Most drivers have a vague idea about the practice of defensive driving. But for fleet drivers, defensive driving is an essential skill they must master. Commercial drivers log upwards of 20,000 miles or more annually. Practicing defensive driving not only protects their health and well-being, it also saves the lives of other motorists.

Beyond that, it has a major impact on a fleet’s bottom line. According to a recent Driver Safety Risk Report, it’s estimated that vehicle collisions cost fleets nearly $57 billion in 2019. Today defensive driving is gaining attention as a crucial strategy for reducing collisions, increasing driver retention, and reducing insurance claims. Here’s why defensive driving is important, and how to become a better driver.

What is Defensive Driving?

Every fleet manager should know some basic defensive driving facts. Let’s start with the definition of defensive driving. What does defensive driving mean? Essentially, it’s taking personal responsibility for making the road a safer place for everyone. A person who is defensively driving is proactively behaving in ways that protect both themselves and other drivers. This includes taking precautions to avoid hazards, paying close attention to dynamic road conditions, anticipating the actions of other drivers, and guarding against risky patterns and behaviors.

Defensive Driving Tips and Techniques for Fleets

Now that we know the definition of defensive driving, let’s move on to some basic strategies that should be included in every defensive driver program.

Maintain a Safe Following Distance

Rear-end collisions occur when drivers do not have enough time to perceive and react safely to slowing or stopped vehicles. By creating a buffer, you have enough time to react when someone brakes in front of you. For standard vehicles, a good rule of thumb is the three-second rule. As you follow a vehicle, pick a road sign, tree, or other landmark. After the vehicle passes that marker, count how many seconds it takes you to pass that same marker. In the event of adverse weather conditions or low visibility, increase your following distance to five seconds or more.

If you’re driving a large commercial truck, the recommended distance is four seconds for 40 mph. Add one second for every 10 mph of speed. Drivers should be trained to increase their buffer, depending on road conditions as well as the weight of their load.

Avoid Distracted Driving 

Long stretches of road are monotonous. And it’s easy for your mind to wander. In order to avoid accidents a defensive driver should make a habit of mentally noting every time your attention leaves the road. Can you catch yourself before a distracted driving pattern begins? Another tip is to focus your attention on other drivers. See if you can predict their behaviors and understand their motivations. When they change lanes, are they exiting? Avoiding a slow driver? The goal is to engage your senses—awareness is a skill that must be developed.

A useful tool to help fleet drivers avoid distracted driving is vision-based safety technology, like Driveri’s advanced dash cam system. Dash cams that capture real-time driving behaviors both inside and outside the vehicle can alert drivers when their attention is wandering. These insights can also be used in personalized coaching sessions to help drivers create better driving habits and improve their Driveri score.

Control Your Speed

Speed management is an important defensive driving tactic. What is the safest speed to drive? And how fast is too fast? Speed is a complex challenge for drivers because one speed is never safe at all times. When choosing your speed, you need to know the speed limit, but you also need to take into consideration the road conditions, visibility conditions, your vehicle’s weight and load, and the speed of traffic. Above all, when practicing defensive driving, speed should be determined by your surroundings and your best judgment that you can safely maneuver your vehicle.

Be Alert for Road Hazards

Roads are full of hazards, like pedestrians, children, animals, and debris. Defensively driving means always expecting the unexpected. Bikers, vehicles, and pedestrians can enter the road after a traffic light turns green. Objects can fall off the backs of trucks. Defensive drivers are actively on the lookout for these hazards and proactively pay extra attention when entering danger zones, like intersections. Ideally, you want to pause after a light changes to scan the road before moving forward. It’s also good practice to scan ahead by 12 to 15 seconds in all environments, one to two blocks in city environments, and a quarter mile on the highway.

Increase Awareness of Other Drivers

As a defensive driver, you always assume that other drivers may be distracted, drowsy, impaired by substances, or unprepared to respond to unexpected hazards. Other drivers can suddenly change lanes, come to an abrupt halt in the middle of the road, or run red lights. You take personal responsibility for making the road a safer place for everyone by being on the lookout for trouble. Keep an eye out for vehicles pulling out from side alleys, hidden driveways, and unmarked roads. Check your mirrors and blind spots every three to five seconds before and after changing lanes.

Actively Communicate Your Intentions 

Communication is an important defensive driving technique. On the road, communication means actively telling other drivers what you intend to do before you do it. This means using your turn signals, hazard lights, high beams, and horn. It also means avoiding sudden movements whenever possible, like moving your vehicle within your own lane before changing lanes.

Benefits of Defensive Driving

Ideally, a comprehensive fleet safety program should include a defensive driving program component. Even if drivers don’t attend a full four- or eight-hour course, they should at least listen to a defensive driving safety talk that outlines basic defensive driving rules and safe driving tips. Here are a few benefits of learning how to drive defensively:

Reduce Collisions

One of the biggest benefits is reducing traffic collisions. Every defensive driving program teaches drivers how to avoid collisions and recognize potential road hazards before it’s too late. A defensive driving safety talk will present a lot of information on how to practice safe driving and collision prevention techniques, such as how to:

  • Recognize common road events that lead to collisions
  • Scan the roadway and adapt to your surroundings
  • Calculate stopping distances, reaction distances, and safe passing distances
  • Navigate road hazards
  • Deal with vehicle emergencies
  • Understand the rules for right of way

Increase driver retention

Learning defensive driving techniques gives professional drivers a sense that their skills are valuable. Fleets that provide a combination of defensive driving talks and individually rewards drivers for defensive driving skills significantly improve driver retention. The most effective way to recognize drivers for their defensive driving skills is to install dash cam systems, like Driveri, as part of a fleet safety program. Not only can dash cams exonerate innocent drivers from blame—which quickly instills trust and goodwill— but Driveri’s DriverSTAR system also enables a unique rewards program based on a driver’s individual GreenZone® Score.

As drivers practice their defensive driving skills, Driveri tracks every road event, and it generates a complete picture of how well a driver is doing. The Driveri mobile app provides drivers with real-time alerts about their speed, distance, and other factors. As drivers adjust their behaviors, their positive driving habits are recorded and analyzed, which improves their GreenZone Score. Fleet managers can use this score as the basis of a highly effective incentives program to get more driver buy-in and improve retention.

Reduce Claims and Insurance Rates

Defensive driving skills can positively impact insurance premiums. Sometimes, defensive driving classes can reduce points on a driver’s license. And many states offer incentives for defensive driving classes by offering to reduce insurance premiums by as much as 10 percent for completing a defensive driving course. Moreover, by simply reducing the frequency and severity of accidents, defensive driving strategies save fleets the unnecessary expense of avoidable claims, which reduces insurance rates.

Final Thoughts

Effective fleet management is all about protecting drivers, reducing collisions, increasing driver retention, and ultimately improving the bottom line. By providing defensive driving techniques to fleet drivers—whether through a safety talk or comprehensive defensive driving program—fleet managers can help drivers prepare to quickly adapt to dangerous road scenarios. As drivers learn to anticipate these situations, they can be more proactive and less reactive.

Learn more about the important elements of a driver safety solution.

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