Smart tips for safer driving
Man behind the wheel of a car

Driving a motor vehicle is a big responsibility, with very serious consequences if things go wrong. Despite this, many drivers either don’t know or don’t care to follow the rules designed to keep them safe on the road. While there’s not much you can do about other motorists’ unsafe driving practices, there's a few things you can do to be a safer driver. In addition to practicing defensive driving, here are a few tips intended to help keep you, your passengers, and everyone else on the road safe when you’re behind the wheel.

Know your rights-of-way

Many accidents take place at intersections, and many of these could be avoided by adhering to basic right-of-way laws. At a four-way stop, for example, the first car to come to a stop usually has the right to continue through the intersection first. In some jurisdictions, left-turning vehicles must yield to those travelling straight through the intersection, so check your local laws to be sure. When in doubt, always proceed with caution and courtesy.  

Obey the 3-second rule

Most drivers will agree that tailgating is a dangerous practice, but keeping a safe following distance isn’t always intuitive – especially at highway speeds on crowded roads. The best way to ensure enough stopping distance between your vehicle and the one in front is to follow the “three-second rule.” To find your distance, mark a roadside object like a signpost or utility pole and begin counting as it passes the car in front. If you reach it before you get to three Mississippi, slow down.

Look beyond the car in front of you

It’s easy to fall into the habit of simply following the car ahead and braking when they brake, especially on the highway. This makes sense in theory, but if the person ahead of you isn’t paying attention, you’ll have less time to react in an emergency. Instead, look as far in front of you as you can, which will give your brain more time to process changing road conditions ahead. 

Keep your lights on 

Daytime running headlights have been the law for Canadian vehicles since 1989, and since 2021, the law requires new vehicles to also have daytime running tail lights, as well as lights that turn on automatically in the dark and a dashboard that stays dark until you turn on the lights. If your car doesn’t have these features but does have headlights that shut off automatically when you turn off the engine (as many vehicles made in the last decade or so do), consider leaving your lights on all the time. That way you’ll never forget to turn them on when you need them, and other drivers will always be able to see you coming.

Do the Dutch reach

There are many things you can do to safely share the road with cyclists, and being mindful of oncoming bikes travelling in the right lane when you’re parked alongside the curb is an important one. You can help to avoid “dooring” a cyclist by practicing the “Dutch reach” technique. By reaching across your body and opening the driver’s door with your right hand instead of your left, your head and torso are turned towards the road, making it easier for you to see oncoming bikes in your driver’s side mirror. 

Adjust your mirrors properly

One of the most common mistakes drivers make is adjusting their side mirrors too far inward so that the sides of their car are visible. While this may appear to help you orient yourself to the cars around you, it also creates a dangerous blind spot. Instead, think of your side mirrors as an extension of your rearview mirror, and adjust them so there’s minimal overlap. It may take a little time to get used to not seeing your car in the mirror, but it can reduce your likelihood of a blind-spot collision. 

Keep your left foot planted on the footrest

The rubber footrest on the left side of the footwell isn’t there for decoration. Keeping your left foot planted on the footrest will allow you to brace yourself against the floor of the car, giving you much more control over your hands and your right foot, particularly in the event of a sudden stop. 

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.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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