Defensive Driving

Driving Tips - Zipper's Driving School

Site Map HOME  »  Driving Tips index  »  Defensive Driving (you are here)

BrakesCommunicateEye ContactLook AheadScanSpace CushionIdentify HazardsAnticipateTake ChargeQuiz  |

"DEFENSIVE DRIVING" is the term used for driving to minimise the risk of crashing.

(Note: the System of Vehicle Control described elsewhere is a bare-bones framework on which to build defensive driving techniques; this means drivers using the system are not necessarily driving defensively. For example, the System does not describe scanning techniques which are a very important component of defensive driving).

Below are some pointers for safe efficient driving:

BRAKES

Regard your brakes (not the steering wheel) as your first line of defense.
Drivers tend to automatically steer round an obstacle ahead - an action which often puts them in a worse situation.
Quite often, braking or braking-while-steering is the better option and you should be prepared to do this if necessary.
Note: you won't be able to make an informed decision without effective OBSERVATION techniques when you suddenly encounter a hazard.

COMMUNICATE

Communicate with other road users.
Use the signals at your disposal (indicators, brake lights, reversing lights, warning device, headlight flasher, legal hand signals, eye contact, the position of your vehicle etc) thoughtfully.
Do the other users know what your intentions are?
Have you communicated your intentions to them in the best possible manner?

EYE CONTACT

Make eye contact with other road users.
Communication works 2-ways. What are other drivers intentions? And do they know YOUR intentions?
Interpreting the eye contact and head movements of other road users is a very important part of the defensive driver's skills. It helps identify and interpret their intentions, but remember - use your own eye contact & head movements to communicate your intentions as well.
Why does legislation limit the amount of tinting in car windows? It is not only because of driver vision outside the car, it is also do do with looking THROUGH the car (to see other traffic) and to permit the all-important eye-contact you need to make between yourself & other drivers.

LOOK AHEAD

Look ahead to get the big picture.
Novice drivers often make the mistake on concentrating their attention too close to the car. The further you can see ahead, the more time you have to observe a developing situation, to be prepared for it, and decide upon the correct response. (See SCAN below).
Your attention should be at least 12 seconds in front of the car. It's called projection, you are physically sitting behind the wheel but your mind is projected ahead.

SCAN

Scan constantly, develop effective observational skills.
Remember: danger comes from the sides (and behind) more often than directly in front of you!
Your eyes should constantly scan left & right as well as ahead & behind.
An accepted practice while "travelling down a road" is to develop a pattern like this:
Look ahead - then run your eyes back towards the car while scanning both sides - check your mirrors then the speedo - relax - repeat every 6 to 10 seconds.
Don't forget your blind spot ("head checks" or "shoulder checks") - danger doesn't only approach from ahead, it is more likely to come from the sides or behind!
Don’t stare in the one direction, keep your eyes moving - mirror checks, shoulder checks, instrument panel checks, all should be glances not a long stare.
Look through other vehicles, not at them! And if you come up to a hazard requiring evasive action, decide how you will respond.

SPACE CUSHION

Maintain a "space cushion" for safety.
Keep a safe gap between your car and other vehicles & objects - moving or stationary.
Don’t tailgate cars in front (2 seconds following distance in good conditions, 4 seconds in adverse conditions, are an absolute minimum, not a target!) Stay further back behind large vehicles so that your visibility is not limited.
Parked cars are a particular hazard - cars doors on a parallel-parked car can suddenly open in front of you without warning; drivers reversing out of angled parks have very limited visibility (even none) and may not see you coming up behind.
They can hide people standing around a car from your view (hint: look under the vehicle for legs).
The solution? keep a safe distance (1½ metres minimum) from parked cars to allow for opening doors or backing out. Slow down if necessary to give yourself time to react. Look for signs of activity near a parked vehicle (doors closing, brake or reversing lights on etc) indicating it is about to move off. Covering the brakes and/or horn will prepare yourself mentally & physically for a faster response.

IDENTIFY HAZARDS

Identify hazards and leave yourself an "out"
Know the appropriate response to any hazard you may encounter. Always be prepared for evasive action.
For example, you are about to turn left from a terminating road into a through road. Don't just look right (at the traffic you must give way to), also look left into the new road to identify any problems (e.g. a parked vehicle) and also to identify an area you can "escape" into in case you have a fast-moving vehicle coming up behind you after turning. As soon as you turn into the new road, check behind (mirror) so that you can identify this situation if it occurs.
Look at other driver’s faces - if they are not looking at you, you must assume you haven’t been seen and must prepare to act accordingly.
Avoid travelling in another vehicle’s blind spots. If you can’t see the other driver’s eyes in his mirrors, he can’t see you!
When you encounter a hazard requiring evasive action, look away from it not at it, i.e. look where you need to go!

ANTICIPATE

Anticipate the possible actions of other road users.
Try to work out what other road users (drivers, pedestrians, cyclists etc) are likely to do.
For example, you are following a cyclist who is pedalling up behind a car parked against the left-hand kerb. You can expect the cyclist to suddenly veer round the parked car into the path of your vehicle without looking behind first. (A very common occurrence!)

TAKE CHARGE

You are in charge - take charge!
Don’t let other drivers bully you into doing something dangerous e.g. by letting a tailgater force you to brake late before a turn.
You as the driver are ultimately responsible to ensure that your passengers are properly & legally restrained (seat belts, child seats, baby capsules as required and no riding in open load areas) especially children!
Don't let your passengers distract you when you are concentrating.
|  Top of Page  |

A couple of quick quiz questions...

1. Why is window tinting legally restricted?

2. My car has ABS (Antilock Braking System). Does it mean I have "ultimate" brakes which can stop me in the shortest possible distance?

The answers...

1. (Tinted glass) - An obvious problem with tinted windows is that it reduces the driver's vision, especially at night.
However another major problem is that tinted glass restricts driver vision into other cars (that all-important eye-contact with other drivers), and through other cars (e.g. to view of traffic conditions on the other side of the car).

2. (ABS) - A common misconception about ABS is that it will shorten the minimum stopping distance.
It has this effect under most conditions but not always, in very slippery conditions e.g. road ice, it will actually increase the stopping distance!

There is nothing "magic" about ABS, it cannot give your tyres more adhesion than they already have.
ABS action is initiated by wheel sensors indicating that one or more wheels are possibly skidding, it momentarily releases then re-applies the brakes to allow the tyres to grip the road again, repeating it as many times as necessary.
(If all 4 wheels are braked and rotate at exactly the same speed, how do the ABS sensors know if lock-up is actually occuring? Think about it).

Without ABS a driver would have to release & re-apply the brake pedal (called "cadence braking") to get the same effect.
(The idea of course is not to get into this situation in the first place by employing "threshold braking" i.e. to apply enough brake pressure to stop as hard as possible but just short of actually locking one or more wheels).
Cadence braking sounds great in theory, but how well does it work in practice for the average driver during a sudden "think quick!" emergency? Not all that well, I’ll bet!

Why have ABS then?
Because during a potential wheel lock-up situation, ABS attempts to maintain a measure of steering control as well as providing best possible braking performance under the conditions.
DON'T use ABS as an excuse to drive fast or carelessly especially in slippery conditions !!!!

|  Top of Page  |                   © John Ziersch, Zipper's Driving School                   October 2015