Defensive Driving Techniques to Protect Yourself on the Road

Article Published by Geotab
Author: Shea Green, Marketplace Lead Coordinator

Truck driving continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations, along with fishing, forestry, and flying planes. While the importance of doing proper vehicle inspections and complying with Hours of Service (HOS) rules cannot be overemphasized, there are some other steps that can help minimize the risk of crashes. Defensive driving is one strategy you can use to help protect yourself on the road.

Principles of Defensive Driving

The central goal of defensive driving is to avoid the crash in the first place. You can never be 100% certain what other drivers will do, so it’s wise to use caution.

In the Safe and Responsible Driving guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, defensive driving is summarized as three things: visibility, space, and communication.

Basic Elements of Defensive Driving1:

  • Visibility — Be alert and actively checking what vehicles around you are doing.
  • Space — A “cushion of air” around your vehicle that gives you time and room to avoid or escape an accident when it occurs in front or beside you.
  • Communication — Helps other drivers know you’re there and lets them know what your next move is so they can adjust accordingly.

Benefits of Defensive Driving Techniques

Defensive driving has both financial and safety benefits. The possible consequences of a collision range from tickets or fines, demerit points on your driver’s licence, higher insurance premiums, vehicle damage, and sadly, injury or death.  

Even a small change could have a big impact to your own safety and that of fellow travellers on the road — it also affects your employer’s bottom line.  So it’s worthwhile to arm yourself with safe driving tactics. In honor of UN Global Road Safety Week, here are some tips for defensive driving.

Defensive Driving Tips

Keep Looking Ahead

Be sure to look as far ahead as you are able. All too frequently when people are behind the wheel, they are only concerned the direct area in front of them. While the first few feet in front of your car is it’s own type of danger zone, especially if there is a hazard of any kind on the road, looking ahead and around is also important. This will allow you ample response time for anything that is coming your way.

Check Your Mirrors

Scan the horizon and continuously check your mirrors. Your eyes should always be moving and taking in as much information as possible. For example, if you notice that the car in front of you is slowing down, start braking. If you are fixated only on the car in front of you, you might not notice another car coming into your lane, which could result in an accident.

defensive driving techniques check vehicle mirrors

Stay Alert and Take Breaks if Needed

Take your required breaks and avoid drowsy driving. Drowsiness can lead to dangerous driving behavior like drifting out of your lane, not braking when needed, and crashing.

Research shows:2

  • “Sleepiness can impair driving performance as much or more so than alcohol,” as cited by the National Sleep Foundation.
  • Shockingly, 41% of people have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel and one in ten drivers say they have slept behind the wheel in the past year, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
  • On average, long-haul truck drivers in the U.S and Canada slept less than 5 hours a day, as found by a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Following Hours of Service (HOS) rules is essential to truck drivers, not just for compliance, but for preventing dangerous driver fatigue. Having a cup of coffee is not enough. This is one point that should not be ignored.

Avoid Distractions

Keeping your eyes up means keeping them off devices and distractions in the vehicle. Driver distraction doubled the risk of having a vehicle collision according to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). They identified some of the riskiest distractions as using a cell phone, reading and writing, reaching, using a touchscreen, as well as being fatigued, emotional, and interacting with another passenger in the vehicle.

driver distractions coffee

Another VTTI study of commercial vehicle operations showed that texting and driving “raises a heavy-truck driver’s risk of a safety-critical event by 23 times.”

Locking away the phone and keeping objects out of the front seat to avoid temptation are just two ways to minimize distraction and increase overall fleet safety.

Be Prepared for Anything

Being prepared means taking note of the weather or road conditions and then driving to the conditions. Driving at the posted speed limit may be fine in sunny weather, but if it’s snowing or raining hard, that same speed will be too fast. Preparedness also means watching the traffic and being ready to adjust your driving. Don’t forget to check the areas along the road and up onto the sidewalks, in case a pedestrian or animal might cross your path.

Just like having a emergency plan at home, you should always have a plan for emergencies while driving. Having an idea of how you will react in possible situations and preparing for them in advance, will help you to avoid potentially life threatening situations. Having an escape plan can be as simple as making sure that you always have space around your vehicle in case you need to swerve to avoid some type of hazard. The more prepared you are before the emergency, the more likely it will be that you will avoid it.

Leave Space and Keep Your Distance

Although there are some things about driving you can’t control, you can control the distance between you and the next car in front of you. This is unique because you do not have this ability with any other side of your vehicle. Because this is the only distance that you can control, you should be aware of how closely you are following the vehicle in front of you. Also, beware of driving in a pack.

It’s a fact that trucks need a lot more time and space to stop. A passenger vehicle weighing 4,000 lbs and driving 65 mph takes 316 ft to stop. A tractor-trailer weighing 80,000 lbs, driving at 65 mph, will take 525 ft to stop — that’s equivalent to the length of two football fields!

To ensure that you maintain the best following distance, you will want to take certain factors into account:

  • the type of vehicle in front of you,
  • your speed,
  • and the weather conditions.

For example, a small motorcycle will be able to stop much faster than a larger vehicle, so you want to be sure to leave more distance. How fast are you traveling? If you are traveling at 100 mph, it will take much more time and distance to stop than if you were traveling at 25 mph. If the roads are wet from rain or icy from a recent snow, you will need to keep more space between your truck and other the vehicle. You always want to be sure that there is enough room in front of you to stop, regardless of the conditions, to avoid a collision.

Practicing defensive driving is important for truck drivers and all other drivers. Combined with crash avoidance technology, professional behind-the-wheel training and a workplace driver safety program, With motor vehicle collisions being the  number one cause of workplace death and injuries.


  1. “Safe and Responsible Driving,” The Official Ministry of Transportation (MTO) Driver’s Handbook, Feb 28, 2017.
  2. “White Paper: Consequences of Drowsy Driving,” National Sleep Foundation, 2017.

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