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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Develop a good defense

The defensive driving concept is not new, but many drivers have not adopted it.  A defensive driver is adept at continually scanning for potential hazards and spotting them in time to accommodate them without incident.

A good defense includes anticipation of mistakes by other drivers and a readiness to avoid accidents when inevitable errors are made.  It also requires a balance of vigilance including both what is happening “down the road” and events that are imminent nearby.

Defensive driving is a thoughtful, relaxed approach to the driving process.  In other words, aggressive, impatient drivers will not qualify.

An effective defensive driver must know the rules of the road.  For example, he or she needs to know when to yield, but must also account for those who don’t.  In general, the driver who arrives last yields right of way to those who are already there:  yielding when entering traffic, yielding when changing lanes, yielding when turning left across traffic, et cetera.

Every aspect of driving is enhanced by defensive driving.  Even departure from a parking spot warrants a defensive approach.  Many such maneuvers require backing from a space where hidden hazards like other vehicles, people, or objects may have accumulated while parked.  A quick visual “walk around” check before getting into your automobile is an advisable defense.  It’s also a good time for a visual tire inflation check.

Many accidents occur while vehicles make left turns across oncoming traffic.  When you are the “turner,” a good defense requires confirming a lack of approaching vehicles, or at least waiting for sufficient space between them before turning.  But a defensive “turnee,” encountering an oncoming vehicle with its left turn signal activated, should be ready to brake or turn to avoid contact with a careless left turner.

Defensive driving also applies to the singular operation of your vehicle, namely knowing its handling characteristics and limitations.  Negotiating turns with a top-heavy vehicle, like a van or SUV, is different than with a passenger car.  The more top-heavy a vehicle is, the more likely it will roll over rather than slide within a curve.

A defensive driver must know all of the factors involved in every vehicle maneuver, passing being another good example.  Safe passing requires that a driver employ well-developed skills and judgment.  That includes checking sight distance ahead, checking mirrors for rear traffic, checking for traffic passing you, estimating speed and position of approaching vehicles, estimating time you need to safely pass, accelerating, steering, and checking for traffic entering from side roads.

Since the driver must perform several tasks in a short time during a pass, the chance of an error is high, unless the maneuver is done properly, with due consideration of all pertinent factors.  Because some drivers take risks and assume other drivers will compensate for their own aggressiveness, good defensive drivers must do just that!

Defensive driving even extends inside of a car or truck.  Passenger management is an important part of a safe defense.  Drivers should not become distracted by passengers, or allow them to restrict vision or movement crucial for safe vehicle operation and reaction to emergency situations.

Besides possessing a solid knowledge of road rules, successful defensive drivers check and maintain their vehicles, stay vigilant, and anticipate errors and events soon enough to avoid crashing.  Aggressive driving is not conducive to that desired outcome.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at