No matter how much experience you have behind the wheel, there are always new hazards and situations waiting for you just around the next corner. You can prepare yourself to face these challenges by driving defensively.

Defensive driving is about using your skills and knowledge to protect yourself against the unsafe acts of other drivers, and against extreme weather and every-changing roadway conditions. It means using the following four-step process whenever you are behind the wheel:

  • Observe roadway situations
  • Recognize potential hazards
  • Decide on the appropriate response(s)
  • Carry out the response(s)

OBSERVATION

Size up the entire traffic picture. Scan your mirrors frequently – every five to ten seconds – and make a mental note of the actions of vehicles behind and beside you. Keep your eyes moving, observe roadway conditions and look well beyond the vehicle(s) immediately in front of you. Focus ahead a minimum distance of 12 seconds in city driving; 20 seconds on the highway.

RECOGNITION

Think about what may happen as far ahead of encountering a situation as possible. Never assume that a condition will improve before you reach it. Train yourself to use a “what if” method to anticipate the actions of other drivers, and make adjustments in your own driving to avoid hazardous situations that might be developing.

DECISION

These “what if” scenarios should produce a choice of action and include a planned escape route. It’s important to know your limitations, as well as those of your vehicle, in order to choose the best possible action. Be continuously evaluating your position in traffic, you can develop a plan that gives your visibility, stopping room and enough operating space to make a safe decision.

ACTION

Once you’ve recognized a hazard and decided on an appropriate response, take action immediately. The sooner you act, the more time and space you will have to avoid an accident.

AN ONGOING PROCESS

You don’t have to have lightning-fast reflexes or unusual mental and physical abilities to be an effective defensive driver. Defensive driving is simply an ongoing process of using your skills of observation and anticipating the likely outcome of traffic situations to avoid an accident.