Defensive Driving: Dead On or Merely Dead?

Speed and inexperience

Is Defensive Driving Dead?

If you have ever taken a driving course, then you likely have been exposed to some aspect of instruction known as defensive driving.

What is Defensive Driving?

The written standard for driving, ANSI/ASSE Z15.1 Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations — defines defensive driving in Definition 2.5 as . . .

Driving to save lives, time and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.

This definition originated from the National Safety Council’s (NSC) Defensive Driving Course.

The National Safety Council created the first defensive driving course in 1964 and has been the leader in driver safety training ever since.

The National Safety Council cuts to the chase right away on their defensive driving page . . .

Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death and injury in the workplace and the cost of a single accident could easily exceed $1.4 million.

And accompanying NCS video on distracted driving ends with a driver talking on a cell phone and missing a curve . . .

distracted driving

 

What’s wrong with this picture?

A lot according to some safety theorists, starting with the basic concept of defensive driving. It’s negative, perhaps even too negative.

ReplacIng Defensive Driving with a Positive Mental Framework (PMF)

The concept of defensive driving was developed to counter what is known as reactive driving. Reactive driving is a style of driving in which the driver reacts to current driving situations. Defensive driving is about planning ahead and being more responsive and proactive. Reactive drivers react to situations, ofttimes with negative consequences. So a comparison of reactive and defensive driving has a built-in negativity.

The concept of defensive driving, say some safety training experts, should be replaced with a positive mental framework as in the AAA Foundation’s Zero Errors Driving (ZED) 3.0 Program. The phrase ‘defensive driving’ is never mentioned. The terminology of the IPDE process (I-Identify–Locate potential hazards within the driving scene. P-Predict–Judge where the possible points of conflict may occur. D-Decide–Determine what action to take, when, and where to take it), the foundation of driver’s training for millions of U.S. students, has been streamlined. Words as “minimize, separate, compromise, and stabilize” have been eliminated, with a focus instead on vehicle timing and positioning.

Other concepts and terms have been modified:

  • “Space margin” is used instead of “space cushion.”
  • “Probable” refers to things that are more likely to happen.
  • “Conflict probability/probabilities” replaced the words possible, potential, and immediate, and indicates the seriousness of a hazard.

The Smith System® also avoids the term defensive driving, calling itself “the leading provider of collision avoidance driver training.”

The keys to the positive mental framework in driving are planning ahead and being prepared. Says a ZED 3 teaching guide . . .

“Expect the unexpected” is a catchy phrase that has little or
no application. “Expect other user errors and be prepared” is a more practical guide. It is hoped that this approach will produce drivers who are active seekers and copers rather
than defenders or passive acceptors.

Thank you for reading this.