Defensive Driving: The Basics
Defensive driving is probably the best way to ensure the safety of you, your passengers and your vehicle. Defensive driving describes the skill of being able to operate a motor vehicle in such a way that reduces the chance of being involved in an accident. The basic idea is simple - It involves being aware of, and taking various steps to avoid, all the potential hazards when you travel on the roads.
However in practice it involves much more than that. The first part relates to your ability as a driver. It involves training to improve your skills of vehicle control, observation, anticipation, temperament etc. This is the easy part as you have complete control over your side of the deal.
The second part recognises that although you may be able to control your actions at all times, there's virtually nothing you can do to control the actions of other drivers. So a wide range of defensive techniques have been developed to enable you to cope with anything that may happen. These skills involve being alert and ready to react to the hazards that other road user create. The ultimate aim is to become proactive so that you can avoid getting into dangerous situations, instead of just reacting to dangers once they develop.
Here are the basics of defensive driving.
This is one of the most important skills of defensive driving. If you're constantly prepared for every situation that may develop while on the road, your chances of returning home safely will be much greater.
So before you begin any journey, make sure that your vehicle is properly prepared. Check the tyre pressure and the water, oil and gas levels. Make sure that all the lights and mirrors are working properly. And finally, don't leave home without carrying a medical kit, basic tools such as a jack, spare bulbs and all the relevant documentation.
One of the best ways to improve your safety on the road is to make sure that other motorists see your car. If they're aware of your vehicle and the space it occupies on the road, they're less likely to collide with you.
This might sound rather obvious, but take a look at this amazing statistic - Most motorists only see 10% of cars that are on the roads around them. That means they see only one car in ten. Or more worryingly, they don't see nine cars out of ten.
So to make sure other drivers see you, make full use of your lights. Of course it goes without saying that you should always use your headlights during lighting up times, but defensive driving goes beyond the bare legal minimum. For example, I've heard certain advanced drivers say that you should use your headlights at ALL times unless driving in full sunlight.
To see the benefit of this, next time you're driving when it's starting to get dark, pay close attention to the rest of the drivers on the road. I guarantee that you'll be more likely to notice the first few drivers who have switched their headlights on.
And while we're on the subject of being seen, when passing other cars, make sure that you spend as little time as possible in the blind spot of other drivers. If they're not aware of your presence, they're more likely to collide with your vehicle.
The third principle of defensive driving is to create space between your vehicle and other motorists. This gives you extra leeway to avoid a collision with other road users if something unexpected happens.
For example, don't follow too closely behind other vehicles. If they have to stop suddenly and you're too close you're more likely to hit their vehicle. So back off, use the three second rule. Whatever speed you're doing, make sure that the vehicle in front of you is always three seconds ahead. As a rough guide, choose a roadside reference point and start counting when the vehicle in front passes it. If you pass the same point within three seconds, you're too close and need to back off. During bad weather conditions such as snow and ice, this gap should be extended to five seconds to account for the longer stopping distances.
And finally, when on the road, use your common sense. For example, avoid getting too close to any vehicle that looks poorly maintained or has signs of accident damage. These are subtle clues that the owner of the vehicle is not a defensive driver and as such is more of a danger to your safety.
Another important aspect of defensive driving is to avoid road rage, both in yourself and other motorists. Try to remain calm at all times and don't react to the anger of other people that you encounter while on the roads. Your ability to remain calm and rational is directly linked to your ability to put the principles of defensive driving into practice and stay safe. If you lose your temper when behind the wheel, your safety will be in jeopardy.
These are just a few of the most basic aspects of driving defensively. To find out more about how to stay safe on the roads and enjoy your driving, take a look at some of the defensive driving courses, many of which are available online. They will save you money and perhaps even your life.