What Is Defensive Driving and Why Is It Important?

Defensive driving, in short, is about prioritizing awareness of your surroundings when you drive.

Defensive Driving

Defensive driving, in short, is about prioritizing awareness of your surroundings when you drive. In some settings, it means compensating for inclement weather conditions, while in others it means anticipating the mistakes or shortcomings of other drivers. It relies on three key traits: preparedness, awareness, and a level head.

Preparedness in driving means anticipating the route that you will take, and accounting for any possible conditions that may pose a danger. If you are a new driver, you may want to be aware if your route takes you onto the highway or a complex intersection. Rather than becoming anxious from unexpectedly encountering an intimidating driving scenario, you can calmly approach it with the prepared knowledge or memory of how to approach it.

This can also mean being aware of a city’s unique driving challenges. For example, Central Vancouver’s roads are often known to provide very little visibility at intersections, making turns onto a main road a more dangerous task. Rather than repeatedly meeting the situation with dread, come up with a consistent plan so that you are certain to approach and turn at each intersection as safely as possible.

Defensive driving is as much about minimizing danger on the road as it is training drivers to be more confident in themselves in any variety of scenarios. This can take the form of preparing for situations that may not necessarily arise.

While one must prove a certain level of driving competence to earn a driver’s license, drivers are still prone to falling into harmful habits or succumbing to impatience. It is the job of the defensive driver to anticipate other drivers’ misgivings and incorrect choices and compensate accordingly. This can involve allowing extra space between yourself and the driver in front of you in case they stop suddenly, or waiting an extra moment at an intersection in case someone takes their turn too soon.

Awareness, then, is a discipline to be practiced both before and while driving. Inclement weather, particularly in colder climates, can pose extra danger on the road, and has proven fatal if not properly prepared and accounted for. Awareness of surroundings is more than just knowledge of road conditions, however. It involves a concept known as “soft focus”, in which one is conscious of their full periphery, without focusing on one element of their surroundings the entire time.

Obviously for driving, the central focal point is the road, but soft focus means also taking note of passing road signs, the relative speed of other drivers, and potential hazards in other lanes, including loaded trucks with objects poking over the trunk, wide-load vehicles, and other elements of the road that require your attention when sharing the road with them.

The attitude of a defensive driver is rounded out by a level head and a calm approach to the road. Most drivers can achieve this with practice and gradually building confidence on the road, but it also involves managing reactions to problems that may occur.

Road Rage

“Road rage” is often considered the inverse of defensive driving, characterized by an aggressive, reactionary approach to driving. It makes the road more dangerous regardless of whether a mistake has been made.

Reacting to others’ bad driving with calm and confidence minimizes the danger not only to yourself but to other drivers by reducing the “area of effect” of the mistake as well as how much time is spent compensating for the mistake.

Defensive driving is an essential skill set that makes you more confident in your own driving, and creates an extra level of safety by extension to other drivers around you. With preparedness, awareness, and a level head, you can make the road a safer place for yourself and others.