For the almost 23 years I’ve been a driving instructor at Young Drivers of Canada, I’ve heard the term “defensive driving” many times. What is defensive driving? Many years ago it seemed like it was about driving slowly, but now it’s more about staying away from the other driver. Do you drive defensively or offensively?
There are a number of driving schools across North America that describe their program as being defensive driving. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with a lot of their instructors over the years and we’ve discussed what we teach. I was a little concerned to what some describe as defensive. In short, defensive driving is about looking out for the other road user and proactively avoiding problems.
I teach my students to avoid sitting next to other drivers while driving in traffic. If we’re driving beside space, it’s easier to avoid a collision if another driver swerves into our lane. We also accelerate past drivers so we can keep the space beside us. I remember being out with a student and as we passed another driver, they glanced over at us and had a shocked look on their face as we sped past them to create space beside us. Apparently we aren’t allowed to drive faster than a licensed driver, but think again.
Many years ago, defensive driving was perceived as driving slowly. It really means to adjust your position and not hang out near other drivers. It’s also about being ready for the unexpected and having an escape from other drivers. For example, while driving on a multiple lane road my students and I see a lot of pedestrians walking along the sidewalk. Before we reach them, we change lanes to the left lane. This creates space between our vehicle and the pedestrians. If one of the pedestrians walks onto the road, there would be a complete lane for them to do so. I see other drivers who were taught defensive driving who stay in the right lane all the time. If it’s not the safest lane, why stay there?
We also teach our students to match the flow of traffic when necessary to keep the space in front and behind. The reality of this is that we are rarely in a flow of traffic. The traffic is usually well in front or well behind us, which leaves us out of flow. However, if we happen to be in a flow, we travel with the flow of traffic. This avoids tailgating and reduces the risk of being rear-ended. We generally drive the speed limit around 70% of the time. Even rush hour traffic is below the posted speed limit most of the time. Why drive the speed limit when you know it will cause drivers to tail-gate?
Remember, defensive driving is learning how to avoid the risk caused by other road users. Avoid driving in packs and avoid putting your life in the hands of other drivers. Defensive driving is all about surviving on the road!