Learn how to drive defensively

Lesson Type
Last updated: 12 Nov 2019

You might think that learning what to do in the driver’s seat is tough enough without having to worry about what everyone else is doing around you, but anticipating other drivers’ actions and expecting the unexpected is all part of become a safe, confident driver. Defensive driving is a skill which all motorists learn, and this guide is designed to explain exactly what it is and to help you to become a defensive driver yourself.

What is defensive driving?

Defensive driving is all about thinking ahead, anticipating what other drivers are going to do and being ready to react. In your driving lessons, your instructor will teach you that you need to be aware, at all times, of what is going on around you. This is especially important in order to be a defensive driver. Although you don’t know what another driver is thinking, you should always try to second guess their next action, being ready to react accordingly if it affects you.

This is a skill which you will have learnt in the hazard perception section of your driving test. You should be constantly looking ahead, keeping an eye on changes in traffic flow and expecting the unexpected. If, for example, you see an oncoming car waiting to turn right ahead of you, you should prepare to slow down or stop incase they turn ahead and too close to you. Similarly, if you see children playing on the pavement, slow down and be prepared in case one of them runs into the road or a ball comes into your path.

What are the driving conditions like?

You’ll need to change your driving style depending on what kind of road you’re on and what the driving conditions are like. If you’re driving on a residential road there will be more hazards to look out for. There will be cyclists to overtake, pedestrians crossing the road and parked cars obscuring your view.

Driving on country lanes will usually present less hazards but, as there are generally lots of twists and turns, you should expect the unexpected around every corner. Imagine there’s a cyclist just around the bend, for example, and make sure you’ll have enough time to brake or overtake safely.

Likewise, you should adapt your defensive driving style in adverse weather conditions. Slow down in icy or wet conditions, leave plenty of room between you and the car in front and be prepared for changes in traffic flow or any drivers around you who may pose as a hazard.

Driving at night

Driving at night brings up a whole host of new hazards to look out for, and driving defensively is just as important, even if there are less cars on the road and fewer pedestrians.

When driving at night, you don’t have the same foresight as you do when driving in daylight. There may be potholes in the road, an animal could run out in front of you, or oncoming traffic may forget to turn their full beam lights off and blind you. Whilst all of these scenarios are unlikely, you need to be driving defensively and at an appropriate speed incase you do come across a hazard.

Your driving instructor may be able to offer you some night driving lessons to help you adapt to the difference in conditions.

Stick to the rules

You can’t control other drivers’ actions, and that is why driving defensively is such an important part of being a motorist. The better you become at anticipating your fellow drivers’ behaviours, though, the safer you will be on the roads.

Don’t, however, get so preoccupied with other drivers that you forget to stick to the rules yourself! Drive at an appropriate speed for the type of road and driving conditions, remember your highway code and always stay alert at the wheel.