Being a safe and responsible driver takes a combination of knowledge, skill and attitude.
To begin, you must know the traffic laws and driving practices that help traffic move safely. Breaking these “rules of the road” is the major cause of collisions.
Traffic laws are made by federal, provincial and municipal governments, and police from each level can enforce them. If you break a traffic law, you may be fined, sent to jail or lose your driver’s licence. If you get caught driving while your licence is suspended, your vehicle may be impounded.
But you need to do more than just obey the rules. You must care about the safety of others on the road. Everyone is responsible for avoiding collisions. Even if someone else does something wrong, you may be found responsible for a collision if you could have done something to avoid it.
Because drivers have to co-operate to keep traffic moving safely, you must also be predictable, doing what other people using the road expect you to do. And you must be courteous. Courteous driving means giving other drivers space to change lanes, not cutting them off and signalling your turns and lane changes properly.
You must be able to see dangerous situations before they happen and to respond quickly and effectively to prevent them. This is called defensive or strategic driving. There are collision avoidance courses available where you can practice these techniques.
Defensive driving is based on three ideas: visibility, space and communication.
Visibility is about seeing and being seen. You should always be aware of traffic in front, behind and beside you. Keep your eyes constantly moving, scanning the road ahead and to the side and checking your mirrors every five seconds or so. The farther ahead you look, the less likely you will be surprised, and you will have time to avoid any hazards. Make sure other drivers can see you by using your signal lights as required.
Managing the space around your vehicle lets you see and be seen and gives you time and space to avoid a collision. Leave a cushion of space ahead, behind and to both sides. Because the greatest risk of a collision is in front of you, stay well back.
Communicate with other road users to make sure they see you and know what you are doing. Make eye contact with pedestrians, cyclists and drivers at intersections and signal whenever you want to slow down, stop, turn or change lanes. If you need to get another person’s attention, use your horn.