Your Defensive Driving Formula


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 ever-changing roadway conditions. It means using the following four-step process whenever you are behind the wheel: (1) Observe roadway situations; (2) Recognize potential hazards; (3) Decide on the appropriate response(s), and; (4) Carry out the response(s).


Size up the entire traffic picture. Scan your mirrors frequently – every five to eight seconds – and make a mental note of the actions of vehicles behind and beside you. Keep your eyes moving, observe roadway conditions and scan at least 15 seconds ahead of your vehicle to identify changing traffic scenes and adverse road conditions. Knowing what to expect can help prevent quick lane changes or emergency braking situations.


Think about what may happen as far ahead of encountering a situation as possible. 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.


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. By continuously evaluating your position in traffic, you can develop a plan that gives you visibility, stopping room and enough operating space to make a safe decision.


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.