Distracted driving can be deadly in any part of the world. In Canada between 2011 and 2015, about 21 percent of fatal car accidents in some areas of the country were due to distracted driving, and 27 percent resulted in serious injuries, according to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA).
Talking or texting on one’s mobile phone or eating while driving might seem harmless, but these are examples of distracted driving that can lead to accidents. Drivers that take their eyes off the road for even a few seconds or engage in activities that keep them from giving their whole attention on the road need a few lessons in defensive driving.
What is defensive driving?
Defensive driving is a set of behaviors that ensures safety for the driver, their passengers, and that of other people around them, whether pedestrians or in vehicles. It centers on the ideas of space, visibility, and communication.
If a person has a license to drive a vehicle, they already have the skills and knowledge to operate a vehicle on the road safely. Unfortunately, they only choose not to use those skills and knowledge if they aren’t a defensive driver.
Defensive driving is not about the technical skill of driving. It is about attitude.
As an example of the wrong attitude, 47 percent of Canadians admit texting or recording a voice-memo feature while driving. The right attitude would have been waiting to do these things when the vehicle is not moving. Reading or sending a text message while driving involves taking one’s eyes off the road for at least five seconds. If a person is driving 100 km/hour on the freeway, that is like driving for 12 kilometers with their eyes closed.
The main thing about learning the skills of defensive driving is to cultivate situational awareness. Many road accidents happen because one never sees them coming. The driver was not paying attention, and they did not anticipate how other people might react. The main idea is to see what is coming, and to react appropriately.
What involves learning the skills of defensive driving?
While defensive driving is more about attitude, one will need to acquire some habits when interacting with other drivers and people on the road. The thing is, not everything that happens will be due to one driver’s actions. One will encounter other drivers who are reckless or distracted, and cause accidents. A defensive driver observes everything that happens around them and has a plan for everything that might happen on the road.
Below are some habits a person needs to cultivate to become a defensive driver:
Keep one’s eyes above the hood. One might not notice it, but they could be looking down the hood or the taillights of the vehicle in front of them all the time. The problem with this is that a driver will miss many things happening in front of them and on the sides, and they might miss some signs of an approaching hazard, such as another car cutting in front of their vehicle. One needs to keep actively observing their surroundings and be alert for potential hazards.
Look around. One should practice looking at their side view and rear view mirrors constantly. This will help one get a bigger picture, especially when going at high speeds. Peripheral vision is great, but it becomes a lot less effective when one is going fast.
Avoid doing anything else. Texting, talking on the phone, changing the radio station, putting in a new destination on a GPS navigation app, eating, or drinking are all activities one should avoid when driving. If a driver really has to do any of these things, they should pull over on the side safely.
Keep a safe distance. This one might seem obvious, but some drivers follow another vehicle too closely based on their speed. A good rule of thumb is for a driver to maintain a distance of about two to three vehicles away from the vehicle directly in front of them while moving, and about 3 feet behind when their vehicles reach a full stop. These tips give drivers enough space to react in case other vehicles stop suddenly or roll back a bit.
Learn right-of-way rules. Right-of-way rules are not set in stone, but in most cases, one should give way to the driver on their right, or a driver crossing their lane, or one who arrived at the intersection first. One should also give way to another driver signaling to go into their lane. Being gracious on the road is a great way to avoid road rage and accidents.
Avoid erratic or aggressive drivers. There are many non-defensive drivers on the road, and the best way to avoid trouble is to keep out of their way. It is best to stay one lane away from such drivers, if possible, or allow them to go ahead since it is far easier and safer to observe them that way. Do not engage with such drivers.
Obey speed limits. Speed limits are there for a reason. A defensive driver stays on the slow lane if that seems to be safer.
Use signal lights. Many people don’t bother to use their turn signals when they are changing lanes, but it is a good way to let other people know what they intend to do. Responsible drivers signal a turn a few meters away from an intersection.
Be wary of blind spots. Trucks and buses are notorious for having significant blind spots, or areas in their perimeter where the drivers literally cannot see a thing. Drivers should keep a safe distance away from trucks and buses, which have air brakes, and not try to pass them on their right side.
Account for bad weather. Rain, snow, ice, and fog can make roads slippery and visibility poor. Drivers should slow down, keep farther away than usual from other vehicles, and pay special attention to the performance of their vehicles.
Many of the tips to become a defensive driver can seem like a lot of work, but it will be worth it. It only takes a split second of inattention for something catastrophic to happen, and these tips can help prevent that from ever happening. Over time, these behaviors will become automatic, drivers will have then learned the skills of defensive driving.
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