We all get into bad habits behind the wheel. It’s easy to get a bit lazy with clicking on turn singles, to maybe not shoulder check every time we change lanes, and to ignore speed limits when running late. That’s why we mention defensive driving a lot in our articles. We hope it’s a reminder of what was taught in driver education courses, which are geared towards teaching drivers the very best strategies for navigating traffic safely.
Learning defensive driving skills is why graduating from driver training school can earn a discount on your car insurance. But driver training school may have been a long time ago for some, and others may not have gone at all. Any driver of any age or skill level can benefit from a reminder of what actually constitutes defensive driving and why it results in far fewer accidents.
The rules of defensive driving
Defensive driving tactics focus on defending yourself from the actions of others on the road. Drivers are taught to always be aware of their surroundings and be ready to respond should something go wrong. The result is the ability to anticipate potential conflicts and avoid accidents caused by others.
Defensive driving is also called “proactive driving,” most likely because the term “defensive” tends to conjure up visions of a slow, scared driver who is more of a hazard than not. Instead, a defensive driver is one who is always ready to react because they have fully prepared themselves for all eventualities.
The Government of Alberta offers these seven major tips for defensive (or proactive) driving:
- Constantly scan well ahead of your vehicle for developing dangers. In an urban area, the advice is to look at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead, which translates to about one to one-and-a-half blocks. In rural areas you should look about 20 to 25 seconds ahead. If you want to test yourself, pick a landmark and then count how long it takes you to get there. Focusing well ahead and not directly in front of you gives you extra time to respond to a situation such as someone turning left in front of oncoming traffic. Don’t forget to look behind you, too. Experts advise checking your rearview mirror every eight to 12 seconds. This lets you know who is coming up and may be passing.
- Drivers should always be anticipating two different types of hazards: fixed and variable. Fixed hazards are permanent conditions, such as steep hills, blind corners, and every intersection. Variable hazards are always changing, such as pedestrian behaviour, icy roads, inconsistent traffic lights, and so on.
- Leave plenty of space around your vehicle, including to the sides. You should be able to safely stop, change lanes, or slow down at all times should something happen. Always be planning an escape route.
- Do not follow too closely. Under Alberta law, drivers found guilty of tailgating face a $172 fine, and a penalty of four demerit points. Road safety experts recommend allowing at least three seconds behind in good weather, four to six seconds behind during wet and snowy weather, and if conditions are very inclement, it’s wise to adjust to up to 10 seconds or more.
- Always know where you’re going. Cities like Calgary change quickly, as do highways (construction can pop up when least expected), so it’s wise to plan out routes well ahead. The City of Calgary has a regular traffic report and road closure page, as does Edmonton. The Government of Albert also hosts an interactive map detailing road conditions, construction sies, closures, and more.
- Learn collision avoidance, such as evasive maneuvers and vehicle handling and control skills. Many newer vehicles come with collision avoidance systems, which do assist drivers, but they are not fail-proof. In an emergency situation, you don’t have a lot of time to choose whether to stop, steer away, or speed up, so having that intrinsic knowledge can help save a life.
- Do not drive distracted. Not is only is distracted driving the number one cause of car accidents, a distracted driving ticket is extremely detrimental to your driving record.
Choosing a defensive driving school
Defensive driving courses are offered through licensed driver training schools. These organizations are licensed by Alberta Transportation, meaning any school you choose should have their credentials prominently displayed. Depending on your situation, taking a defensive driving course could result in lower car insurance rates. The completion of the proper course could also reduce the number of demerits on your license, and many are conveniently offered online.
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