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'Defensive Driving'

You may have heard of 'Defensive Driving' - it's nothing to do with A-List celebrities' chauffeurs or their bodyguards, it's something we as drivers can be doing every time we are behind our wheel. Essentially, it's being observant when one is driving, and not just looking ahead and into the mirrors. It's the skill of anticipating what might happen next.

When you go through green traffic lights, although you have right of way, glance around the junction and know for yourself that it's safe to proceed. Notwithstanding emergency vehicles, how do you know that that car over there is actually stopping at their line or light ? You don't. The same can be true for driving past side roads, especially residential areas and older suburbs with more enclosing views.

When you find yourself briefly stopping on a hill, is there any benefit in doing so too close behind the vehicle ahead ? Experienced driver or not, anyone can misjudge their control of the car and could roll back. Ensure you can see their tyres on the tarmac, and this should give them enough space to react in time. 'Tyres on Tarmac' also usefully provides a buffer space if you're hit from behind - many accidents are exacerbated by cars bunching up at queues - and provides 'escape' space if the vehicle ahead breaks down.

Too many drivers seem unaware of the car horn, are scared of using it, or use it aggressively. It's there to alert others of your presence. Although you can use it anywhere, it's more relevant of course when driving through winding country lanes. Would you really consider approaching a bend with no way of knowing what's just around the corner without forewarning anyone that you're on your way ? And often without slowing down enough first ? I bet you don't. Driving on 'a wing and a prayer' hoping that the road ahead will be clear won't save you if the other driver has the same mentality as you. Easing off the speed and sounding your horn or flashing your headlights at night - takes only seconds.... and could save your life.

What's the purpose of the side lights ? They don't provide visibility but they illuminate the car. When is this useful, and possibly ensure your safety ? At dawn and dusk, when there's poor weather, or when general light conditions are low. Next time passing cars have their lights on at such times, notice how your eye is attracted first to the vehicles that are lit and then you see the surrounding unlit cars : use them as your cue to activate your own lights. Also consider how the colour of your car may or may not improve others' perception of you ; consider how your grey or black car might be seen against the grey tarmac or storm.

Your indicators are your primary signal, so be disciplined when using them and try not to give mixed messages. Too many drivers become lazy with signalling, especially at roundabouts : consider how frustrating it is for you when others don't signal at roundabouts, don't let yourself fall into that trap too. Understand that flashing the headlights, although very common, can give a misleading message, especially when there's more than one roaduser waiting on your decision.

As you can see, defensive driving is all about sharing the roads with the other users, be they drivers, riders, joggers, or pedestrians. Drive with consideration and not aggression.

I hope these suggestions will inspire you !

Nathaniel Reed, of

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