Defensive driving in town

Mark Kendrick Technique - fundamentals Leave a Comment

Drivers like us might enjoy most driving through the countryside, but I believe there’s pleasure to be had driving well through towns and cities, too. But clearly the driving public doesn’t do town driving – more people are injured on roads in built-up areas than non-built-up routes (that are subject to a speed limit above 40mph).

Driving well through larger towns and cities at peak times can be a challenge. Congested traffic seems to breed temper tantrums. On multi-lane roads, other drivers can box us on all sides. A defensive approach is key to keeping out of trouble.

Lots has been written on the foundations of ‘defensive driving’, which has been described as the art of avoiding avoidable accidents. The ‘safety bubble’ is a key concept, the idea being to set out to maintain a bubble of space around us at all times. After all, if we can maintain space between us and all other road users and road furniture, we might never crash.

The 2-second rule should ensure we’ve enough space to the car in front. Proactively moving away from hazards on the left or right will help to maintain our bubble to the sides. If we’re being tailgated, extending the bubble to the front will help to compensate – if we gently ease off the gas, we can create extra space that we can utilise in the event that the driver ahead brakes hard, or stops unexpectedly. We’ll be able to brake gentler, giving more time for the following driver to react to our brake lights in time to avoid shunting us. In principle, f someone bursts our bubble, we should move to recreate it.

We shouldn’t just limit ourselves to the nearside of the road (i.e. closest to the road’s edge). Some drivers seem more reluctant to move over the crown of the road to create space between themselves and pedestrians than for parked vehicles. Our road tax entitles us to drive on both sides of the road, so if the only danger is pedestrians walking alongside the road, why shouldn’t we move onto the other side of the road? During demonstration drives, I suspect that I’ve concerned numerous clients over the years. “What on earth is this guy doing driving on the wrong side of the road?” they might have wondered. A commentary might have helped to alleviate their anxiety.

Commentary driving is the name given to the process of a driver thinking out loud, commenting on what he sees, what he can’t see but is anticipating, and what he intends to do. It is an effective process for conditioning higher levels of concentration, observation, anticipation, and planning. Commentary driving is an invaluable self-development tool. Particularly around town, talk to yourself from time to time. But don’t worry, people won’t necessarily assume you’ve a screw loose. They’ll probably think you’re nattering on the ‘phone.

Whilst waiting at junctions and roundabouts, a defensive approach to reducing the risk of being shunted involves remaining aware of developments behind. Some driver trainers suggest waiting in neutral with the parking brake applied. In contrast, I would suggest a more defensive approach. I recommend waiting with the footbrake applied and a gear engaged – the footbrake draws attention by showing red to the rear, and remaining in gear with the parking brake off enables a quick getaway if a shunt is nigh. Of course, it’s only likely that we’ll see the shunt coming if we remain attentive to our mirrors.

At zebra crossings we don’t have to wait until a pedestrian crossing from our side reaches the far pavement. Once they’ve safely cleared our path we can legally get going, even though they are still on the crossing. In planning our route, a defensive choice would be to favour a road with few hazards. A parallel minor road might be preferable to a multi-lane primary route with junctions or other hazards every few hundred metres.

Approaching side roads we can close to a minimum safe gap to the vehicle in front, effectively closing the door to pushy drivers eager to emerge. At other times we can maintain a larger gap. The bigger the bubble the better, particularly in relation to our ability to look and plan ahead, especially when following a large vehicle.

I think defensive driving is a mindset. Let’s remain mindful of the dangers, and do that which is practicable in reducing the risks for us all sharing the roads.

Enjoy your driving,

Mark Kendrick

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