The Ultimate Guide to Defensive Driving: The key to Safe and Confident Road Skills

The ultimate guide to defensive driving is designed to give you a basic overview of various elements of safe driving techniques and strategies. This is a complex area of driving that requires extensive training and practice.

At the end of this blog it is our hope that you will have an some things that you can work on to become a safer driver.

The ultimate guide to defensive driving

The Basics of Defensive Driving

Driving is more than just turning the steering wheel and pushing the accelerator or the brake. It is a skill that requires a high level of attention to detail and complex decision-making skills. Whilst defensive driving is often overlooked when learning to drive, it is essential to avoid or minimise the risks of driving.


Understanding the Essentials of Defensive Driving

Also referred to as low risk driving you need to understand the principles and develop the driving skills to be able to drive defensively. Firstly, you need to be able to perceive potential hazards on the road. Secondly you need to be able to respond appropriately to each potentially dangerous situation.

To be able to perceive a potentially hazardous situation whilst driving you need to know what situations pose a risk whilst driving. This involves scanning or performing your required observation checks, anticipating the actions of other road users, and knowing what to do.

The science of low-risk driving

Anticipating the actions of other road users is a skill that can be acquired with the correct training. Human factors such as emotions play a pivotal role in how people act. When a person is angry, stress, tired, or running late they can make dangerous choices whilst driving.

To improve your ability to drive defensively it helps to understand the relationship between various risk factors. Understanding how stress affects decision making or learning how fatigue impact’s reaction times enhances a person’s ability to drive safely.

When it comes to being able to drive defensively knowledge is the most important factor. Knowing how your car responds in various road conditions allows you to make better decisions. Developing safe driving skills and knowing when to apply them is essential to maintaining your safety on the roads.

Whilst you are driving your environment is continually changing. At 60 km/h you are covering 16.67 metres per second. That means in 5 seconds you have covered over 80 metres. What you can see and all the other road users have also changed. Therefore, it is essential that you do your required observation checks. Yes, there are specific “Required Observation Checks” that you will be tested on. Do you know what they are?


Understanding defensive driving essentials

Defensive driving is not a set of rigid rules that can be applied robotically. They are more nuanced than that, allowing you to navigate the unpredictable and varied road conditions. To drive safely and avoid accidents you need to have a thorough understanding of how your car performs, comprehensive driving skills and a complete knowledge of low risk driving techniques.

The science behind defensive driving

Human factors play a pivotal role in your ability to drive safely. Therefore, you need to understand how those human factors affect your ability to drive safely. Emotions such as stress impact your ability to process complex situations and make decisions. In addition, things like fatigue will also impact your reaction times.

The skill and knowledge of the driver also plays a role. A driver who is not familiar with safe driving techniques will likely travel at a higher speed, have poor steering skills leading to poor control of the vehicle. In addition, they will usually fail to maintain an adequate Crash Avoidance Space, have poor Gap Selection Skills and be unable to perceive hazardous situations

Then you need consider additional factors such as the physical characteristics of your car. Generally speaking: older cars do not handle as well as newer cars, heavier cars take longer to stop. Poorly maintained cars do not perform as well as cars that are fully serviced.

Therefore, it is essential that you learn everything you can and keep practicing and developing your skills. When it comes to being safe on the road knowledge is power.


Understanding Defensive Driving Essentials

Defensive driving is not a set of rigid rules that can be applied without consideration of the driving conditions. Instead it can be thought of as a nuanced approach that can be used to navigate unpredictable situations whilst driving.

The ultimate guide to defensive driving is designed to give you an overview of the various elements of defensive driving. To learn how to apply these skills in real life situations take a defensive driving lesson with Learn to Drive.

Definition and core Principles of Low-Risk Driving

Defensive driving is a proactive strategy aimed at minimising the risks of motor vehicle crashes and improving overall road safety. It involves a comprehensive set of skills and safe driving techniques that go beyond basic road rules and elementary driving skills.


Importance of Defensive Driving in Modern Society

The increasing complexity of road systems and the vast number of distractions make it increasing difficult for drivers to remain safe on our roads. Add in increased traffic volumes and the frantic pace of modern society low risk driving strategies are essential.

By learning safe driving techniques and low risk driving strategies you can help reduce the number of car crashes, save lives, and alleviate the strain on emergency services.


Mastering Defensive Driving Techniques

At the heart of defensive driving is the driver’s ability to perceive a situation as being potentially dangerous. If you do not consider something to be potentially dangerous you will not respond appropriately.

To perceive a situation as being potentially dangerous you must be familiar with

  • The main crash types
  • Contributing factors to car crashes
  • How to respond appropriately to each potentially dangerous situation.


The Art of Anticipation

Some drivers learn how to anticipate dangerous situations after crashing. Good drivers learn how to remain focused whilst driving and learn how to make required observation checks at the correct time. By scanning properly and learning how to recognise potentially dangerous situations your powers of anticipation will improve.

Decision-Making whilst driving

Making split-second decisions is an essential skill required to drive safely. Low risk driving techniques provide the driver with the essential skills to assess risks and adapt to rapidly changing situations whilst driving.


Vehicle Manoeuvring and Control

When it comes to being a safe driver your most important tool is your ability to control the motor vehicle. I have been a professional driving instructor since 2012 and I have an unrestricted Heavy Combination Truck Licence. Prior to being a driving instructor, I drove professionally. Most drivers cannot even steer a vehicle correctly.

Simply learning how to steer your car correctly is a great skill to learn. Unfortunately, most parents and driving instructors to not teach this fundamental skill.


Navigating Traffic with Precision

The roads are a dynamic place with road users moving in different directions at different speeds. There are pedestrians, cyclists, cars, trucks, and motorbikes. All trying to navigate the roads with different skill levels and knowledge.

Low risk driving requires you to be highly aware of your surroundings, constant monitoring of the other road users and the ability to manoeuvre a safe path through the traffic.


Road Position and Lane Changing

Maintaining good road position includes: maintaining your Crash Avoidance Space, as well as knowing how to buffer away from potentially dangerous situation. What is buffering and how do you do it safely involves planning-ahead, using your indicators, mirrors, and good vehicle control in a controlled manner.


Merging on and off highways

There are a lot of different types of merging lanes and turning lanes to enter or leave main roads. The design and formation of these roads are becoming more complex and the speed of the other vehicles is high. Failing to navigate these types of roads often results in crashes at higher speeds.

The ability to merge on and off freeways or complex intersections with slip lanes and turning lanes requires knowledge and skill. Drivers require a thorough working knowledge of the road rules and the ability to assess complex road conditions to merge safely.

During the last 12 years of teaching learner drivers less than 5% can make the required observation checks, correctly assess the speed and road position of the other vehicles, and apply the road rules correctly when merging. That is a lot of things to do at speed in complex traffic in a short period of time.


Mastering Vehicle Handling

Bad drivers are unable to handle their car properly. Good drivers handle their cars safely under all conditions. Being able to handle a car under all road conditions is a critical element of safe driving.


Braking Techniques for Maximum Control

In an emergency, your ability to bring your car to a controlled stop is essential. Understanding how your car brakes is an important first step in knowing how to brake in an emergency.

Whilst most newer cars are fitted with Automatic Braking Systems (ABS) or anti-lock braking systems, some cars do not have this technology. ABS uses sensors and pressure-limiting valves controlled by a computer to prevent your brakes from locking on. When you lock your brakes up your cars ability to stop is reduced.

When your brakes lock-up your vehicle can veer sharply to one side and causing you to lose control of the vehicle.

Learning “Cadence” or “Dabbing” braking will prevent you losing control of the vehicle. In addition, it will allow your brakes to work effectively and help you to stop safely.

Two step braking will also allow your vehicle to slow and stop in a more controlled manner. Learning and practicing these techniques in a controlled manner will provide you with enhanced skills and improve your ability to control the vehicle whilst braking.


Precision Steering in challenging situations

There are two types of steering allowed during your driving test in NSW. That is pull push steering and hand over hand steering. Whilst you can use either steering technique you must do it correctly.

Frequently drivers who use the hand over hand technique will tend to oversteer whilst cornering or manoeuvring the vehicle. In addition, many drivers will not apply the technique correctly.

The problem of oversteering becomes increasingly dangerous as the speed of the vehicle increases. In addition, hand over hand steering puts your arms between your airbag and your face. This is not a good thing when your airbag deploys. Therefore, it is recommended that you only use hand over hand at low speed such as performing a 3-point turn.


Strategies for collisions avoidance

Our busy roads have more cars and more drivers making bad decisions whilst driving. Speeding angry drivers who do not drive safely are common on our roads. Therefore, you need to develop the ability to anticipate and avoid dangerous situations caused by other drivers.

Evading dangerous situations

You can not evade dangerous situations if you are not aware they exist. Awareness is dependent on you scanning and making your required observation checks. If you are not focused on driving and being aware of your surroundings, you will not notice changing circumstances.

To be a safe driver you need to continually scan the road ahead looking for any potentially dangerous situations such as cars entering your lane, aggressive or dangerous drivers behaving badly, speed bumps or pot holes. By remaining alert and anticipating potential dangers you give yourself time to respond and manage dangerous situations.


Defensive Driving in High Traffic areas

Traffic congestion increases the risk of crashing, demanding greater focus monitoring and assessing the actions of the other road users.  Which in turn divides your attention, the more things you must monitor the less time you have to monitor each specific thing. In addition, you have less time to process the information and make decisions about the speed, distance and danger posed by each road user.

The heightened risk of collision due to more traffic and less time to assess the risks and make safe decisions means you need to be efficient and effective at identifying hazards.


Manoeuvring around obstacles

Unexpected obstacles pose an additional risk to safe motoring. Low risk driving requires you to have the ability to navigate around these obstacles safely.

When driving down the road you may encounter a pothole or debris on the road that can damage your car. As a person who is driving to the conditions of the road you will be able to see the surface of the road five seconds ahead. That means you will see the obstacle and have time to brake if required or check you mirrors and blind spot before deciding to leave your lane and drive around the obstacle.

Safe Following Distance and Reaction Times

Maintaining a safe following distance is the easiest and most effective skill you can learn to avoid being involved in a motor vehicle crash. As a driving instructor teacher of the Transport for NSW Safer Driver Course I see the crash statistics every year. The most common crash type is running into the car in front of you.  Every year approximately 30% of all motor vehicle crashes are running into the back of the car you are following.

All you need do is maintain a safe following distance to avoid this crash type.


Calculating a safe following distance

Tailgating is dangerous at some point in time the car in front of you will brake suddenly and you will not have enough time to react and stop safely.

Transport for NSW states that “Drivers must keep a sufficient distance behind a vehicle travelling in front of them to safely avoid a collision.” Regardless of why the vehicle in front of your vehicle brake’s it is your responsibility to be able to safely avoid a collision.

A safe following distance varies depending on the size of the vehicle, road conditions and the speed at which you are travelling. As a general rule, when following a vehicle, the driver should travel 3 seconds behind the vehicle in front.