driver checks traffic in their side mirror to practice their defensive driving skills

5 Defensive Driving Skills You Need to Know


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When it comes to safe driving, anticipating danger is key. By following these five defensive driving tips, you can become an even better driver.

What is defensive driving?

Safe driving is about more than just knowing the road rules and mastering the mechanics of driving a car. The best way to stay safe on the road is to be aware of the conditions and other road users and adjust your driving accordingly.

‘Defensive driving’ is all about proactively anticipating danger, so you are ready to respond quickly. To quote many an Aussie dad, “assume everyone else on the road is an idiot”.

Thanks Pops, but what does that actually look like in a practical sense? How do you become a more defensive driver?

How to drive defensively

To improve your skills as a defensive driver, consider taking on board these five steps.

They’re by no means an exhaustive list and we’re no experts on defensive driving, but taking these points into consideration will help you protect yourself better while on the road.

1. Prepare for the trip

Thinking about your trip ahead before you start driving is the first step in defensive driving.

According to the NSW Roads and Maritime Services, up to 14% of car accidents and 1 in 10 car-related fatalities happen as a result of the driver being distracted by something inside their vehicle. It’s important to ensure you and your vehicle are ready before you start driving to avoid distractions on the road.

Before you put the car into gear, arrange your seat and mirrors into the optimum position.

Connect your phone to the Bluetooth system, choose your music or queue up some podcasts and place your water bottle where you can reach it without taking your eyes off the road.

Check Google Maps to see if there’s congestion or an accident on your chosen route and plan a different route accordingly.

Make sure you’ve filled up the wiper fluid, checked your lights are working and removed any loose objects in your car that could move around and distract you.

Restrain pets and ensure kids have something to keep them entertained for the trip. Travelling with your pet? Check out our top tips for keeping them (and you) safe here.

2. Scan your surroundings regularly

Remaining aware of what’s happening around you is the best way to be able to anticipate what other drivers might do and take timely action to stay safe. This is the fundamental principle of defensive driving.

Defensive driving can come in handy if you’re navigating roundabouts because other drivers might be distracted, unsure, or unclear about their intentions. Safety first, always! Read more about navigating roundabouts in this ‘Roundabouts in Australia: How to Navigate Them‘ article.

Check your mirrors regularly and observe what the traffic is doing as far up ahead as you can see. This will allow you to brake safely if the traffic is stopped, merge early if a lane ends, or spot a hazard like a broken-down vehicle or deteriorating road condition.

You might see a slow truck ahead in your lane up ahead, but because you’re also scanning your mirrors, you know you won’t be able to merge lanes to overtake right away. In this instance, you can brake early instead of suddenly which has a flow on effect for the vehicles behind you, potentially avoiding a pile-up accident.

It’s also a good idea to quickly scan side streets as you approach to avoid potential ‘t-bone’ accidents.

Keep an eye on what pedestrians are doing too, especially children who can be easily distracted. Ditto with people walking pets.

Defensive driving means being alert to the behaviour of surrounding motorists and pedestrians.

3. Don’t take the other driver’s word for it

While it’s nice to have faith in our fellow citizens, when it comes to defensive driving, never trust anyone. The best way to be able to react to trouble on the road is to expect it.

Sure, that driver might be indicating to turn, but never pull out in front of them until they are actually making the turn. Never assume another driver will make space for you to merge lanes, either. Instead, adjust your speed to create space for yourself.

Assume other drivers will go straight through a stop sign or a red light and be ready to take action if they do. Never assume the car pulling out of that driveway up ahead can see you. Instead, be ready for them to pull out in front of you.

It might sound like overkill, but being suspicious of other drivers means you’re alert and ready to act quickly should the need arise.

4. Create a ‘crash avoidance space’ around your vehicle

A technique of defensive driving is to create a buffer zone around your vehicle, known as the ‘crash avoidance space’. This is where you adjust your road position and speed to ensure you have your own space on the road, with time to react if something dangerous happens.

A third of all road vehicle accidents in Australia involve nose-to-tail collisions caused by tailgating, or driving too close to the car ahead. It’s important to keep a minimum three second distance between you and the car ahead so you have time to brake safely if you need to.

If someone merges into your crash avoidance space, slow down a little to re-establish a three second gap. Those few seconds you take to slow down will do little to impact the overall length of your trip, so be patient to stay safe.

When approaching the crest of a hill, move further to the left to avoid oncoming traffic you can’t see over the hill. If you’re driving on a road that has two or three lanes per side consider driving on the far left unless necessary (ever heard the term ‘death lane’?) It may just be the difference between a head on collision and your safety.

However, you may want to hug the centreline of the road when driving past parked cars – in case a car door opens and someone gets out. Always give cyclists as much room as possible, while remaining mindful of oncoming traffic.

In wet weather and times of poor visibility, your crash avoidance zone should expand to accommodate the more challenging conditions.

For our top tips on driving safely in bad weather, click here.

5. Take a defensive driving course

The information outlined in this article is a great place to start, but the best way to become a safer driver is to complete a defensive driving course.

Offered in every state, these practical courses provide hands-on experience in controlled environments that mimic different road conditions and situations.

You’ll learn the theory of defensive driving and then get to practice what you’ve learnt in your own vehicle. Ultimately, you’ll become a more aware driver, better prepared for the dangers that might present themselves to you (and your passengers) on our roads.

Protect yourself and your vehicle

Learning the skills of defensive driving is a great way to help avoid getting in a car accident in the first place. But if the worst does happen, ensure your vehicle is properly protected with a comprehensive car insurance policy.

At PD Insurance, we provide affordable policies suited to your unique circumstances. Start your quote with us now.

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