Let’s face it, for many of us, Driver’s Ed is just a distant memory. Through the years, a few bad habits have settled in here and there, and by now most of us could use a refresher course on defensive driving techniques and safe driving practices.
Here are a few tips you should keep in mind the next time you get behind the wheel:
1. Don’t tailgate Leave proper braking room behind the person in front of you so you’re always prepared for a sudden stop. A good rule of the thumb is to maintain a distance of at least three seconds from the vehicle in front of you.
2. Beware of blindspots Know where the blindspots are on your vehicle and check them before making a turn or lane switch. You should be aware of the blindspots of other vehicles and avoid driving in them – you want other drivers to see you at all times.
3. Reposition your side mirrors Many drivers were taught that you should see a bit of your car in your side mirrors as your driving – this isn’t true. Angle the mirror slightly out, just a touch more so you don’t see your car and you instead see more of the road.
4. Keep your anger in check People make mistakes and this holds true when you’re driving. If someone cuts you off, or doesn’t signal properly, it’s no excuse for you to lose your temper. Yelling or gesturing at the driver will only escalate the situation. If you feel that someone is driving erratically and they are a danger to others, then remember the vehicle’s information and call 911 from your hands-free device.
5. Signal your intentions You should always use your signal light to let other drivers (as well as bikers and pedestrians) know that you plan to turn or make a lane change. Once you’ve checked your blindspots and made the turn, listen to make sure the signal has turned off or glance down at your dashboard to make sure the blinker is off. You don’t want to be the person driving down the road with your blinker still flashing, and no intentions of turning. You could mislead other drivers and cause an accident.
6. Know what to do at a four-way stop The first vehicle to come to a complete stop at the intersection has the right of way. If two vehicles arrive at the same time and are facing each other, the left-turning vehicle must yield to the oncoming vehicle. If two vehicles arrive at the same time and are perpendicular to each other, the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way.
7. Turn into your own lane If you’re driving on a multi-lane section of road and turning into another, make sure you stay in your own lane. Don’t wander into your neighbour’s lane because you could just find that’s space already occupied by another car.
8. Don’t drive slow in the passing lane The left passing lane on a highway is just for that – passing. It’s not a place to hang out. Once you’ve made your way around the vehicle you wanted to pass, move back into the right lane so others can use the passing lane as well. Driving slowly in this lane could encourage others to engage in unsafe passing or tailgating.
9. Merge with caution When traffic is backed up and you’ve been stuck on the road forever, the last thing you want to do is let another person in front of you. Unfortunately, merging is a part of driving, especially on a highway, so be kind and let someone squeeze in as they’re entering the highway. Chances are you might need someone to return the favour one day! Even if traffic isn’t jammed, you should always try to switch lanes to allow people entering the highway to safely merge into the far right lane.
10. Take your foot off the brakes Don’t ride your brakes – instead pay attention to the road and use the brake only when it’s necessary. If you’re maintaining a safe distance from the car in front of you, then you’ll be able to tell when they’ve reduced their speed and as a result, you can ease off the accelerator. If you’ve constantly got your foot on the brake then the drivers behind you won’t be able to tell when you’re just brake-riding versus when you’re legitimately slowing down.
Tips to protect yourself – and others
Buckle up. No matter where you’re headed, or how long you’ll be in the car, take a second to buckle up. If you’ve got young children you should always stress the importance of seatbelts and double check that they’ve got their belt on. To get children in the habit of buckling up, consider telling them you won’t start the car until they’ve got their seatbelt on.
Don’t drink and drive. Impaired driving is one of the leading causes of death in Canada. Don’t drink and drive, period. Many provinces now have laws in place preventing you from having “just one” so if you plan to have any amount of alcohol, arrange for a ride home ahead of time. Discard the popular sober up “techniques” like drinking coffee, getting some fresh air or having something to eat – they don’t work.
Put away the cell phone. Texting and talking on your cell phone while driving is a dangerous distraction that many provinces have now banned. If you’re tempted to pick up a call or send a text back while you’re driving, then turn off your phone each time you step into the car. If you absolutely can’t miss a phone call, then pull over in a safe place, turn on your hazard lights if necessary and then pick up the phone.
Slow down. There’s a reason the roads in Canada have set speed limits. These limits are posted to keep drivers safe and to control traffic on busy roads. Obey the speed limit and if you’re in a rush, make a point to leave earlier next time.
Be alert. Don’t drive when you’re tired or fatigued. If you’re struggling to keep your eyes open, then your reaction time is slower and you run the risk of dozing off behind the wheel.