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While attitude and driving skills are important, good driving habits enable a driver to stay away from danger, and react correctly in an emergency.

There are five important safe driving habits.

HABIT # one. Look at solutions, and away from problems as you drive.  

Be alert and wary.   An important part of your searching is to know what is behind and to the sides of you.   Making eye contact with other drivers is a good way of helping you work out what they are likely to do next.

To improve your observation practice three skills:

a. Look often. Look ahead to where you will drive in the next 12 seconds.  This represents about a city bloc at traffic speeds and around a kilometre at highway speeds. Scan your view back towards yourself in a zigzag pattern. Repeat this action a number of times for each new section of road as it comes into view.

To do this, you need to slow down early at situations like intersections, hillcrests and bends.

b. Look “Through” vehicles.  Avoid looking at vehicles.  Very dangerous situations occur when vehicles are hidden from view behind other vehicles that are moving.   Often these are small vehicles, like bicycles and motorcycles.  So search, be wary and look past obstacles. 

c. Look For the “Traffic Gap” or the solution.   A “Traffic Gap” is the distance between vehicles that you judge to be safe to drive in or across.  Timing your driving to ‘catch’ the traffic gap improves your safety.   Avoid looking for vehicles.  

In the same way, avoid looking at any problem, look at its solution. There may be a sudden emergency like an animal on the road, or you may not be quite sure what another driver is going to do.   A car might reverse onto the road, prepare for a “U” turn, or a right turn.   A driver might forget to turn on or off an indicator.  

When you see danger, look where you want your vehicle to go, and monitor the danger with the corner of your eye.


HABIT # two. Take left foot support on the footrest whenever you brake or steer.

Left foot support when braking or steering helps you retain good balance (posture), which produces less fatigue and greater control in an emergency.

In normal driving your left foot should be firmly placed on the foot rest.  


HABIT # three.  Use the brakes to slow down and change the gears separately after braking.   Changing down gears during braking is not only unnecessary stress on the vehicle’s transmission, but dangerous in an emergency.   Research shows that drivers' who habitually change gears during braking are more likely to lose control of a vehicle during an emergency. 


It is interesting that drivers tend to over use the gears in a manual and under use them in an automatic.  In situations where you are going down steep hills or on gravel or slippery surfaces it is wise to select the correct gear after braking in an auto just like you do in a manual.   You may obtain more information on page 42.  


HABIT # four.  Keep good separation from other vehicles.  

Keep two seconds away from the vehicle in front.  To do this, when the vehicle ahead passes some fixed point like a post, a patch of paint on the road or a parked car, count “one thousand and one, one thousand and two”, that’s two seconds.  If you reach that point before you finish your count, you are too close.  


You may need three seconds if the road is wet, the surface is slippery or the traffic is travelling at speeds below 40 km/ph.   It is interesting that we need more time at slow speeds than at high speeds because reaction is a greater part of stopping at slow traffic speeds, than it is at highway speeds.

Stopping may be considered in three parts: Perception (the driver’s recognition of the need to brake), Reaction (getting the foot to the brake), and Braking (the travel of the vehicle with the brakes on until it stops).   Perception has the greatest variance.  An alert driver may perceive and react in less than a third of a second, while a distracted driver may take multiple seconds to perceive danger.    At 100 k/h the ‘perception + reaction’ probably represents about 25% of the total stopping distance, at 40 k/h about 50% and at 20 k/h about 70%.


Influence the gap behind by signalling in plenty of time, flashing your brake lights, slowing gradually and making manoeuvres thoughtfully.   Notice dangerous traffic situations developing and change your time of arrival at the situation.   This often means slowing down for a moment then moving through the situation quickly.  Sometimes it may mean change to a different lane (road position) or stopping well away from danger.


HABIT # five.  Be able to stop in the distance you can see ahead.  

You may calculate this by using the time formula.   At 60 km/ph it takes about three seconds to stop, at 100 km/ph about four seconds.


Approach hillcrests, bends and other situation where your seeing distance is limited, judge what would be a safe speed and approach at that speed.   When you reach the most dangerous point (just before your view opens up) look at the furthermost point that you can see and count the seconds (3.5 seconds at 80 km/ph) if you pass the point by the time you finish the count, you may have been too fast to stop.    This gives you feedback to develop your judgement.


Make these “Class Driving” habits part of your driving style.   When these five habits are part of your normal driving style, you will keep safe and have the best control during an emergency.  




When you are faced with an emergency, you don’t have time to think.   Your body is plunged into the “fight or flight syndrome”, you get pumped full of adrenaline and you react in line with your well‑practised habits.   You can’t do something different in an emergency.  


These five habits form your defensive driving armour.   Let’s see how the first three work in an emergency.    For example, imagine you are driving at 100 km/ph along a country road when suddenly there is an emergency.   Perhaps a kangaroo is in front of you or two vehicles abreast are coming at you over the hillcrest.  

Your good habits will instinctively burst into action:

1.         Lock your left foot on the footrest (or the floor) and lean back in your seat.

2.         Look away from the danger, to where you are going to put your vehicle.

3.         Brake, progressively tightening to the point of tyre squeal, release and re‑brake if there is wheel “lockup”.


a.         Off the brake and point the vehicle towards the solution.

b.         Shift gears after the first escape, when the vehicle is under control.

c.         Accelerate away from danger.



There is a serious flaw in some advanced driving courses which teach a range of trick manoeuvres and are conducted wholly “off ‑road” at race tracks etc.  

The problem is one’s brain can’t quickly think which trick to use or decide to use any at all.  

The only advanced driving courses which work are those that form habits out of the driving skills that are part of everyday driving.  

These better courses are called “Road craft".  The off‑road ones are called “Car craft”.