and weather conditions, speed, lane discipline, position, following signs and other laws of the road, pedestrian behaviour, maintaining speed limits, following directions to reach your destination (whether it is someone in the passenger seat guiding you or the Maps app on your phone).
But of course the major factor on the road is watching out for other drivers to ensure no one has braked suddenly, drifted into your lane, is weaving through traffic or turning without indicating.
Don’t be a distracted driver
Talking on the phone and eating are two of the biggest reasons people behind the wheel become distracted and get into an accident. So don’t do either of those things when you are driving!
However experienced a driver you may be, remaining focused and not taking your eyes off the road are essential defensive driving steps. A kid can run out in front of your car in a second, and you have to be prepared for that.
Another huge no-no is driving when under the influence of alcohol, drugs, prescription or even OTC medication. Similar effects of drugs or alcohol can be replicated when you’re feeling sleepy or very fatigued. Your senses are impeded in these scenarios, and the best thing you can do for yourself and the others on the road is not get behind the wheel.
Make sure you’re well rested before starting on a road trip or a late night ride.
Anticipate and be defensive
Anticipating trouble from other drivers is an essential part of defensive driving. Did someone speed by, get too close, or has been weaving in and out of traffic on the highway? Put distance between your vehicle and theirs. You don’t want to suddenly find yourself cut off by this rash driver as they speed past when there’s an oncoming truck.
The more watchful your behaviour on the road is, the safer and more defensive your driving will be. As a rule of thumb, keep enough distance- three seconds- between your vehicle and others at all times. This travelling distance increases when the roads are wet, icy, or in the dark.
This is important if you have to break suddenly due to an issue with another car or if something appears in your way. If you have maintained enough distance between your car and the one in front of yours (statistics confirm you’re most likely to get into a collision with the vehicle ahead of you) you can brake hard and still not rear end that car.
Follow the basic rules
The rules are there for a reason. Following the basics such as driving within the speed limit are important. The higher the speed, the more difficult to come to a stop if required. Driving irresponsibly at a speed much higher than the posted speed limit endangers every person on the road.
Always ensure you and your passengers have seatbelts on and lock your doors to avoid being thrown in the event of a crash. Your car should be roadworthy and have insurance. Check your mirrors and make sure they are positioned correctly and check them often to see what’s happening on the road. Avoid being aggressive or inattentive when you are behind the wheel. And be courteous of other drivers, give them right of way and yield as required.
But also keep in mind that not every driver out there will give you the same courtesy. It is really up to you to be vigilant and hyper aware of other motorists – that way you can avoid any unpleasant surprises or worse, getting into an accident, because another driver didn’t behave as expected.