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Defensive Driving 101

Published on: 17 February 2015

The biggest cause of road accidents in South Africa is driver error. By that, we are not talking about just honest mistakes or an error in judgement, but also driver recklessness, inattention and many other factors.

Defensive driving means being both aware and ready for whatever happens – in other words, being cautious, yet ready to take action and not put our fate in the hands of other drivers.

What is Defensive Driving?

According to Arrive Alive, “defensive driving is the practice of maintaining an awareness of road and weather conditions, other vehicles, road users and potentially hazardous situations and then taking steps to prevent becoming the cause of or becoming involved in a road crash”.

Here are some tips and advice on how to be a defensive driver:

  • Continuously look in your mirrors and scan the road ahead, checking for hazards and slowing traffic so you can anticipate problems before they develop.
  • Try to see what is happening in front of the car ahead of you.
  • Besides being aware of what is in front of you, also be aware of what is happening on your right, your left and behind you.
  • Check your blind spot before changing direction, making lane changes or merging and avoid driving in the blind spot of another driver.
  • Follow the flow of traffic. Driving too slowly can be dangerous, too. Drive at speeds that most other vehicles are going (within the speed limit, of course).
  • Watch out for the other guy. Part of staying in control is being aware of other drivers and road users around you (and what they may suddenly do) so you're less likely to be caught off guard.
  • Do not assume another driver is going to move out of the way or allow you to merge into their lane.
  • Anticipate what another driver might do wrong (worst case scenario) and make the appropriate adjustment to reduce your risk.
  • Assume that drivers might run through stop signs or red lights and be prepared to react accordingly.
  • Defensive drivers approach intersections with caution, regardless of green or red lights.
  • Anticipate light changes, lane changes and vehicles and pedestrians entering from either side, as well as drivers moving off before the light has changed to green.
  • Follow the rules of the road but do not try to “enforce” them by contesting the right of way or trying to race another car, or deliberately driving very slowly to make your point to the driver behind you.
  • Do not depend on other drivers. Be considerate of others but look out for yourself.
  • Be courteous, kind and respectful to other motorists.
  • Learn to make eye contact with drivers and pedestrians. That way you know they see you. Be prepared for the unexpected.
  • Be extra careful where a vehicle has tinted glass and you cannot see whether the drive has noticed your approach, particularly at intersections.
  • The defensive driver will develop a pattern of observation: looking ahead, to the rear view mirror, ahead, to a side mirror, ahead, to the other side mirror, ahead, to the dashboard instruments, ahead and so on.
  • At night, use the headlights of the vehicle in front of you to predict what’s ahead. As long as the brake lights work on the vehicle in front, you will get early warning of trouble.

To protect yourself against potential dangers on the road, it is important to strive to reduce errors on your side and adjust your driving to be more attentive and defensive.