Since the invention and widespread adoption of the automobile, driving has become an integral part of modern life. However, the convenience and efficiency of driving come hand in hand with potential risks and hazards. According to Transport Canada's National Collision Database (NCDB), the number of total injuries in 2021 was 108,018 and this was a 3.6% increase from the previous year.
The practice of defensive driving, involving a range of strategies and techniques to decrease the probability of accidents, is now a crucial competency for all responsible drivers. Defensive driving is more than just obeying traffic laws; it's a proactive approach to staying safe on the road. At all times, defensive drivers must prioritize safety and vigilance, maintaining control over their own vehicle while accounting for the behaviour of others.
Key Defensive Driving Tactics
Wear a Seat Belt
You may be surprised to find out how many people do not follow this very basic safety tactic. Nearly half of all vehicle passengers killed on U.S. roads in 2021 were not wearing a seat belt.
Wearing your seatbelt in the event of a crash ensures your safety and keeps you securely within the vehicle; being fully thrown out of a vehicle is almost universally fatal. When you wear a seat belt, make sure the strap across your chest goes on your chest and not under your chin. The belt that goes over your lap should be on your hips and upper thighs, not your stomach.
Always Signal Intentions
It's easy to forget how crucial it is to use your car's signals to let others know what you're doing on the road. In fact, many drivers skip this step, assuming it is an optional tactic. Imagine if a driver doesn't show they're turning at a crossroads and then suddenly stops and turns. The driver behind might not have enough time to stop and could accidentally hit the car in front. Make sure you always signal intentions; This little act can save lives.
Avoid Internal Distractions
You may be tempted to check your cell phone while driving. This is very dangerous. According to the Government of Ontario website, a driver who uses a phone has a four times greater chance of getting into a crash compared to a driver who pays full attention to the road.
Not just using cell phones but activities such as changing radio stations or arguing with other passengers are all internal distractions that can lead to fatal accidents. If you need to use a device while driving, you can use a hands-free device (eg. Bluetooth) or a mounted device (eg. GPS) but make sure to keep its usage at a minimum while driving. In Ontario, the hands-free device can only be turned on and off while driving and a mounted device must be secure at all times.
Keep a Safe Gap
Keeping a safe distance between your vehicle and the one in front is extremely important. This gives you enough time and room to respond if the vehicle in front suddenly stops or does something unexpected.
Following the "three-second rule" is an easy way to make sure you have a safe space. When you're behind another vehicle, select something up ahead like a road sign or a tree. Remember when the vehicle in front of you goes past that point. Then, check how many seconds it takes for your vehicle to reach that same point. If it's not at least three seconds, make sure you create more distance and extend the space between you and the vehicle ahead.
Avoid Vehicles Blind Spots
When driving, there are areas on the road that can't be seen in the rear-view mirrors or through the windows. These are called blind spots. They're bigger in taller or longer vehicles, but all vehicles have parts you can't see due to things like pillars, not only big ones like SUVs. To minimize the blind spots, it is crucial to adjust your mirrors correctly.
Checking before you change lanes is important. Just take a quick look in the direction you're going. If you're turning left or right, or starting after stopping at a stop sign or red light, lean forward a bit and peek around the windshield pillars. And when you're turning, turn your head in the direction you want to go before you begin.