Proactive driving is driving with the aim to anticipate possible hazards and take action to reduce, minimize or avoid danger before it can occur.

Never assume other drivers are always going to drive carefully or respond correctly at all times. Anticipating what might happen can help you to avoid collisions caused by the driving errors of others. This chapter describes the skills and techniques you can use to drive proactively.

Scan all around your vehicle

Most of your attention should be given to looking forward and scanning for hazards that are developing ahead of you. When you are driving in an urban area, look at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead of your vehicle. This is about 1 to 1 1/2 blocks. When you are driving in rural areas, look at least 20 to 25 seconds ahead of your vehicle. This is your visual lead time, which provides you with time to respond to hazards ahead of you.

Check behind you by glancing in your rear view mirrors every eight to 12 seconds (about every block in an urban area). Glance in your rear view mirrors when you anticipate slowing or stopping. Be aware of vehicles on both sides and in your blind spots. Do not forget to glance at your speedometer to check your speed.

Watch for potential hazards

Proactive driving involves a continuous process of watching your surroundings and thinking about whether hazards are developing, and then taking action to reduce risks. There are 2 types of hazards that should be recognized. These are fixed (those that do not change) and variable (those that change).

Fixed hazards are permanent conditions and situations along the roadway, including:

  • restricted vision areas such as curves, hills and hidden driveways
  • intersections
  • merging roadways

Variable hazards change through the day, including:

  • school children and other pedestrians
  • left-turning vehicles
  • icy road surfaces
  • "stale" green lights
  • emergency vehicles

Be prepared to take action to avoid a problem as the situation changes. Expect the unexpected and always plan an escape route.

Have a space cushion

Leave enough space between yourself and the vehicle ahead, behind and to either side to stop safely or steer around a possible hazard. If someone is following too closely, and if it is safe, reduce your speed just enough to encourage them to pass. If the person does not pass, create a wider space cushion between you and the vehicle ahead.

When stopping behind another vehicle in traffic, leave enough space so that you could move your vehicle into another lane without having to reverse. The extra space reduces the risk of hitting the vehicle ahead if you are hit from behind. This also allows you to move out of the way of a vehicle that may be skidding or slipping on ice behind you.

Plan ahead

Plan your travel route before you set out, and keep it in mind as you drive. Be sure you are in the proper lane well in advance of your exit or turning location. This will help you avoid making quick and dangerous lane changes. If you miss your exit or turn, continue on to the next exit or intersection. Never drive your vehicle in reverse on a roadway to return to a missed exit or turn. Use your signal lights to let other drivers know what you intend to do.

Collision avoidance

Watch the road ahead and stay alert. Watch for any possible problems. If you must turn sharply to avoid something in your lane, stay on your side of the yellow line if possible.

You can learn more about proactive driving and avoiding a collision by taking an approved driver education course. These courses, called Defensive Driving Courses, are available throughout the province from licensed driver training schools and authorized agencies.

Maintain your following time and distance

You should drive a minimum of 2 seconds behind the vehicle ahead. This is for normal road and weather conditions. When conditions are less than ideal, increase your following distance.

To know if you are 2 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you, when it passes a fixed object like a road marking or a shadow on the roadway, start counting. Count one-thousand-and-one, one thousand-and-two. If the front of your vehicle reaches the object before you are finished counting, you are following too closely. Reduce your speed and count once more. The 2-second rule works at any speed.

An exception to this rule is for drivers of large vehicles, such as motor homes. It is recommended that you use a minimum 4-second following distance.

Keep a minimum two second-distance when following another vehicle.

Keep a minimum two second-distance when following another vehicle.

Cellular phones and other distractions

Do not use a cellular phone or other electronic devices while driving. Using a cellular phone to make or receive a call, or to receive or send a text message is a distraction that can take your attention away from the demanding task of driving. This applies to hands-free cellular telephones as well. If you want to make or receive a call, or receive or send a text message, stop in a safe and legal place.

Do not engage in activities that allow you to be distracted while driving. While all forms of distracted driving can be hazardous, the Traffic Safety Act includes fines and 3 demerits for certain distractions. These include using a hand-held cell phone, texting or emailing, using electronic devices, such as laptop computers, video games, cameras, video entertainment displays and programming portable audio players, entering information on GPS units, reading printed materials in the vehicle, writing, printing or sketching, and personal grooming.