Defensive Driving Misconceptions
I am not, for one minute, doubting David Henry’s skill or experience as a professional driver. He makes some very valid points in his article ‘Offensive Driving.’ (If you haven't read Henry's article yet, you should. Click here. -- JR)
However, I am doubting his approach and views on the topic of defensive driving.
Defensive driving does not mean that you have to sit and wait for someone to make a move before you react, nor does it mean that you have to let yourself or your rig be put in jeopardy. Many people are also under the misconception that defensive driving means you have to drive slowly. Far from it.
According to Gage’s Canadian dictionary, ‘defence’ is to protect against harm or attack, or, as I am about to do now; argue my case.
So what exactly is defensive driving?
It is the ability to ensure your safety at all times while operating a vehicle, regardless of road and weather conditions, or the actions of other road users.
There are three main elements to defensive driving:
To see all that is going on around you, and to be seen by all around you.
Keeping space around your vehicle gives you time and room to maneuver if a situation occurs.
Eye contact, signals, or just road positioning can communicate your intentions to other drivers.
David talks about his ACT; lets look at this in a little more detail:
Anticipation: “Scan far into the distance” writes Mr. Henry. Too true, as the first rule of defensive driving is to have a good eye lead time; that means to look as far ahead as you can see, and scan all around you so that you can get ‘the big picture’.
By combining this technique with years of experience, the professional driver is better placed than most to predict 'what that RV driver, texter, or pick up driver in Saskatchewan' is about to do next.
Control: As professional drivers, control is paramount. We need to control not only our trucks, but also the situations that we are getting ourselves into. Or, more importantly, keeping ourselves out of. Taking control of the space around your vehicle is being proactive.
Looking far ahead, scanning, moving early, adjusting speed, and making plans ABC through to Z are all proactive driving techniques. Techniques that are taught in any good defensive driving program.
Another attribute of the good defensive driver is the ability to focus, and as Mr. Henry said that he is too busy to be bored, then I’m assuming that must be because he is totally focused on the task in hand: Driving.
Truck on with a smile: That smile and relaxed attitude is of course a result of being a proactive driver and making sure that you are in the right place at the right time, avoiding those unpleasant situations that unfold in front of our very eyes, day after day.
For those of us without defensive driver training under our belts, but with 20 or 30 years behind the wheel, the ability to avoid those situations usually comes purely from experience.
With all of this in mind, it seems that some of the words Mr. Henry chose may be misplaced, but what he actually say is, in essence, very true indeed.
To quote one last line: “A good defence back in football watches and predicts what the quarterback is going to do”. There you have it, a good defensive driver in a football helmet.
It appears that Mr. Henry is far from an offensive driver, and is in fact, a very good, proactive and defensive driver.
(While I have my critical hat on, I would like to make one other point, purely from a safety standpoint:
On page 25 in the magazine,(Click here to see Carter's driving dilemma -- JR) you offer some advice for Peter’s near miss while traveling the 401 during the summer.
While most of your advice is spot on (keeping a good following distance, trying to anticipate where other road users might go, and getting yourself out of the way) there was one phrase that is a definite no-no.
Tapping your brakes.
No matter how tempting it may be, you’re asking for trouble by doing that.
As a road safety trainer it is a cardinal sin to tell students, no matter how experienced they may be, to tap their brakes to get rid of a tailgater. Increase your following distance — so you have more time to slow if traffic stops ahead without fear of being rear ended — or pull over but never tap your brakes.)
-- Steve Rock is currently a driving instructor. He immigrated from the U.K in 2003 and has driven on local, national and cross-border routes. He was also an in-cab instructor with Bison where he coached numerous Canadian drivers.