15 tips to help you drive more defensively
Getting behind the wheel of your car may seem like an everyday activity, but it is one of the riskier things you do.
In Canada, there are 160,000 car accidents each year, of which 2,800 to 2,900 result in deaths. The odds may be even higher depending on where you live and what you drive. Although you can’t control other motorists, you can control how you operate your vehicle and drive defensively.
The other benefit is many insurers offer discounts for driving lessons (in the case of young drivers) and defensive driving courses. Be sure to ask your broker about taking advantage of those benefits.
By following a few simple precautions, your chances of arriving safely at your destination are greater. Here are a few tips:
- Focus on the task at hand – Don't let the radio, air conditioning, kids in the back seat, or discussions with passengers distract you from driving. Always pay attention to the road and your vehicle. Distracted drivers are more prone to accidents, including fatalities.
- Expect other drivers to make mistakes – Don't trust anyone but yourself. That includes what pedestrians do. Try and anticipate the actions of others ahead of time.
- Slow down – Excessive speed is a common cause of crashes in Canada. Every year, 800 Canadians die, and another 3,000 are injured in collisions where speed was the major contributing factor. Furthermore, speed is a contributing factor in up to 18 per cent of serious injury accidents or death. The faster you travel, the longer it takes to stop, and the bigger the impact when you crash. Travel according to posted speed limits.
- Take advantage of safety devices – Find a car with a high safety rating and a large number of airbags. Invest in the right child restraints and seat belt adjusters for your family, and don't forget to use them.
- Always buckle up – Many car accident fatalities could be prevented each year, by wearing a seat belt. The National Safety Council says that seat belts reduce your risk of injury in a crash by 50 per cent, and that 75,000 lives were saved by seat belts between 2004 and 2008.
- When in doubt, yield – Unsure who has the right of way? Err on the side of caution. If you know you have the right of way, but another motorist seems to disagree, give in. Better that than to get caught in a collision. According to the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, men have a harder time yielding the right of way, with a ratio of 1.5 to 1 for "failure to yield" violations.
- Stop on red – The leading cause of intersection accidents is running the red light. Sometimes it’s a lack of attention to the road or the driver is in a hurry. The best practice is to slow down before each intersection and evaluate. Never race the yellow light.
- Use your blinkers – This seems obvious, but confusion is the enemy of safe driving. Make your lane changes and turns predictable and smooth, and always signal in advance.
- Let it go – Road rage is no urban myth. It’s safest to overlook the driver that just cut you off. Trying to get even could get you killed, not to mention other innocent drivers in the vicinity. If you suspect that another driver may be drunk, keep your distance and alert the police when it’s safe to do so.
- Keep a buffer in between you and other motorists – Tailgating leads to rear-end collisions. In both Canada and the U.S., rear-end crashes are the most frequently occurring type of collision, accounting for almost 30 per cent of all crashes. These could be prevented by maintaining proper distance. Allow at least two seconds of lead time in good weather, more in poor conditions.
- Monitor your blind spots and stay out of others’ blind spots – This is especially true of large vehicles, such as tractor-trailers. If you can’t see the driver in the truck mirror, he can’t see you either.
- Don't drive drunk or high – Even over-the-counter cold medication can alter your response times, so assess yourself honestly before deciding to drive. If you are under the influence of alcohol or any mind-altering substance, stay away from the wheel. Mother Against Drunk Driving (MADD) estimates between 1,250 and 1,500 people are killed and more than 63,000 are injured each year in impairment-related crashes.
- Adjust for rain and snow – When the roads are slick and wet, your braking times increase. Turn off cruise control. Add extra space between vehicles. Slow down as much as possible. Learn to detect and react properly to hydroplaning and a skid.
- Keep a steady pace – Sudden increases and decreases in speed, unexpected lane changes, and unpredictable stops make it hard for other drivers to anticipate your actions.
- Look far ahead – Keep your eyes far down the road and anticipate. Look for erratic drivers, slow traffic, intersections, and highway debris.