As Canadians, we don’t usually cast the term ‘defensive’ in a positive light. When it comes to driving, however, defensiveness is a skill we should all continuously strive to sharpen.

What exactly does it mean to be a defensive driver? The Defensive Driving Course by the Canada Safety Council (DDC-6) defines it as “Driving to prevent all types of traffic collisions despite the action of others around you.” Going beyond just knowing and abiding by the rules of the road, defensive driving requires anticipating dangerous situations before they occur and responding in a way that mitigates the danger.

In this blog, we talk about defensive driving habits that you can practice every time you get behind the wheel. These aren’t difficult to abide by, they just take practice and a desire to make the road safer for you and other drivers.

Defensive driving habit #1: Good visibility

This is one of the simplest, most straightforward ways to practice defensive driving. It just means making sure that you have the best visibility possible at all times. Your eyes are your greatest safety asset when driving, but good visibility doesn’t stop with 20-20 vision. Practice these safety precautions as well:

  • Make sure your mirrors are always adjusted properly.
  • Slow down in the rain and when visibility is poor.
  • Replace your windshield wipers when necessary (about every 6 months).
  • Fix cracked windshields as soon as possible, or risk the crack spreading.
  • Wear prescription glasses or contacts if you need to, especially when driving at night. Even better, keep a pair in your car so you’re never caught without them.
  • Clean your windshield as often as needed and top up your windshield wiper fluid often.
  • Help prevent eye strain and fatigue by investing in a pair of good quality sunglasses (ideally polarized) to wear during the day.
  • Clear your headlights, taillights, windshield and mirrors of snow and ice before driving in the winter.
  • Read our blog for more tips on driving at night and in poor visibility.

Defensive driving habit #2: Stay focused and distraction-free

The data speaks for itself on this one: If a driver texts, they’re 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near collision. 

Being a defensive driver means giving 100% of your attention to the road at all times. Again, this is a simple way to drive defensively. Even so, 47% of Canadians admit that they have typed out or used the voice-memo feature to send a message while driving. [CAA, 2020]

If you’re tempted to use your phone while driving, the surest way to resist the urge is by keeping your device out of sight. Queue up your playlist before starting the engine and store your phone in the glove compartment or the back seat. For more tips on driving distraction-free, see our blog on Tips For Bringing More Focus To Your Driving.

Defensive driving habit #3: Look ahead

Anticipating problems means looking far ahead on the road. According to Road Safety at Work, eye lead time should be 20-30 seconds for highway driving and 12-15 seconds in the city. Keep your eyes peeled for cyclists, pedestrians, erratic drivers, intersections and obstacles in the road.

Defensive drivers are always aware of what’s happening around them — in front, beside and behind. Fixing your eyes on one spot on the road ahead can lead to fatigue. Instead, keep your eyes moving, scanning the road and checking your mirrors regularly.

Defensive driving habit #4: Expect the worst

By that, we mean to expect other drivers to make mistakes. At the end of the day, you can only control your actions on the road. Driving as if everyone else is reckless will put you in defensive-driving mode. Here are four ways to protect yourself in the event that another driver missteps:

Slow down at intersections

Where cars converge from multiple directions, accidents happen. Every year, thousands of collisions occur when drivers run red lights. By slowing down, you have more time to scan the intersection for dangers and can come to a stop more quickly if you need to.

Maintain a proper following distance

ICBC recommends leaving at least two seconds of space between you and the car in front when driving in good road and weather conditions. On high-speed roads, at night or in bad weather, increase your following distance to five seconds from the car in front of you.

Don’t give into road rage

Defensive driving and road rage are mutually exclusive. As tempting as it might be to lay on the horn after being cut off, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone else on the road is to take a breath and let it go. You never know who the other person behind the wheel is or what they’re capable of.

Have an exit plan 

Having an escape route in case your path is suddenly blocked isn’t always possible, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. If you don’t have an alternate space to move your vehicle, you may want to increase your following distance or slow down to let the car lingering next to you pass.