Learning to drive can be an exciting part of our lives. Whether it’s for work or pleasure, driving has the power to make our lives easier and our commutes a lot smoother. However, with great power comes great responsibility and each one of us needs to do our part in keeping the roads safe. Driving safely means we must deal with the other road users around us and make good decisions behind the wheel. In many cases, these techniques can save our lives. Let’s take a look at some critical driving tips that will help you stay safe on the road.

1. Establish a safe following distance

The following distance behind another vehicle is judged by seconds, not by car lengths. The reason it’s measured by seconds is because it takes time to stop after you’ve seen brake lights ahead of you; and then additional time to move your foot from the gas pedal over to the brake pedal; and then even more time to bring your vehicle to a complete stop. While driving at city speeds, the minimum safe following distance should be two seconds (Mississippi seconds, that is). It would be wise to increase the following distance to a minimum of three seconds when traveling faster, such as on the highway or in poor weather conditions. If you have a vehicle following you too closely, you should double your following distance with the vehicle in front of you. You can still drive the speed limit, but by having a larger following distance you would be able to brake more gradually, even if the driver ahead of you braked hard.

2. Drive beside space

Driving door-to-door directly beside a vehicle puts your life in the hands of the driver next to you. Instead, adjust your speed or change lanes to create space beside your vehicle. There may be times when a driver beside you makes a sudden move (whether it’s on purpose or by accident) and you do not want to be in their direct vicinity if that happens. If another vehicle moves close beside you and stays there, adjust speed to reposition beside empty space. This space will give you and other drivers a chance to move in case of an emergency. This might not be possible in high traffic areas, but vehicles are typically moving a lot slower in those situations.

3. Be aware of your surroundings

Focusing straight ahead while driving means you’ll likely miss critical things happening around your vehicle. To help you become more aware of the ever-changing traffic pattern, keep moving your eyes from straight ahead to the sides, your mirrors, and blind spots as well! Keep an eye out for anything that could develop into danger – particularly, other road users who may be speeding or weaving through traffic. Finding them early means you can act faster to protect yourself.

4. Share the road with others

Vehicle drivers are not the only ones using the road. It’s extremely common to see pedestrians and cyclists in and around neighbourhoods. When approaching pedestrians at a crosswalk, make sure there’s ample space between them and your vehicle during crossing. If you’re making a right or left turn, always check your side mirrors and blind spots for a pedestrian or cyclist before completing the turn. Cyclists can sometimes share lanes with drivers, especially near metro areas. If you’re driving near a cyclist, try your best to merge into the adjacent lane away from the cyclist to create more space. Remember, a minimum of one metre space between your vehicle and the cyclist is the law. When approaching a right turn and there’s a bicycle lane, check your mirrors and blind spot before proceeding. You are allowed to enter the bicycle lane for the purpose of making a turn, just wait until you reach the broken lines on the bicycle lane before doing so.

5. Avoid distractions

Distractions behind the wheel could be visual, physical, and mental. Adjusting the GPS, listening to loud music, or even high emotional stress are all considered distractions when you’re operating a vehicle. To ensure the safety of yourself and others, do your best to minimize internal and external distractions when you’re on the road. If it’s too difficult to do so, consider taking an alternate mode of transportation where you don’t have to drive. It’s also a great habit to consciously remove common distractions before you drive. Put your cell phone on Do Not Disturb and away from your reach, create a playlist of calm music for your drive, and set your GPS before you take off.

6. Check your mirrors regularly

Checking your mirrors and blindspots is an important part of defensive driving. It’s more than knowing what you just passed – it’s about knowing what’s approaching you from all angles. Being aware of your surroundings on the road will help you prepare and react to tough situations correctly. Treat the road as an obstacle course and be prepared for anything that comes your way!

7. Watch your speed

Following the speed limit is the law and also very important for you and your passengers’ safety. However, speed limits are set for ideal weather and road conditions. In inclement weather or haphazard road conditions, you may need to slow down more than the posted limit to stay safe. If you have a tendency to speed, consider these stats for a 40km trip – if you increase your speed by 10km/h over the limit (70 to 80), you may reduce the trip time by 4 minutes, but you’ll increase your crash risk by 60%, not worth it! Speeding can also extend your stopping distance and time. It makes it difficult to stop if another driver pulls out directly in front if you’re speeding. Learning to control your speed early in your driving career will help you maintain good driving habits later on.

8. Brake early

Whenever you’re approaching a red light, stop sign, or stopped vehicle, braking early will ensure you stop at the appropriate distance (and it’ll increase the lifetime of your brakes!). Your brake lights will also turn on sooner to warn any drivers behind you and give them time to prepare. It also allows for a much smoother drive for you and your passengers.

9. Plan your route early

One of the biggest frustrations behind the wheel is missing a turn and having to find an alternate way to get back on track. Look well ahead of where you are to help you plan your next move. If you need to change lanes to make a turn, do it earlier to reduce any chances of missing it. Remember, the heavier the traffic, the sooner you’ll need to change lanes. What’s the best way to reduce crash risk? Minimize your time on the road! Try to combine your stops into as few trips as possible when you’re running errands or have a packed day. Also, mapping your route out in advance can help you find the most efficient path between stops and save you time (and gas).

10. Adjust your driving in bad weather

Learning to be flexible on the road and adapting to road conditions may be the single best defensive driving tip. As a road user, you may experience all sorts of unique situations as you drive – getting into fender-benders, driving in heavy fog, being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic; each of these situations requires a different approach to driving. For example, when you’re driving on a dark road, you’ll need to adjust your speed and use your high-beam headlights in order to see the path ahead of you. Similarly, snowy, icy, or wet roads will require longer stopping times. Nothing beats first-hand experience, but preparing mentally for these situations before they happen will make you feel more comfortable and confident when you’re behind the wheel.

You deserve it

Think of defensive driving as an investment. The benefits might not be obvious when you start incorporating these tips, but there may come a day where your defensive driving techniques save your life. If you’d like to get hands-on experience and learn more about how to protect yourself on the road, try taking a few defensive driving lessons with an expert! At Kruzee, all of our instructors are trained on the most advanced defensive driving techniques. Learn more about our products and services here.