Are you a good driver? Regardless of your answer to this question, it’s probably been more than a few years since your last driving lesson, and you’ve likely picked up some bad habits along the way. Whether it’s following too close on the highway or fiddling with the navigation system while driving, we’re all guilty of carelessness from time to time. The more time you spend behind the wheel, however, the easier it is to forget that every time you get in the car you are putting your life, the lives of your passengers, and the lives of others on the road at risk – including pedestrians and cyclists.
Defensive driving is the best way to ensure you get where you’re going safely, and it’s as much about curbing those bad habits as it is nurturing good ones. Here are a few ways you can be a better defensive driver.
Distracted driving isn’t a new phenomenon, but in the age of smartphones, it has become a much deadlier one. Whether it’s texting or scrolling through your podcasts while driving, this is probably the most common unsafe behaviour found on our roads, and one that leads to more than a quarter of all serious injury collisions. The first rule of defensive driving is that your attention should be on the road at all times, period. That means you shouldn’t be touching your phone or your car’s infotainment system while your vehicle is moving. If you need to answer a text, find a podcast, or search for an address, pull over at the next safe opportunity and do it then. Similarly, eating and drinking on the road can also put you at serious risk. Whether you’re sipping a cup of coffee or eating a hamburger and fries, taking your focus is off the road and your hand off the wheel for any length of time puts you in greater danger of a serious accident.
Drive according to conditions
Speed limits are there to keep you safe, but they don’t apply to all situations. For instance, if the speed limit on the highway is 100, it may not be safe to drive that fast during a downpour or blizzard. Driving defensively is all about staying engaged with your surroundings, using your head, and adapting your driving to suit the conditions. That means if it’s raining hard, if it’s foggy, or if snow is limiting your visibility, you should slow down accordingly.
Anticipate bad behaviour
Unfortunately, defensive driving wouldn’t be necessary if everyone did it (then it would just be called “driving”). That’s why you should always be on alert for dangerous drivers around you, whether it’s a delivery van speeding up to make it through a light or a driver treating the expressway like their own personal race track. Staying aware of other drivers, staying alert for dangerous behaviour and impaired driving, and anticipating potentially dangerous situations before they happen will help keep you safe.
Keep your distance
The best way to avoid a collision is to make sure there’s as much space between you and the cars around you as possible (within reason). This is especially true on the highway, where higher speeds mean longer braking distances. Even at slower speeds, however, leaving plenty of room between yourself and the car in front of you, whether your vehicle is moving or stopped at a light, is a great way to help prevent collisions.
Keep your cool
Road rage is a major safety issue, and drivers who lose their cool are a hazard to everyone else on the road. If you see another driver raging, avoid making eye contact or otherwise antagonizing them, and try to keep your distance as much as possible. If you find yourself at risk of boiling over, find a safe place to stop your vehicle and take some deep breaths.
For the most part, defensive driving is all about common sense and using your head to avoid dangerous situations. It’s also about making your driving as predictable to other drivers as possible, like using your signals to change lanes, slowing down for yellow lights, and coming to a complete stop at stop signs. If everyone did these things, the road would be a much safer place for us all.
Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.