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Your Complete Defensive Driving Primer

The truth is, defensive driving is not just for young drivers. Everyone – even seasoned drivers – should drive defensively whenever possible. Besides the obvious benefit of staying safe on the road, defensive driving can also save you money. Many insurers will actually reduce your premium if you maintain a clean driving record, or even take an accredited defensive driving course.

Want to get a head start on your behind-the-wheel safety training? Here are ten defensive driving tips to help you stay safe on the road.

1. Focus On the Road

The first rule of defensive driving? Focus on the road – not on texting your friend, applying your mascara, or eating your lunch.

In Ontario, it’s illegal to text, type, talk, dial, or email using a hand-held cell phone or other communication or entertainment device. In 2014, OPP called distracted driving the “number one killer on roads,” after the release of new statistics affirming that distracted driving-related crashes outnumbered all other types of crashes in 2013.

Don’t be a part of that tragic statistic – avoid distracted driving at all costs. If you choose to break this law, not only could you receive a fine, you could very well put your (and others’) lives at risk.

A defensive driver keeps her hands on the wheel – at 10 and 2 o’clock – and her eyes on the road, not on her cellphone.

2. Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Driving defensively means paying attention to what’s happening all around you, and being aware of your surroundings on all sides.

Keep your eyes moving – make sure you can see what’s happening 20 – 30 seconds ahead of you on the road. Check your mirrors frequently, and stay alert at all times, so that you can spot any cyclists, pedestrians, or even animals on or around the road.

3. Adapt to the Road

A good driver knows that, when it’s raining or snowing, he just can’t drive the same as he would if it was a clear, sunny day. It’s important to adapt to the conditions of the road – even light rain can be dangerous if you don’t adjust your driving habits in inclement weather.

Slow down and scan ahead. In wintertime, make sure to clear all the snow off your vehicle before setting off. A driver should be like a chameleon, adapting herself to whatever the road brings.

4. Never Drive Drunk – or Drowsy

It goes without saying that driving drunk is never a good idea. While that may be obvious, what’s less obvious to many drivers is that driving while drowsy can be just as dangerous – according to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA), 20% of all fatal auto accidents involve driver fatigue.

If you’re yawing behind the wheel, don’t take a chance. When you’re tired enough to doze off, even for a few seconds, you’re putting yourself, your passengers, and everyone else on the road in danger. Make sure you drive while well-rested. If you feel groggy behind the wheel, don’t fight the feeling – find a place where you can park your car and rest, or have a friend take over driving.

5. Yield!

If you’re ever in doubt about who has the right of way, just yield!

Defensive driving includes knowing when to take the high road – even if the other driver is in the wrong. If you’re unsure about yielding, take the figurative high road and be safe rather than sorry. Remember: safety, not principle, is your #1 priority.

6. Slow Down

According to the CCMTA, 27% of auto accident fatalities and 19% of serious injuries involve speeding. The faster you’re driving, the higher your risk of being in an accident.

Driving defensively means slowing down – speeding will probably only save you a few minutes of time, but could end up costing you dearly. The fool-proof solution? Leave the house earlier!

7. Use the 2 Second Rule

Every driver knows that you shouldn’t follow too closely. How do you maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you? Use the 2 second rule:

  • Choose a fixed object on the road ahead of you, like a tree or road sign.
  • Allow the car in front of you to pass the object.
  • After they pass it, count to 2: “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi”
  • If you pass the fixed object before you’re done counting to 2, you should slow down.

Note: at night, or in inclement weather, increase 2 seconds to 6 to give yourself more time to stop.

8. Avoid Road Rage

Slowing down, staying alert, and adapting to weather are all important, but defensive driving also includes the ability to stay calm in frustrating circumstances. Don’t give into road rage – resist the urge to retaliate to aggressive drivers with similar aggression. There are many ways to respond to road rage without losing your cool – stay calm, don’t take it personally, and leave traffic enforcement to the police.

9. Stay Visible

Just as a cyclist wears reflective clothing, a driver should use all of the tools at her disposal to remain visible at all times of night and day.

Use your turn signal, your break lights, and your headlights properly. Don’t linger in other drivers’ blind spots, either – if you happen to be one lane away and slightly behind another car, it’s safe to assume that you’re in the driver’s blind spot. You’ll want to (safely) slow down, or speed up, to make yourself visible again to all cars around you.

10. Take a Course

If you feel like you need more practice than these tips can give you, take a refresher course to brush up on your defensive driving skills.

Whether you just got your license, or have been driving for years, there’s never a wrong time to be proactive about safe driving. Even if you consider yourself a pro, you’d be surprised at how much a defensive driving course can teach you!

Your Complete Defensive Driving Primer

When you think of “defensive driving,” you most likely think of courses taken by anxious teenagers.