What is defensive driving?

12 minute read Published on Feb 8, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

What is defensive driving?

If you want to improve your driving skills, which not only leads to safer driving but can also help you lower your premium, then you need to know about defensive driving. A defensive driver is an aware driver. We outline how defensive driving works and some of the top defensive driving techniques worth adopting below.

Defensive Driving Defined

Defensive driving is a form of safe driving, the purpose of which is to reduce the odds of getting into an accident. Specifically, the Canada Safety Council defines defensive driving as: “driving to prevent collisions, in spite of the incorrect actions of others and adverse conditions.”

Thus, a defensive driver will remain focused on the road 100% of the time, allowing them to tailor their driving behaviours to those around them, minimizing the odds of an incident.

Given how prevalent car accidents are in Canada, defensive driving is of the utmost importance. Even if you take other steps to make driving safer, such as using snow tires for protection, or purchasing extra car insurance, such as comprehensive car coverage, you should still adopt defensive driving habits if you want to stay as safe as possible.

Defensive driving is especially important in Canada, which deals with cold, snowy weather for a portion of the year. Driving on snow or ice-covered roads significantly increases the odds of an accident.. However, if you can drive defensively, you might be able to keep yourself safe, even when driving in inclement conditions.

The three basic principles of defensive driving

The Canada Safety Council outlines three basic principles of defensive driving, which are as follows:

  • Recognizing hazards on the road
  • Understanding the best defence technique to employ
  • Responding in time to prevent the collision

Given these principles, it’s easy to see that a key component of defensive driving is awareness. Staying alert and vigilant on the road will help you identify hazards as they come up. Second, knowledge is extremely important.

Knowing when and how to react to certain issues is what can help you prevent an accident. The final principle is centred on prevention.

Driving in a way that gives you enough time to respond to another driver’s behaviour before it leads to a collision is crucial. Ultimately, defensive driving is intended to help drivers avoid collisions.

What behaviours result in car accidents in Canada?

If you want to become a defensive driver, you should first know what behaviours to avoid. The following driving habits or behaviours are responsible for the highest number of collisions each year:

Driving while distracted

Distracted driving - especially texting and driving - is one of the most common causes of collisions in Canada. Driving while distracted has been shown to significantly reduce a driver’s reaction time, which as we all know, increases your odds of getting into an accident.

Driving while impaired

Impaired driving, i.e. driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is not only illegal but can vastly increase your chances of getting into an accident. Driving under the influence will slow your reaction time and can lead to reckless driving behaviour.

Plus, if you are caught driving with an amount of drugs or alcohol in your system above the legal limit, you could face a criminal charge in Canada, as drunk drivers can be charged with a criminal offence.

Driving while tired

Driving while tired or fatigued is another common cause of collisions in Canada. Many drivers get behind the wheel despite not having enough energy to remain alert. This is a huge risk. If you notice yourself growing tired as you drive or finding it hard to keep your eyes open, pull over immediately.

Contact a BrokerLink insurance broker to discuss traffic accidents and how they can impact car insurance rates in Ontario.

A list of defensive driving skills and tips

Now that you know about some of the driving habits that can significantly increase your risk of getting into an accident, let’s go through a list of tips that will help you decrease the odds of this happening. Below, the BrokerLink team has put together a list of defensive driving tips, ranging from always wearing a seatbelt to signalling correctly:

Prepare your car before pulling out of the driveway

As you now know, distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents in Canada. To reduce your odds of driving while distracted, finish eating or drinking before you leave the house, and tune the radio or set your GPS before pulling out of the driveway. It’s also a good idea to visually inspect your car before leaving to ensure it’s in tip-top condition.

Turn your phone on airplane mode or put it somewhere out of reach

To avoid texting and driving, a growing issue in Canada, turn your phone on airplane mode or “do not disturb,” so that you won’t be tempted to text your friends while behind the wheel. We also recommend putting your phone somewhere where you can’t see it or reach it, such as in the backseat or in a purse or backpack.

Focus on the road

Awareness is key when it comes to defensive driving, and in order to be aware, you need to focus on the road. 100% of your focus should be on the traffic around you when driving. Aim to scan as far ahead as a quarter of a mile or to the next intersection.

Expect the unexpected

At the end of the day, you can’t control another driver’s behaviour. That’s what makes defensive driving so important. The only thing within your control is how you choose to drive. So drive defensively by keeping an eye on the actions and behaviours of the other drivers around you.

Regularly scan the road, keeping tabs on the motor vehicles to either side of you, as well as those in front of you. You never know when a reckless or erratic driver will swerve, change lanes, or stop suddenly. When you learn to expect the unexpected, you may become more prepared for these situations.

Never speed

Obeying the speed limit is not only the law but it can keep you safe. The faster you are travelling, the less time you have to react. So never drive over the speed limit, and even take care to drive below it in certain situations, such as when driving in inclement weather, through a construction zone, or in areas with high pedestrian traffic.

Pull over if you’re tired

If you find yourself growing increasingly tired behind the wheel, pull over as soon as possible. The risk of falling asleep at the wheel is never worth it. Stop and rest on the side of the road until it is safe to drive again.

Alternatively, stop at the nearest coffee shop, gas station, or grocery store and purchase a cup of coffee or something else that will keep you awake.

Do not drive impaired

This should go without saying, but driving impaired is the opposite of defensive driving. In fact, driving while impaired, whether you’re impaired by drugs or alcohol, weakens your defences, making you more likely to get into an accident.

Keep in mind that alcohol and illegal drugs are not the only types of impaired driving. Driving while fatigued or on prescription drugs can also lead to impaired driving.

Wear your seatbelt

Wearing a seatbelt is a legal requirement in Canada, so do not pull out of the driveway without it securely fastened around you. Seatbelts are one of the original forms of safety technology, designed to prevent you from being thrown out of your vehicle and through your windshield in the event of an accident.

Slow down at yellow lights

Whatever you do, don’t run a red light. A defensive driver is aware of the road and, thus, knows when the light has turned from green to yellow. Take care to slow down and come to a stop when the light turns yellow rather than speeding up. Whether due to distraction or aggressive driving behaviours, running reds is all too common but it can cause car accidents, as well as lead to strict fines.

Obey the rules of the road

Again, this should go without saying, but an important part of distracted driving is obeying the rules of the road. Brush up on the traffic laws in your province and municipality to make sure that you are following them at all times.

Give yourself space

The best way to give yourself space is by creating space. A safe following distance is approximately three seconds between cars, or two car lengths’ worth of space, when travelling at slower speeds. To know how much space is between you and the car in front of you, choose a marker on the side of the road, such as a tree or road sign.

Begin counting when the car in front of you reaches that marker. If you reach the marker before you’ve counted to three, you are likely too close to the vehicle in front of you and should slow down. Keep in mind that the faster you are driving, the more space you should give yourself.

In addition, if driving in poor weather conditions or reduced visibility, you should also give yourself extra space.

Always use your signal

Signalling is imperative when driving. Not only should you signal whenever you plan to turn or change lanes, but you must signal at the right time. Signalling too early or too late can increase the odds of an accident, so take care to turn on your indicator at the appropriate time.

Double-check your blind spots

All motor vehicles have blind spots. These are the areas that are not easily visible to a driver, even when using their mirrors. Accidents are more likely to occur in a car’s blind spot, as they can be so big as to completely block another vehicle.

Thus, to avoid this, take care to double check your blind spots when turning, merging, or changing lanes by turning your head over your shoulder. The good news is that many new cars come equipped with blind spot monitoring and detection to help make drivers more aware of when there is a vehicle or pedestrian in their blind spot.

Be extra cautious around intersections

Intersections are where the bulk of car accidents occur, so take care to approach them with extra caution. Slow down as you approach the intersection, and when the light turns green, make sure to look ahead, as well as to your left and right before pulling out. In addition, leave extra space between you and the car in front of you when stopped at an intersection. This way, if someone rear ends your car, it is less likely to hit the car in front of you or roll into the intersection into oncoming traffic.

Prepare for the weather

If snow, hail, or rain is in the forecast, consider changing your driving plans. However, if this isn’t possible, then take extra steps to reduce the additional dangers that come with driving in inclement or bad weather. For instance, install winter tires on your car, drive slowly, and know how to avoid black ice. You will also want to make sure that you brake slowly and lightly, that you know how to get yourself unstuck from the snow, and that your tire pressure is topped up.

The importance of becoming a defensive driver

Defensive driving is incredibly important. As you can see from the list above, when you drive defensively, you increase your reaction time, reducing your chances of getting into an accident. Thus, the first reason that defensive driving is so important is because it can reduce your risk of getting into a collision. As we all know, accidents are not only expensive but they can be deadly.

Even if no fatalities occur, they can cause serious bodily harm with long-term consequences. On top of all that, the financial burden that comes with a damaged vehicle or medical attention can be a challenge for many drivers. Purchasing car insurance will help mitigate these costs, but it can’t prevent you from getting into an accident in the first place.

Another reason that defensive driving matters is that it can help you keep your insurance rates down. Car insurance quotes depend on a number of factors, one of which is your driving record. If your driving record is full of accidents or impaired driving convictions, your premium is likely to be much higher than if you have a clean record.

Defensive driving is a great way to keep your record as clean as possible. In essence, the more driving infractions you have, the riskier you will appear to an insurance company and the higher your premium will be. Conversely, the safer you drive, the fewer infractions you will have, and the less of a risk you will seem, thus resulting in cheaper rates.

You can receive a car insurance discount for taking a defensive driving course

The good news is that safe drivers are often rewarded for their defensive driving habits. You can receive a car insurance discount on many types of auto insurance by obeying the rules of the road and keeping your record clean. These types of car insurance discounts are known as safe driver or good driver discounts. They are granted to those who exhibit safe driving habits, the evidence for which is usually obtained by reviewing a driver’s record.

Remember that clean driving records are those that have minimal insurance claims, and little to no accidents, tickets, or other infractions. To be eligible for a safe driver or good driver discount, the policyholder must usually have maintained a clean record for a certain period of time, such as three consecutive years.

Safe driver discounts vary between providers but may be anywhere between 5% and 25%. Some insurance companies even offer increasing discounts, meaning that your discount will get higher the longer that you maintain a clean record. This is designed to encourage or incentivize drivers to drive safely. No matter what type of discount you qualify for, you can save money on both optional coverage and mandatory coverage, such as liability car insurance and accident benefits coverage. If you want to find out whether you qualify for a safe driver discount, as well as what conditions need to be met to qualify, contact BrokerLink. We can reach out to a number of insurance companies to find out if you are eligible for a good driver discount.

Ultimately, the best way to lower your car insurance rates and perhaps even qualify for a safe driver discount is to drive defensively and obey the rules of the road. If you need to brush up on your safe driving skills, contact BrokerLink. We can provide all sorts of safe driving tips, as well as winter driving tips. We can even recommend defensive driving course or driver’s education course in your province. Graduating from such a course is another way to potentially lower your car insurance premium too.

Reach out to BrokerLink for even more defensive driving tips

Driving defensively is the best way to keep yourself and others safe on the road. Even better, when you drive safely, you minimize the odds of an accident, which in turn, can result in cheaper car insurance rates. Thus, driving defensively can not only save lives, it can also save you money.

Speaking of saving money on car insurance, BrokerLink can help you do just that. We are a full-service auto insurance brokerage with a long-standing reputation in Canada. Any one of our licensed insurance advisors would be happy to give you tips and advice on ways that you can keep your auto insurance rates low. For instance, installing winter tires on your car, equipping your vehicle with an anti-theft device, paying for your policy annually, bundling insurance policies, or choosing high deductibles can all lead to cheaper rates.

To find out how much car insurance will cost you, reach out to BrokerLink for a free insurance quote. We offer free car insurance quotes to all drivers. Our quotes are known to be reliable and accurate. Plus, they are 100% obligation-free. Get started today by giving us a call and speaking to a licensed insurance broker directly. You can also visit any one of the 200+ insurance offices we have across Canada or take advantage of the online quote tool on our website.

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