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Vehicle collisions are on the rise in Canada, according to the Allstate Canada Safe Driving Study. In 2014, almost 2,000 people died as a result of motor vehicle collisions. If you’re an experienced driver with a good driving record, what does defensive driving mean to you? How many of these safe driving tips do you follow?
1. Do routine checks. Keep your vehicle in good operating condition and make sure there is plenty of tread left on your tires. Do a visual walk around of your vehicle to check for damage or anything blocking your car. Once you’re inside, lock your doors and fasten your seatbelt to protect you from being thrown from the car in the event of a crash. Make sure all your passengers are buckled up, too, before you start driving.
2. Keep your eyes active. Be aware of your surroundings. Check your mirrors frequently. Scan conditions 20 to 30 seconds ahead of you. If a vehicle is showing signs of aggressive or dangerous driving, slow down or pull over to avoid it. Keep an eye out for pedestrians, bicyclists and pets.
3. Eliminate distractions. Distracted driving is a significant contributor to vehicle collisions. A distraction is any activity that diverts your attention from the task of driving—talking or texting on your phone, fiddling with the radio, putting on makeup, dealing with your child’s behaviour, etc. Driving deserves your full attention, so stay focused on the driving task.
4. Maintain a safe distance. A safe following distance depends on how fast you’re travelling. The faster you’re going, the more space you need to leave between you and the vehicle in front of you. If driving conditions are poor, increase your following distance.
Use the 3 second rule to maintain adequate spacing with the car in front of you.
5. Match your speed to your conditions. Research shows that for every mile per hour you drive, the likelihood of being in an accident increases. At higher speeds, the risk increases. Posted speed limits apply to ideal driving conditions. It's your responsibility to ensure that your speed matches conditions. In addition, higher speeds make controlling your vehicle that much more difficult if things go wrong. But driving too slowly can be dangerous, too — go with the traffic flow, driving at the speed that most other vehicles are going.
6. Don’t drive drowsy. By now, you know that impaired driving is an absolute no-no. But you may not know that fatigue is a form of impairment, and is a significant factor in vehicle collisions in Canada. Dr. Alistair MacLean has shown that young adults who’ve been awake for 18.5 hours make driving errors that are similar to someone with a .05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Being awake for 21 hours produces errors similar to .08 BAC. Like drunk drivers, sleep-deprived drivers make erratic speed and lane changes, have slowed reaction times, and an increased tendency to drive off the road.
7. Make yourself visible. Many collisions occur because drivers didn't see the other car. Here’s how to make your vehicle more visible, and let other drivers anticipate your actions:
- Make sure your signal lights are working. Use your turn signals to let other drivers anticipate your actions and slow down safely.
- Keep your headlights and tail lights on, especially at dusk or if the weather is poor.
- Ensure your brake lights are operational. They warn cars behind you that you're slowing down, signaling them to reduce their speed, too.
- Don't drive in areas where the driver in front of you can't see you—their blind spot. Either safely speed up or slow down to avoid this scenario, a common cause of collisions.
8. Anticipate the worst-case scenario and plan an escape route. Be considerate of others but look out for yourself. Don’t rely on other drivers to drive safely. For example, don’t assume another driver is going to move out of the way or let you merge. Assume that drivers will run through red lights or stop signs and be prepared to react. Plan your movements anticipating the worst-case scenario. Be thinking of an alternate path of travel. In other words, leave yourself an out — where will you go if your immediate travel path is suddenly blocked?
9. Control your emotions. A recent survey of Canadian drivers indicates that road rage is a real problem. Aggressive drivers may infuriate you, but retaliating is dangerous. Use these strategies in specific road-rage scenarios:
- Tailgaters: If the driver behind you is following too closely, tap your brakes lightly a few times to let them know they’re not maintaining a safe distance. If they continue to tailgate, slow down gradually. Chances are the tailgater will eventually pass you.
- Speeders: If another vehicle is speeding or aggressively changing lanes behind you, stay in your lane while maintaining your speed.
10. Be winter wary. In most parts of Canada, winter driving brings its own challenges. The Canada Safety Council provides tips for making winter driving safer and collision free. Don't assume you have the skills you need to drive in different parts of Canada. Canadians from snowier climes will be surprised by Vancouver, where the rare snowfall catches drivers off-guard, and snow-removal infrastructure is scanty. In many parts of Canada, snow tires are mandatory, and winter drivers are usually seasoned at managing the intense snow and ice.