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10 defensive driving tips


We can control our driving, but we can't control the driving of others. Driving defensively, rather than aggressively, helps maintain focus and control allowing you to anticipate things before they happen and react appropriately when they do. It is less about what you're doing and more about giving yourself enough time and space to respond to what other drivers are doing.

It's as much an exercise in caution as it is a disciplined practice. Here are 10 tips to help you become a more defensive driver, which will ultimately help to keep you safe, your driving record clean and your car insurance rates low.

  1. Assume the worst – Right off the bat, set the expectation that other drivers won't follow the rules so you can give yourself enough space and time to adjust your driving appropriately.
  2. Don't fight with nature – Drive for the conditions you have, not the conditions you want. Slow down in rain, snow and severe weather, put your hazards on when visibility is jeopardized and use your high beams when driving at night in dark areas.  
  3. Remain focused – Distracted driving is an increasingly fatal problem on our roads. Avoid distractions to optimize your focus and prevent potential disaster. This includes anything from leaving your phone alone (texting and using a device while driving is illegal in Ontario) to avoiding driving with your dog on your lap.
    Related Read: Teenagers and distracted driving: Know the facts
  4. Know the rules – Pull over when an emergency vehicle is trying to pass, slow down in construction zones and when passing accident scenes, be mindful of school zones and speed limit changes, give cyclists enough space and so on. Refusal to do so is not only dangerous, but can result in serious fines.
  5. Signal – Your signals are your way of communicating with drivers in other vehicles. Take advantage of your signals when changing lanes or directions and be mindful of the signals of others. Slow down when you see others put their blinkers on and give other drivers enough time to do the same for you.
  6. Respect speed limits – This sounds obvious, but many drivers are guilty of speeding from time to time. Slow down to avoid penalties, tickets and collisions. Speeding tickets can have a big impact on your car insurance rates, not to mention being a dangerous practice in general.
  7. Look ahead – Pay attention not just to what is happening directly in front of you, but also what potential hazards lay ahead. Allow yourself the time to get familiar with what's going on in the distance so that you have the opportunity to make changes accordingly.
    Related Read: 5 bad habits to break while driving
  8. Locate your nearest exit – When you get on a plane, it is customary to be asked to locate your nearest exit, and the same is true for the road. Have an escape plan so you can get out of or avoid a situation if needed. This includes things like not allowing yourself to get boxed in by other, larger vehicles on the road and driving in any lane but the fast lane (which is actually the passing lane, and typically located furthest from the exit). Mentally figure out your exits when driving.
  9. Give enough space – A good driver gives other drivers enough space, to give you enough time to react if they make a mistake. Giving enough space is a safe driving practice in general, but it is also crucial to preventing things like rear-ending another driver and similar collisions.
  10. Pay attention – Your eyes should be focused on the road, but they should also look around to ensure you're aware of your surroundings. Be mindful of drivers that are behaving aggressively and try to get away from them by slowing down or switching lanes when you can. Look for pedestrians, cyclists, animals and children that may also be on the road and give them enough space. Paying attention is truly your best defense.

There are a number of refresher courses out there to help experienced drivers become more defensive drivers, some of which may make you eligible for insurance discounts.

To find out more, contact your OTIP Broker today at 1-866-523-4111.

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